As liberal publications like The Washington Post, Newsweek, The New Republic, and many others have attacked me this month for emphasizing the importance of male leadership, I have relished Joachim Neander's "Praise to the Lord" hymn from 1680. I reported last December how those saddened by much more than a hostile press have been able to testify to this: "How oft in grief hath not He brought thee relief, spreading his wings to o'er shade thee."
We've all been to churches where people seem to have smiles pasted on their faces, but that seems as far from the Christian life as is constant grief. Christian in The Pilgrim's Progress regularly had grief, which was regularly followed by relief, and that seems to be more often what God ordains. If we expect life to go smoothly, we will spend much of it discontented. Particularly as Easter approaches, we need to read and think regularly about how Christ Himself came to earth not only to die but to live amid rejection.
The horribly painful death Christ suffered on Good Friday took several hours. It was terrible spiritually, psychologically, and physically, but think also of the rejection that occurred during the night before the crucifixion, and all the rejections that occurred prior to Good Friday-rejections by family, by community, by local religious leaders, by national religious leaders. Those also were painful. Much of the Bible is about painful rejection-Israel's rejection of God the Father, of prophets, of the Son.
So, for that matter, is much of human history. Foxe's Book of Martyrs, the great 16th-century journalistic/historical account, is all about the rejection of God's people through the ages. Paul Johnson's book Modern Times, a history of the 20th century, implicitly shows the rejection of God during that dark age in which most of us were born. Friedrich Nietzsche a century ago, and Ted Turner more recently, snarled that Christianity is a religion for losers. That's not true, because the last will be first, but it is certainly a religion that acknowledges the reality of rejection.
And yet, Christianity is also a religion of contentment amid distress. Here's one of the last pieces of advice in Jeremiah Burroughs's great book from the 1640s, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment: "Make a good interpretation of God's ways toward you." That means, if you have some trouble or fail a test, think that God perhaps has given you a trial to build your character. Perhaps you had your heart inordinately set on a particular selfish goal. Perhaps, had you succeeded you would have used the opportunity to fall into sin. Perhaps God is preparing you for some great work, or setting the stage for some great grace.
That's the way to think about things. I was feeling sheepish recently when the editorial page of the University of Texas student newspaper, liberally controlled this year, mimicked the hit pieces in other publications and came up with this headline: "Olasky a UT Embarrassment." But we all need to think about how God is training us, whether in minor episodes like mine or ones that are truly significant. Have you ever had to counsel a mother whose child has died? That is the time it is most difficult to make a good interpretation of God's ways toward us. That is the time it is most essential.
Tender mercies arise, often when they are unexpected. Marriage is one of the best of them. Right after that newspaper headline appeared, my wife and I went to have lunch on campus. Susan had the sensation that people were looking at us, maybe because the campus hit piece had just come out. And while I was feeling a little rejected, she recalled how when she was a little girl she loved going places with her grandpa. He was very tall, tall as a maple tree, she thought. He was also very old-in his upper 80s at that time. She said that as they walked down the street everyone would look at them, and she was so proud to be next to him, and she was proud to be next to me.
That was very sweet, but there's something far sweeter. The church is the bride of Christ, and when we are scorned and rejected because of that relationship we should remember that we're walking down the street next to Christ, who is even taller than a maple tree. He has risen. He has risen indeed.