There is a notion today that if one comes to Christ he is weak and needs a crutch. The charge is baffling coming from a world that has lost it’s way. With economic problems in red line territory, social ills like divorce and mental illness at all time highs, narcissism and selfishness at fever pitch, cursing, violence, and immorality the new family values, and an overall intellectual deterioration of the average mind, perhaps the world is the phony and leaning on the wrong things. Maybe this charge of Christians needing a crutch stems from a corrosive envy onto those who appear ignorantly happy.
The Illusion of Self Reliance
None of us are self determining. We’re born naked, have no control of our births, and leave earth with nothing. Furthermore, no one is self existent. We all need resources from without to survive: air, water, food, shelter, warmth, purpose, significance, relationship, love, and hope. The grace of God sustains life more than the natural mind can perceive. A man who claims he “picks himself up by his own bootstraps” lacks insight. The businessman who says he is a “self made man” has no clue as to the resources God put in place to allow him to succeed. Over 90% of the efforts were outside of his control and in place to allow success. If the core of a man’s dependence is not on Christ, all other ground is sinking sand, unable to support the weight of a man’s deepest needs.
Everybody is depending on something. People who suck the life out of others are codependent. One who copes with problems through drugs is a substance abuser. Those who spend their way to find happiness are materialists. One addicted to pornography is a sex addict. She who thinks life is all about her and gratifies every impulse of the flesh is a narcissist. The selfish trust only themselves. All of these inferior dependencies have a common misassumption: that life is meant to be consumed on oneself.
Everybody trusts something. Even the vilest mass murderer unknowingly depends on the stability God put in place 99% of the time. He expects his lungs to work like everyone else’s, the proper change when paying for something, he will digest his food without complication, and that the walls won’t collapse when he sleeps. He is just cruel enough not to return the favor, holding a grudge, and waiting to inflict chaos on unsuspecting souls. Let’s see if what mass murder and terrorist Timothy McVeigh trusted in paid off. Guided by the poem of humanist William Earnest Henley, McVeigh trusted in his own depravity and insisted several lines be placed on his tombstone:
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced or cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms the horror of the shade
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how straight the gate
How charged with punishments the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.
Did self reliance really work? Destruction is the end for those who trust in themselves. Contrary to the impact he thought he made, McVeigh was all wrapped up into himself and was a small package. “My unconquerable soul,” “I have not winced or cried aloud” sound like the gritty perseverance of godliness, but it’s really the counterfeit of defiance and restless evil. The illusion of self reliance. Nobody is really captain of his own soul. Unless one has demonstrated he has the keys to unlocking the problem of death, then he can be the captain of salvation perhaps. But a culture dominated by humanism always implodes. Since nature is not supreme, to exclusively trust the thoughts of the flesh, whatever form they take, is to trust in our own depravity. And all of these are gnawingly empty, unable to satisfy the soul.
It’s not whether a person has a crutch or not. The question is, “what is the qualitative nature of that crutch”? Is there an appropriate avenue of our dependence? Scientist and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote “the heart is not at rest until it finds it’s rest in thee.” He also said, after much observation and experimentation with the designs of the natural world, that there “is a God shaped vacuum in the human heart that only he was meant to fill.” Just as we are dependent on physical resources from without to live, so we need the correct spiritual influence from without to survive. Wholeness that psychologists talk about is essentially found in intimacy with the Creator. Satan entices us into all kinds of sinful substitutes. The concept of death gives great credence to the Christian worldview that man is very tenuous and not self dependant.
It’s a ridiculous charge to accuse someone who completes the circuit and finds the missing peace in Christ as being a wimp or needing a crutch. Often the mature in Christ have so much life change for the positive, that the explanation is nothing short of miraculous to those that know them. Anything less than Christ doesn’t permanently change the human heart. Prison Fellowship, a Christ centered ministry for inmates, has one of the lowest recidivism rates of any program for treating criminals. Inmates come in depending on all kinds of inferior things, often becoming broken in prison, and surrendering all, begin a new existence in Christ. What other explanation is there? It’s not whether a person has a crutch, it’s the nature of the crutch.
God allows difficulties, tragedies, and emptiness to funnel people closer to Him. Some heed the call, many do not. Perhaps those who refuse to submit to the Creator in spite of declining circumstances are really the wimps, holding onto a pitiful existence by the skin of their chins. The deception is that one can avoid suffering by rationalizing the whole God paradigm, that guilt, sin,and repentance are not realities.
