A funny thing happened on the way to writing Distractions. I got distracted. First, it was going to be an update to something I wrote almost eight years ago. Somehow, it turned into something brand new. Then, I got distracted again. This time, by medical news. News that raises the question – to run from God – or run to God?
In my life, it’s come up before. At what point is enough too much? C.S. Lewis wrote something in The Screwtape Letters that’s relevant to what happened. Before reading it though, you must understand that it’s written from the perspective of a devil (Screwtape) – writing to his nephew (Wormwood) who is a devil in training. Screwtape is teaching his nephew how to turn his “patient”, a human being, away from God (referred to as the Enemy) and towards Satan (referred to as Our Father). Got it? Everything’s backwards. Upside-down. The opposite of what we expect. So – here it is.
How the devil views us and what I’m calling distractions
Humans are amphibians—half spirit and half animal. (The Enemy’s determination to produce such a revolting hybrid was one of the things that determined Our Father to withdraw his support from Him.) As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation—the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks. If you had watched your patient carefully you would have seen this undulation in every department of his life—his interest in his work, his affection for his friends, his physical appetites, all go up and down. As long as he lives on earth periods of emotional and bodily richness and liveliness will alternate with periods of numbness and poverty. The dryness and dullness through which your patient is now going are not, as you fondly suppose, your workmanship; they are merely a natural phenomenon which will do us no good unless you make a good use of it.
To decide what the best use of it is, you must ask what use the Enemy wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.
And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to override a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. Lewis, C. S.. The Screwtape Letters (pp. 40-42). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
In a nutshell, Screwtape is telling Wormwood that God actually uses the times in our lives that are the most difficult to bring us to Him. And to show us that we both need Him, and can stand on our own legs at the same time. As long as we have things like faith, trust, love. And the ultimate display of our faith, trust and love for God comes when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. The point at which we’re asking – when is enough too much? And yet, we decide to run to God, not away from Him.
My personal “distractions”
If you’re not a regular reader here, you can check out a large part of my journey through life through a series of articles. Sorry, but I’ve never gone back to make just one. (1) About me: My story – why God? (2) About me: My story – God didn’t do it. Then, I ended up in the hospital with a staph infection. After eight days in the hospital and five more weeks of home care with an antibiotic pump attached to me and weekly blood tests, I came out of it 100% OK. That’s not at all what was expected by the doctors. One told me I “beat the reaper”. Others told me that, at a minimum, I’d have a great deal of kidney damage and some impact on my liver as well. And there was the pneumonia. That seemed like enough.
I wrote about that in God – is it time for me to go home? After several days in the hospital I was asking God that question – is it time to go home? Home to Him that is. Home to Heaven. I would have been happy to leave this life. But I was OK with staying if that’s what He wanted.
Now, about two and a half years later, something else happened. Distractions? Or is there a purpose? Maybe that’s been the question all along. I just never noticed or realized that.
What are the new distractions? As I said – all medical. Two of them on my wife’s side of the family. The other one, me. It’s a bit much for my wife. Three things within a span of less than a week. What she’s going through reminds me of something in Job.
Job 1:6 One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. 7 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”
Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.”
Job 1:8 Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”
No – I’m not saying my wife is just like Job. However, she is Christian. And uses her knowledge as a Christian and graduate of a Christian University to help people in her job.
Job 1:9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”
I would be surprised if this isn’t a pretty common request from Satan.
Job 1:12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
And here, God gives permission for Satan to do all sorts of things. But nothing to Job himself.
The thing here is how we look at it. There’s a Christian viewpoint to this that non-Christians have a hard time understanding. Maybe it’s even impossible to understand. It’s a realization that what C.S. Lewis wrote isn’t just an observation about the world. It’s what the Bible says will happen. It’s what Jesus said will happen. More than once, so we know it’s important. Really important. Let’s take a look.
6:25-33 pp — Lk 12:22-31
Mt 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?
In a very real sense, Jesus is saying that food, drink, clothes and the like are distractions. Like those shoes in the image at the top, they are distractions that lead us away from the more important things in life. In the next paragraph, Jesus tells us what we’re being distracted from.
