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Whether Damned or Not


Brother Lawrence was a French monk, born in 1611. You can read about him in translated copies of autobiographical work entitled The Practice of the Presence of God. It's well worth a read, being full of the beauty of a life lived wholly to the glory of God. Lawrence practised being in "constant conversation" with God and developed a consciousness that every single act that was done in the day, from cooking to picking up single strands of straw from the floor, was a potential act of worship if done with a correct attitude and mindset.

It's a pretty thrilling encouragement towards holiness as a lifestyle, and probably warrants a few more posts after a re-read. One thing in particular that has always struck me about the book, however, is from the translator's introduction. In the midst of explaining Lawrence's journey into monastic life, the writer comments on the rather melancholy introduction the monk had to his new religion. Brother Lawrence, he notes, was, for four years convinced that he was utterly damned. He was in great trouble of spirit, being anxious, and unassured of his spiritual status before God.

Not so shocking you might not think, until, as the writer goes on, we learn about Brother Lawrence's "breakthrough". This came when he decided that, "whether damned or not, he would continue in the same way, trying to do whatever he did out of love for God". Only with this mindset did he find "continual rejoicing and freedom of spirit".

Now, I bet most of us would struggle to get our heads around that. How many of us would be content to live to the glory of God if we knew we were not elect? I mean, how devastating? I think what would happen if we got confirmation that we were of the unelect, would be the exact opposite of what happens when we discover we are elect - when we become Christians. We would start to hate God. We would resent God, we would be angry with Him, and grow ever more hardened towards Him. We'd end up thinking things like what is left to lose? And we would grow deeper into our sinfulness. As a church, we have recently concluded a preaching series through Revelation. That point was briefly spoken about, how those who will go to hell will continue in their sin. They won't see eye to eye even more clearly, like those who will be glorified. They will instead grow harder and harder in their hatred and resentment of God's justice.

I believe that there is something remarkable, and beautiful and true about Brother Lawrence's mindset here. He has correctly understood that as a sinner, he is under the just wrath and condemnation of God. And even though I'm sure he would rather be an assuredly saved man, he believes God to be more just and righteous than he and accepts that in God's world, under God's sovereign rule over all creation, God must be true to Himself as divine moral arbiter. Lawrence concedes that if he is in the wrong, he deserves what's coming to him. But he also affirms that God still deserves Glory, because God is the only true perfect being, and he gets to decide what's right and wrong. He is being faithful and fair and just to mankind and Lawrence affirms this consistency and righteousness of character in God. He is therefore satisfied to accept his status of saved, of unsaved, whichever God pleases, as God will always be just and right and good.

It's a truly remarkable point to arrive at. He's attained to what the Apostle Paul attained to when he put together his divinely inspired potter and clay analogy in Romans 9. He has arrived at the same point as Job when he said "Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer thee? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further." He has arrived at the same point as the Lord Jesus who said: "Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done". And the point here really is just to marvel at these types of responses that acknowledge God as sovereign, just, and good, even when He allows things to happen that seem unfair at first. There is a deep humility that submits to the will and the way of God, even when we think we should be getting a different deal out of life. It's a response that acknowledges that God made the world for His own glory first. That we were created for Him, to worship and adore Him, and to affirm Him as good, because He IS good! It's a response that gives God the benefit of the doubt, rather than how we feel about or perceive a particular situation. It's a response that says, you are God, therefore you must be right, simply by virtue of being God, who claims to be truthful and good.

As the prophet reveals in Isaiah 55 "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." This, of course, doesn't mean that God is unknowable. God is knowable, knowable enough to bring new life to dead souls. What it sets out though, is the reality that God should be beyond reproach in our minds. The God who laid the earth's foundation, the God who gives orders to the morning is the kind of God who does not need to be questioned by the dust of the earth. Sometimes I wonder if we are a little bit too quick to question the God who knitted us together in the womb. We are too quick to ask him to give an account of himself because of what he's doing in our lives. I don't want to suggest that we can't ever ask God why? By no means. In the book of Malachi, we read of God asking His people to put Him to the test that they might learn by experience of His goodness. We can question God to a certain extent. But with a right heart and a right attitude. We must be careful not to over analyse God's word, or try to rationalise his revelation to us in a way that is conformed to limitations of our finite minds. We must be careful not to demand that he make perfect and complete sense to us. We must allow for that fact that there is an unknowableness about God, with each assigned an allowance of knowledge, only according to His grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in an individuals life. This is because damned or not, God is God. He is immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes. We need to make sure that we let God be true and every man a liar. This is the kind of esteem we must Hold God in. He is unaccountable and above all our thoughts. But He says He is good, and we must trust that.

The other interesting thing to note about Brother Lawrence and his seemingly unusual breakthrough is that it was, in fact, a breakthrough. As the translator reveals "Only with this mindset did he find "continual rejoicing and freedom of spirit". That's fascinating because it's Christian language to describe a Christian. Brother Lawrence might not have been sure that he was saved at this point, but I'm suggesting he was. Perhaps a discussion on assurance is a theme for another post, but I don't believe that an unregenerate man can come to that conclusion.

So, here is a little call to be a bit more like Brother Lawrence. To depend on God, and trust God and honour God simply for the fact that He is God and He demands it. This is how Christians become joyful let's not forget. Because to lift our eyes so far above ourselves and indeed, the earthly dimension, into the heavens to the presence of God, we gain an understanding that the world is not about us. Christian joy and freedom is bound inexplicably in total, unequivocal, wholehearted trust in God not matter what. Even when we struggle to understand a situation. And I don't want to talk about blind faith here. I mean that what is revealed in the Bible should be enough for us to still trust God in the moments we struggle with something the God isn't willing to share with us right now (if ever). But that's where joy and freedom come from. A concern for God, over a concern for ourselves.

Photo by Michael Barth on Unsplash

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