Is Christianity really for wimps who need a crutch? Turning to God is the beginning of a realigned life. But the process isn’t always clean and easy. Though God is a refuge in time of storm, a stronghold in the day of trouble, a teddy bear we can squeeze when life hurts, the Christian life is an advancing life into uncharted waters of evil. God beseeches his own to that unknown zone of courage. Walking by faith through many dangers, toils and snares can be very difficult. Going under the knife of a holy God in spiritual surgery can be restless. It’s humbling to admit wrong and confess sin. It’s all we can do to walk away from a temptation that would destroy the family. There is a cost in denying expressions and impulses of the flesh. Willfully beginning the long journey of forgiveness can be torturous. Garnering the courage to speak a few words in testimony of His grace can be intimidating in certain places. Battling the stigma of shame for some sin can be a dogfight in our minds. Resting the urge to retaliate and leave revenge up to God can be serious character building. Christianity is the only religion that is consistently involved in the trenches of people’s lives and sends resources to help when there is a world calamity, communicating the message that God loves them. It’s extremely uninitiated to accuse Christians of being wimps.
Paul vs. Wild
Let‘s answer the question of whether Christianity is for wimps by looking at what the Apostle Paul went through in carrying the gospel. Other than Christ, Paul was the single greatest broadcaster of early Christianity. As a member of the elite Sanhedrin, Paul was in Who’s Who of 1st century Israel when he left it all. He forsook worldly prestige and significance to go through what few humans have endured. One man writes, “Few individuals have experienced the degree of suffering that comes near the magnitude Paul endured. The pressure he lived with was borderline unbearable.” The sufferings of Paul testify to the strength of God, not the weakness of Christianity.
Let’s look at some of these beginning with a list from Paul’s own pen. By the time 56 A.D. rolled around, Paul had been in ministry for over a decade. He had spent much time trying to reach the sophisticated and worldly believers in Corinth, yet there were still pockets of skepticism in the hearts of the people as to the authenticity of Paul’s message. Since extreme attitudes call for extreme measures, it wasn’t arrogant for him to his travails to those who didn’t get it:
“Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane), I more so; in far more labors, in more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure upon me of concern for all the churches” (II Corinthians 11:23-28).
This is just Paul’s own short list. When one considers all of the New Testament, Paul also suffered from ridicule, excommunication, depression, interrogation, as a fugitive, rejection, litigation, witchcraft and demonism, loneliness, obscurity, dehydration, hypothermia, snakebite, and malaria. As we explore some of the things on this list, ask yourself “what sustained Paul through these? Was he a wimp? Was his crutch inferior?”
This is a remarkable resume of adventure that would make Indiana Jones look like a boy scout. It needs to be remembered that Paul did most of his travels after the age of 40. Today if an athlete reaches 35 he is considered over the hill for the physical demands of his sport. Paul had a major mid life-crisis and career change after the age of 35 years old. Yet his spiritual vitality from God fueled a superlative level of physical stamina and fearless courage. It’s surprising Hollywood hasn’t made a major motion picture on the life of Paul much in the way Charleton Heston played Moses in the Ten Commandments.
Paul traveled in what are commonly known as four missionary journeys across the Roman empire. One scholar did the math and recorded the equivalent of over 15,000 airline miles that Paul travelled, much of it over primitive paths and rugged mountainous terrain through unsafe and hostile environs controlled by gangs and thieves. One biographer, who actually retraced Paul’s steps on foot, delivers a slice of his survival skills:
“Each night a huge fire would be kept alive and they all slept around it, their feet toward the heat. Paul would take his turn on watch, wrapped in sheepskin. Before dawn they would break camp, eat olives and goat’s cheese, and if cold, could drink mulled wine. They started before sunrise to use the cool of the day, halting at noon expecting to cover fifteen miles…The heat, the sudden drenching storms which flooded the gullies, the cold night when limbs were stiff, the danger of sudden attack- [made] the first journey one of the toughest.” Let’s cherry pick a few of these difficulties and explore them in more depth.
Because Christ worship was threatening to Roman law, Paul was regularly rounded up and beaten. In fact he says he was beaten “times without number.” If any of us were imprisoned in a foreign land, people would be fascinated and we could have a book contract. This became so routine for Paul he just expected it. From what we know of Paul experienced 5 beatings from the Jews with lashes and 4 beatings from the Romans with rods. The Roman form of rods was administered by a lictor whose weapon consisted of birch rods strapped around an ax. Paul would have been stripped, tied, bent over a pillar, then laid into with a crowd spurring on the lictor as blood spurted from the cuts on his back. Pastor Richard Wurmbrand suffered punishment with rods in Communist prisons and said, “It was as if your back was being a grilled by a furnace, and the shock to the nervous system was great.”