Mt 6:28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Yes – make being part of the Kingdom of Heaven the priority in our lives. There are enough troubles in this life. When we seek the Kingdom of Heaven first, God will take care of the rest.
The thing is – maybe not to the degree that we desired before we became Christians. Remember the troughs. Things won’t always be great. In fact, things may never be great in this life. But compared to this incredibly short life, of what importance is that compared to eternity in the Kingdom of Heaven? None, really. Comparatively, it’s not even a moment. But it’s so meaningful.
Let’s move to the next one. Jesus describes different kinds of people. From our point of view today, it’s like people who hear the words above about seeking the Kingdom of Heaven being a priority. But then they get distracted. Maybe even by shoes. And then different things will happen. Let’s see what they are.
4:1-12 pp — Mt 13:1-15; Lk 8:4-10
4:13-20 pp — Mt 13:18-23; Lk 8:11-15
Jesus tells the parable. It’s meaning is coming shortly, so let’s just read it for now.
Mk 4:1 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.”
Mk 4:9 Then Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
This is like Biblical code for “only those really seeking God will understand this”. Normally, I don’t like to extract a verse, with no context. But in this case, the exact context doesn’t add anything. Just the words in these two verses let us know what’s happening and why God said what He did to Ezekiel.
Eze 12:1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.”
This isn’t good. The people have moved so far away from following God, that He’s about to let them be conquered and scattered around the other nations. Further, God’s saying that because the people are so rebellious, even though they will see and hear what’s going on around them, they won’t understand it.
So, when we read about Jesus saying “eyes to see” and / or “ears to hear”, that’s what it means. Those who are against God, not truly seeking Him, will read, see and hear the same things as people who are seeking Him. However, they won’t understand at all. That alone explains a lot about why some think Christians are crazy for the things we believe.
Let’s move on to the explanation. Notice, the words in verse 11 apply even here. Many will read this, and not understand. Not believe. And therefore, not really pay attention.
Mk 4:10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that,
“ ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving,
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’’”
Mk 4:13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word.
The word can be anything from what Jesus taught to, as John puts it, Jesus Himself:
Jn 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
So, for our example, the people hear of the Kingdom of Heaven and Jesus’ teachings associated with it. But then, distractions come.
15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them.
All sorts of people walk along a path. Using our shoe example, maybe those who just heard about the Kingdom of Heaven got side-tracked because they saw those shoes, worn by others on the path, and just had to get them. After buying them, they forget all about the Kingdom of Heaven. The seed dies, for lack of care. So does the person’s interest in Jesus.
Or, maybe they just got crushed by people wearing the shoes. Too many distractions. Just trying to survive is too much. Instead of seeking God, asking for His power and help, they tried on their own. The distractions won out. And the seed died. So did their interest in Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven.
16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
This seed actually starts to grow. A little bit. But while the idea of the Kingdom of God sounds good, something’s missing. The root. As Paul calls it, the foundation. Becoming a Christian isn’t an instant thing. It takes time. Effort. Acknowledgment of the relative places of ourselves and God. Realization that we need God, His power to get through this thing we call Christianity. Please see Pop Tart Christians for more on those thoughts.
The distractions won out. And the plant that started to grow from the seed dies. So does their interest in Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven.
18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.
Another sad ending. In this case, the seed grows into a plant. And the plant continues to grow. But like my kumquat tree the last couple years, it has no fruit. That describes the person who thinks they’re Christian, but really aren’t. Maybe they even go to church pretty much every Sunday. They might even volunteer. But not for God. No, if they volunteer, it’s for themselves. To look good. To impress God. Whatever the reason, it’s not to bring glory for God. And so, even if there is something that looks like fruit, it’s not good to eat. The distractions become the reasons for the things done, even in church and allegedly in God’s name. But they’re really done for the distractions. The shoes.
The distractions won out. And the plant that grew from the seed is useless. It has no fruit. And these people, just like with the plants that died, lose their interest in Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven.
20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.”
Finally, the seed grows. Good fruit is produced. Excellent fruit. This is the person who really wanted God. For whatever the reason, this person wanted God enough to not get distracted by the distractions. Evidence of this comes from the fact that what “they” accomplished is far beyond what’s physically possible.
