Why do we rebel against our trials lasting longer than we think they should? Because of self-pride, and it is that very self-pride that God purposes to destroy. He cannot complete His work as long as we cling to “self-pride.”
What are we complaining about? Was our excessive attachment to the world and, above all, to self, something we treasured? God orders a series of events that first of all detaches us gradually from the world, and finally from the self also. The operation is painful, but our corruption nukes it necessary. If the flesh were healthy, the surgeon would not need to make an incision. He uses his surgical tools only in proportion to the depth of the disease and the extent of its infection. If the operation is painful, it is because the disease is active. Is it cruelty that makes the surgeon dig deep? No, quite otherwise – it is skill and kindness; he would do the same with his only child.
It is the same way God treats us. He never willingly puts us through any pain. His fatherly heart does not desire to grieve us, but the Lord spares nothing so that He may remove the tumors of self-pride from our spiritual being. He must tear from us what we love wrongly, unreasonably, or excessively, the thing that hinders His love. In so doing, He causes us to cry out like a child from whom one takes away a pair of scissors with which it could injure itself. We cry loudly in our despair and murmur against God, just as the irritable child complains against its mother. But He lets us cry while He’s saving us!
God afflicts us only for our correction. Even when He seems to overwhelm us, it is for our good to spare us the greater evil we would do to ourselves. The things for which we weep would have caused us eternal distress; what we count as forfeiture was actually lost when we imagined that it belonged to us. God has stored it away to return it to us in eternity. He only deprives us of the things we prize because He wants to teach us to love them purely, honestly, and correctly to enjoy them forever in His presence and because He wants to do things a hundred times better than we can or even desire for ourselves.
Nothing can happen in the world except by God’s permissive will. He does everything, arranges everything, makes everything to be as it is. The Almighty counts the hairs on every head, the leaves of every tree, every grain of sand on the seashore, and the drops of water in the mighty ocean. When He made the world, His wisdom weighed and measured every atom He constructed. Every moment He renews and sustains the breath of life. He knows the number of our days; He holds the strings of life or death. So, what seems most valuable is nothing in God’s eyes or a little longer or shorter life matters nothing to Him? So what does it matter whether this frail vessel, this poor clump of clay, will be thrown aside a little sooner or later? How shortsighted and blundering, we are in believing this!
We are stunned at the death of someone in the blossoming age of their life. “What a sad loss!” we cry out. But to whom is the loss? What does the person who died loose? – a few years of self-importance, delusion, and risks. God calls that person away from evil and saves them from their weakness and the world’s wickedness. What do those lose who love God? – danger of earthly happiness, a treacherous delight, a snare that caused them to forget God and their welfare. But in truth, they gain the blessing of detachment through the cross. That same blow by which someone dies saves them; it leaves those behind to find salvation in hope. Surely, then, it is true that God is very good, very loving, very full of compassion concerning our real needs, even when He seems to overwhelm us, and we are tempted to think of Him as hardhearted.
The sensitiveness of self-love makes us keenly alive to our condition. The sick person who cannot sleep thinks the night is endless, yet it is no longer than any other night. In our cowardice, we exaggerate all we suffer. Our pain may be severe, but we make it worse by shrinking under it. The natural way to get relief is to give ourselves up heartily to God, to accept suffering because God sends it to purify us and make us better servants for Him.
The world;y lifestyle smiled at you and was like a poison to your soul. Would you wish to go on, right up to the hour of death, in ease and pleasure, in the pride of life and soul-destroying luxury, clinging to the world – which is Christ’s enemy, and rejecting the cross – which alone can make you holy? The world will turn away and forget, despise, and ignore you. Are you surprised at that since the world is unjust, deceitful, and treacherous? Yet, you are not ashamed to love this world, from which the Messiah came to snatch you to deliver you from its bondage and set you free.
You’d complain if God took you too soon. You are your worse enemy when you are so alive to the world’s meaninglessness, and you cannot endure what is for your real good. In fact, you deeply regret losing touch with what is fatal to you. It is the source of all your grief and pain.
Written over 450 years ago
by François Fénelon
Vocabulary redacted by Dr. Robert R Seyda