The Jewish form of beating, also called scourging, flogging, or whipping, was pernicious. The “hazzan” or administrator of punishment used a heavy whip formed by a four pronged strap of calf hide with two prongs of ass hide, long enough to reach the naval from above. Standing on a stone, with all his might he brought it down over Paul’s shoulders to curl around and cut his chest. No part of the torso was spared and each stroke further opened cuts already bleeding. To add spiritual insult to injury, a reader bellowed out curses from the law with each stroke, combining intense and intolerable emotional and physical pain.
John McCain recounted his beatings at the “Hanoi Hilton” in his book Faith of My Fathers: “weakened by beatings and dysentery…I found it almost impossible to stand…They left me on the floor from the stabbing pain…I couldn’t fight anymore, and I remember deciding that the last thing I could do to make them believe I was still resisting was to attempt suicide.” Paul never attempted suicide, but he was scourged and discouraged enough to be tempted.
Not long after Paul’s shattering conversion to Christ, he went AWOL for several years in the backside of the Arabian desert. This divine time out was probably appointed so Paul could learn how the death and resurrection of Christ applied to the myriad of issues in his heart and how the Old Testament Scriptures fit into the equation. Though Paul didn’t see it at the time, this was all planned with a view towards a more effective ministry and channeling his zeal in a wiser direction. One biographer pens:
“The best years of Paul’s life were slipping away between the Taurus mountains and the sea. I was harder to bear because he cared so deeply that all men everywhere should hear and believe, yet during his later thirties and into the early forties when a man approaches his prime, Paul drops out of history.”
Before he was trained by the isolation, it was a shock for Paul to understand why he was there. Like going through detox from the adrenaline rush of selfish ambition, Paul was knocked flat for several years. Chuck Swindoll writes in Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit:
“He was alone. He walked slower. He watched sand swirl over the stones…He goes through great bouts within himself, struggles too deep for words, and finally learns to live on the bare essentials…of existence. For the first time in his adult life he was knocked flat, for the first time he found himself dependant.”
The beginning of his ministry was not the only time Paul seemed to go backwards, circumstances halting his agenda and forward progress. He was imprisoned in Caesarea for several years and for a type A personality, it may have griped his butt on occasion to realize that all it took was for the gavel of some incompetent governor like Felix to come down and grant Paul his freedom (Acts 24).
Perhaps the most painful of experiences are not physical at all. We don’t wait very well when in obscurity. We’re built for activity, any activity, at least to give us the illusion of progress. We want movement so we don’t have to deal with the impurities in our hearts that lie just below the surface. Pascal said, “the sole cause of man’s problems is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” It’s one thing to see the benefits of God halting another person’s life such as Paul. It’s quite another to deal with it in ourselves. Elisa Morgan, in a little book entitled I’m Tired of Waiting, writes of her own battles with obscurity:
“I wondered if God cared. When I prayed, nothing happened. No answers: yes, no, nothing. So I waited, but I didn’t wait very well. In fact, most of the time I was frustrated and angry…My faith wavered. My temper flared. My energy ebbed. The present lost its value and I lost my patience…There’s something degrading about being ‘put on hold’…Perhaps the most humiliating element of waiting is the way it highlights our helplessness.”
Knowing full well we have a lot to offer and God says “no”? Sometimes the time out is because we have sabotaged ourselves and thwarted our own careers. And we need time to retrace our steps and see where we went wrong. Other times the circumstances are from without such as illness, injury, accident, or losing a job. They have been so clearly arranged that we know God benched us. And because it’s taking so long, we wonder if we’ll ever get back in the game. We begin to doubt, “Did God miss something here”? Dr. James Dobson in his book When God Doesn’t Make Sense, identifies the problem as system wide: “Most of us in Western nations are motivated to use every second of our existence for some gainful purpose. But the Lord sometimes permits our years to be ‘squandered’, so it would seem, without a backward glance.”
Paul had many occasions that were squandered, but in faith he used his time wisely to advance his spirit and mind for some future use. With all the sideways movement involved, he ended up being one of the most effective Christians in history. And because of the benefits we see in his life, maybe we can use our obscurity to go deeper in the Lord for some future use. Being sidelined is not for wimps.