I use physically in very loose terms. We tend to think of our labors in physical terms. What happens in this instance is God’s spiritual multiplication of our capabilities.
The distractions lose. And the plant that started to grow, and did grow, from the seed thrives. And so does their interest in Jesus and the Kingdom of Heaven.
Yes, there will be troubles. There will be distractions. However, we don’t have to allow them to beat us. We can win. But only when “we” includes us and God.
One final example should really drive home the point about troubles. Troubles as distractions, designed to keep us from running to God. And instead urging us to run from God.
What I’m really after in this passage, for this topic, is at the very end. It’s Jesus, talking to His disciples about His looming death.
Jn 16:17 Some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”
Jn 16:19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20 I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.
They don’t understand, but Jesus is telling His disciples that pretty much everybody except them will be very happy about His death. After the fact, they’ll remember this. But for now, it means nothing.
21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
Notice, Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. It’s a bit off-topic here, but I want to refer you to The problem of “Ask and you will receive” to read about what Jesus really meant by that statement. The key is “in my name“.
Jn 16:25 “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27 No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”
Jn 16:29 Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 30 Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
Of course, they still didn’t really understand. And Jesus lets them know by what He says next.
Jn 16:31 “You believe at last!”Jesus answered. 32 “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.
Jn 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
That last verse is the key for us in this topic. We will have trouble in this life. And while some Christians will try to skip over that part, Jesus states it very clearly. And then He goes on to say – don’t worry about it. He’s got it covered. He’s got us covered. When we really truly follow Him, we can still have His peace, even in the midst of our troubles. In fact, if you read the referenced article about my hospital stay, I think it’s only in the midst of our big troubles that we can really get a feel for what His peace is all about.
Just like He said it would be. And just like C. S. Lewis said it could be.
So what about my distraction?
Yes, I did mention that there’s a medical issue with me. Actually, there’s probably one. Won’t know for sure until at least a couple more doctor visits and at least one more test. Exactly what it is, doesn’t matter. With most people, any potentially serious medical issue is pretty much treated as reality.
It’s a distraction. Yes, God will allow distractions to come our way. We’ve seen plenty of evidence for that. Oftentimes, like with Job, we won’t have a clue as to why something’s happening. For more thoughts on that, I invite you to read Ours is not to reason why.
Conclusion – Distractions – run away from God, run or to God?
If my issue turns out to be “real”, I’m sure I’ll be writing something about it. But for now, I’m writing about my wife. And for people who might be a similar situation. I don’t see her running away from God.
But I’ve been in similar places at other times. And I put on those shoes and ran. Away from God. Some of you reading this have probably done the same. All I can say is this – put the shoes back on and run the other way. Run back to God. The troubles are going to come. It’s just part of this life. Whether directed as us, or us falling within the limits of something God has allowed for some reason that we don’t know – they are going to come.
The thing is, when we focus on reaching out to God, seeking His Kingdom as it’s called in Christian church-speak, only then can we really actually have peace in the middle of all those troubles. I know – it’s hard to imagine. Hard to believe. And yet I also know, from experience, it really is possible.
I’ve mentioned a section the NIV calls Exhortations in other articles. It really understates the words in it. Like much of what I wrote above, it’s only by experience and / or faith that we can believe it. Maybe it indicates something about my belief, or lack of, but my experience was far beyond what I ever thought possible. Even though the peace that Jesus promised is something I’ve wanted ever since I was a little kid. Anyway – here it is:
Phil 4:2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Phil 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Phil 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
he peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. I’m really glad it says transcends all understanding. Maybe it’s not a lack of faith. It’s a complete lack of understanding of what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like – after a life here in this fallen world.
So if you’re running away from God – turn around. Run to Him. And if you’re already running to Him – check your shoe status and run even harder. It’s worth it. BTW – the “shoes” He’ll give you when you reach out for Him – they’re way better than those shoes that get us distracted in the pathway of life.
|↑1||Lewis, C. S.. The Screwtape Letters (pp. 40-42). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.|