Another form of suffering occurs at the hands of men called excommunication. Because we’re created with a deep need for connection and community, being rejected can be traumatic. Parents reject children, employers reject applicants, a spouse rejects a mate for another, a sibling can become cold and slanderous, a close friend takes a big step back without explanation, churches vote out leaders, corporations let go faithful workers. Rejection is a part of life. But it can be heightened as a Christian. The world, even churches, don’t roll out the red carpet and applaud the long process of salvation in finally discovering the real answers to life. A status quo world doesn’t applaud the new heart desires of those who find Christ. Even those within the church can be envious and threatened by one of their own who has an enthusiasm, giftedness or passion for some aspect of the gospel.
After his conversion, Paul went back to Tarsus to spend time with his family. Upon returning with a ruined career, the tension between father and son was most likely high. As partiality is endemic to the human heart and easily entrenched in a culture, tempers flared not only at home but also at the synagogue as Paul expressed his desire to win Gentiles. It’s almost certain he was disinherited by his father and expelled from the synagogue.
Though leaving an evangelical church can be painful because of differences, we can always find another church today. For Catholics, it’s a little more serious as there is one central church, the authority being so towering so as represent even God himself to some people. Catholics define excommunication as “a spiritual penalty that deprives the guilty Christian of the participation in the common blessings of ecclesiastical society”. In 1stcentury Israel, excommunication was even more serious because religion and society were so closely connected. Humiliation, condemnation, shame, even physical harm, were the objectives and lead to a prohibition of all intercourse with society. In a sect of Judaism called the Essenes, excommunication often meant a person died in a miserable manner. The Mishnah reveals that the court had the power to inflict stoning, burning, strangulation, and decapitation to the excommunicated.
Excommunication didn’t just occur for Paul, but also for many believers throughout church history. One of the more famous examples was Martin Luther. For taking Scripture seriously and desiring to live it out, Martin Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic church in 1520. At the time, excommunication usually meant death, if not by the hands of Rome, then a bounty hunter. Sometime after he was whisked away and hidden at the Wartburg Castle by a friend, he wrote these capturing words:
“I can tell you in this idle solitude there are a thousand battles with Satan. It is much easier to fight against the incarnate Devil- that is against men- than against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places. Often I fall and am lifted again by God’s right hand…I did not want to come here. I wanted to be in the fray. I’d rather burn on live coals that rot here.”
Satan is all over the emotional vulnerability of rejection. As outcasts from the world’s value system, rejection is a common sentiment for the Christian experience. So how is Christianity for wimps?
The gospel threatens the base nature of men and Paul found himself as a fugitive early on in his ministry. He was often on the run because the people with worldly status and something to lose didn’t like his message. Before he took the gospel to the gentile Roman world, he started with his own people. Just after his conversion, in Damascus “the Jews plotted together to do away with him…but his disciples took him by night, and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket” (Acts 9:23,25). He could have been referring to this occasion when he said he was “in danger of death.” Or he could have been thinking of the time shortly thereafter in Jerusalem when he “was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death” (Acts9:29). We can fast-forward to another occasion near the end of his life when “the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul” (Acts 23:12).
Paul learned early on to deal with the sick feeling of people constantly wanting to kill him. Few of us have had the experience. Judge Leslie Crocker Snyder helps us understand the feeling as she relates an account of her first serious death threat: “The idea that anyone would want to kill me was unreal; I’d never confronted anything like it…During the day I functioned pretty well, keeping at bay the idea someone was planning to kill me. I repressed things as we all do when we’re busy….but at three in the morning I’d wake up with a cold sweat produced by moments of terror.”
It’s one thing to be chased for a few days or weeks. It’s another to constantly look over your shoulder for over 25 years as Paul did. This is the experience of many missionaries today in nations that have public policies that are antagonistic to the gospel value systems. Though God gives the strength, the mission field is no place for wimps.
Depression and Spiritual Warfare
Apart from Christ, there are few people in Scripture who have experienced the full brunt of the devil’s attack as Paul. He felt the lion when he was stalking and when he was roaring. He was the target of the gale force winds of hell as well as it’s deceptions. Satan attacked Paul’s strengths as well as his weaknesses. At the zenith of his impact, in the middle of his third journey, Paul hit a wall. In his words, he tells the Corinthian believers later: “we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which comes to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life” (II Corinthians 1:8). The great Paul despair? For some reason, whether the problem was a beat down that almost killed him, a drastic illness, or witchcraft, Satan used it to cause great depression and discouragement. The desperate circumstances were so great so as to cause a despair. He said he had the “sentence of death within himself” which could have referred to the temptation of suicidal thoughts. John Pollock makes sense of this dicey episode of Paul’s life:
“[Paul] passed into mental and spiritual affliction…Those who have known something of the mysterious powers of voodoo in tribal communities or experienced the mystifying exploitation of evil in western spiritualism cannot lightly eliminate this theory…Whether or not Paul suffered from sorcery as well as brutality, it seems unquestionable the he descended into a spiritual valley in which his soul experienced stresses that nearly shattered him.”
Despair is one of the poison tipped arrows in Satan’s quiver. And he knows right when to launch it. Dr. Neal Anderson comments: “It is important to understand that demonic influence is not an external force in the physical realm; it is the internal manipulation of the central nervous system.” Many Christians get tagged by this internal manipulation called despair. Suicide is an unfortunate option for those who can’t separate their thoughts from Satan’s. Killing ourselves is not the deepest thought about us or the will of God. Scripture has to be our guide. Even if it seems to difficult to hold onto, we need to know enough to not go Satan’s way, that maybe he’s more present that we have thought, and more evil than we have discerned. Hopeful encourages Christian in the dungeon of Giant Despair in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress: “Thou shall do no Murder…Much more then are we forbidden to…kill ourselves…And let us consider again, that all the Law is not in the hand of Giant despair; others…have been taken by him, as well as we; and yet have escaped out of his hands.”
With well crafted words, Paul wrote of his battle with despair and the subsequent benefits that are not talked about today: “indeed we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril…” (II Corinthians 1:9-10).
No body who has ever been sidelined with a great depression, had a stint in a mental hospital, struggled with thoughts of suicide, or worked hard to reclaim their sanity can accuse Paul of not understanding. He went through it as much as anybody did. But he was also spiritually intelligent enough to understand the benefits of the experience and not do something rash.
To one caught in this bugger of a battle with depression, God’s Word is the best guide out the thick foliage of despair. Since we can’t run from it, God allows despair as a choice tool to reorient a life and purge inferior dependencies. The world doesn’t understand the deep spiritual complexities of demonic warfare, and worldly attitudes to despair, though helpful, can trigger a person to go over the edge and take their own lives. In light of Paul surviving such a struggle intact, how is it wimpy to become a Christian?
Malaria can be deadly, decimating the Athenian army in 413 B.C. when soldiers laid siege to Syracuse. It is said Athens never fully recovered. Most scholars believe Paul contracted malaria in his travels, probably on his first journey near Perga. One of the ailments associated with malaria is diarrhea. We don’t know when the call of nature struck Paul, but without medications it had to be miserable in ancient times. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy said, “if there is anything worse than having diarrhea, it’s trying to have it quietly in a public restroom.” Diarrhea is only one of the problems associated with malaria. Chills, fever, heavy breathing, pain, stiffness, muscle spasms, coma and death all accompany malaria. God pulled Paul through this strain.
Heatstroke is nothing to mess around with. In 1995, it killed 700 people in Chicago in one week’s time. In 24. B.C., the Roman army was wiped out by heatstroke when it marched into Arabia. Heatstroke affects the young as well as the old, from soldiers, to athletes to field laborers. It can happen to anybody who drives their body too hard in hot, humid environments. Paul undoubtedly wrestled with the heat in his Arabian sojourn as well as in the difficult terrain beyond the mountains of Galatia. There was no way to avoid this malady in ancient times as demanding a schedule as Paul maintained in the Mediterranean environment.
Paul wrote that he had been “in hunger and in thirst” (II Corinthians 11:27). This suffering was probably combined with the heatstroke he experienced in the desert and other places. Survivalists say water is of much greater priority than food in the wilderness and one should avoid sweating at all costs. Death occurs with a loss of 10-15 liters of water in the body which in desert climates can occur in as little as seven hours. Water is such a precious commodity in dry climates, more than gold or money in the bank. And in dehydration, the obsession for water sheds all forms of pride, with people practically selling their birthrights to get it.
The prospect of the arena hounded Paul everywhere he went. Paul was a sports-fan and enjoyed the Corinthian games. But he didn’t want to be the main attraction in a bloodsport like lion fighting. The movie The Gladiator with Russell Crowe reminds us of the treachery of the arena which is the antecedent to our modern version of cage fighting and UFC. Paul liked to be in the political arena contending for the gospel, but didn’t see a lot of use for himself in the animal arena. Many places he visited like Rome, Phillippi, and Ephesus had arenas and the possibility was never far from his mind. In 1961 a hunter in Kenya was attacked by a lion and witnesses said the shock of the blow was beyond description, the man going down as if he “had been electrocuted.”
Paul was also bitten by poisonous snake called a Levant Viper on the island of Malta when reaching into a bundle of firewood. The venom is dangerous and produces and immediate searing and burning pain. But Luke says in Acts that Paul miracously suffered no ill effects. One man who was bit by a Rattlesnake, also a pit viper, said “there is nothing more painful than a Rattlesnake bite. It felt like someone was tearing my finger off and kept tearing it off.”
On at least four occasions, Paul was shipwrecked, writing that he spent “a night and a day…in the deep” (II Corinthians 11:25). The sea was feared by the ancients as the home of chaos, evil, and despair. A man at sea has little control of his surroundings and is extremely vulnerable to the forces in nature, the down time causing many to go deep in their hearts and search their spirits with what faith they have. The sea is most affected by the wind and interestingly both the Hebrew and Greek words for “wind” are also the word for “divine spirit”. No wonder the sea has profound religious connotations for those accustomed to it. Joshua Slocum writes, “Old sailors have odd ways of showing their religious feelings, but there are no infidels at sea”. Though he was no infidel before he sailed, the sea probably served to deepen Paul’s dependence on Christ.
One man said after being rescued from a sinking supply ship that “the noise was just tremendous…it was like lightning and thunder crackling all around you”. The threat of drowning and sharks are the supreme terrors of shipwreck, and the Mediterrannean is even known to contain Great Whites. Drowning has to rate high in fearful deaths. Peter Stark wrote in The Last Breath, “More than many forms of death…the act itself connotes surrender, submission to something greater, or among the despairing, the abandon of all hope…” But the silent killer is hypothermia. As the ocean doesn’t insulate, the body spends energy trying to warm itself in vain. As the core temperature of the body drops, the victim suffers heart attack because of cold blood circulating through the heart.
Paul must have drank a lot of salty sea water and battled the urge to breathe when under water. We don’t know how close Paul came to dying with the threat of sharks, drowning, and hypothermia. But the realities were there.
The Law of Stature
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” as the saying goes. There is a law of philosophy called the law of stature. It says basically that suffering precedes stature in anything. It’s the cost for glory in any pursuit. As God invented reality, it’s no different in the Christian life. The paradigm of a cursed world is that suffering precedes stature. Suffering, far from disproving the God of Scripture, actually vindicates it. Suffering ceases sin like nothing else. And Paul proves that Christianity is not for wimps contrary to the implications of modern cultural Christianity with it’s emphasis on entertainment and self exaltation.
What is Christian strength? Paul wasn’t given to the phony toughness of revenge or getting impulsively violent when wronged, as we see portrayed in cop shows on T.V. Christian strength is a gritty transcendence for righteousness that will one day result in a physically dominant posture on earth. It’s a strength that causes believers to be the last ones standing when others have fouled themselves out of the game. It’s a resolve to overcome, Christ’s power best manifested in courage. This strength is typified by what author Julia Ward Howe wrote about President Lincoln when she first met him: “he is a strong man. But not like a block of stone. He’s more like a wire or cable, flexible and bendable but not easily broken.”
That was Paul and it can be us. After submitting to the Creator, we become bendable and flexible but not easily broken. Though Paul was a survivor, God gave him the strength to endure his assignments. Christians are the only ones who have the apparatus to face the realities of evil full on without denial because technically they’re the only ones who understand it. One who lives forever never really goes away. They may be “punished, but not put to death” wrote Paul (II Corinthians 6:9). The world is tough, and evil seems relentless and rapacious, out for revenge with endless layers of assault. But it is not the deepest power. To battle the distractions from the world, the assaults from Satan, and the temptations of the flesh, Christianity is not for wimps. God develops wimps who come to him to be courageous people, skillfully navigating through the landmines of life.
We may never go through what Paul went through. But Paul wouldn’t have made it without the hand of God. And that same strength is available in our difficulties. If Paul could make it through his trials, we can persevere our way to heaven with honor and dignity as well. With what Paul endured and as well as many others over the centuries, let no one say Christianity is for wimps.
Copyright 2010 by Scott Chandler. All rights reserved.