Monday, February 6, 2012

On Being Sifted

I noticed something in the Bible yesterday. Reading along in Luke 22, I was reminded of Job 1. Both passages mention Satan.

You know how Satan appears in the book of Job; he comes to God's throne room in heaven and asks permission to torment Job. God allows it. Eventually Satan is given power to do anything he likes to Job, except take his life. What a terrifying prospect!
by William Blake

In Luke 22, Jesus tells Peter that a similar conversation had happened in heaven more recently. Satan asked again. He asked for permission to test the disciples. "Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat," Jesus tells Peter. The "you" in this part is plural; Satan asked permission to test all the disciples. But permission was given for only one of them. For Peter.

I imagine the horror I'd have felt, if I'd been in Peter's shoes at that moment.

We'd be foolish to think that this kind of request on Satan's part has only happened twice in history. It's entirely conceivable that it happens all the time. He doesn't need permission to mess with the pagans around us. They're fair game. And why would he need to test them? He has them already. He's more interested in torturing God's children, making them scream and squirm. Weakening them and making them useless.

How many Christians that we know, who've fallen into devastating sins, destroying trials, holes of depression from which they can't climb out -- how many of them are suffering from Satan's sifting? How quick we are to judge others whose lives fall apart! "Did you hear what he did?" we whisper to one another. "How devastating!" and we wag our heads in sympathy. "Her life will never be the same," we say.  Do we consider the supernatural powers our friends might be up against, when their lives come apart at the seams? Were we spared only because Satan didn't ask for permission to sift us?

These are important questions to ask ourselves. We judge the failings of others as if they happen in a vacuum, outside of supernatural influence. What foolishness! The man who falls into adultery, the woman who becomes an alcoholic, the youth who cheats or steals: they may all have faced a sifting -- a testing -- from Satan that others have not. Perhaps some pass the test, and others fail.  In Scripture, Job seems to have passed his test, but Peter clearly fails in his.

When you look at Christians whose lives are a mess, picture them sitting in a huge metal sieve, with Satan grasping it, and shaking and rattling away. Or perhaps they are cowering on a hard floor, and Satan is whaling away at them with a thresher's flail. What would that feel like? How grateful you should feel if God has never allowed Satan to do that to you.
The wheat kernel is crushed and broken into pieces, but is more useful to us afterward.

What is the result of a sifting? In the end, it produces a better man, a better woman. Others in the church do not always see it, because the sifted Christian looks like damaged goods. Jesus says this of Peter: "But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers."

Jesus's prayers are never denied. Peter's faith held firm. He did turn again. But what is his relationship to be, with his fellow believers? Should he be viewed as damaged goods?  Too broken for use? An embarrassment? Tolerated, but never given a position of leadership? On the contrary! The other disciples are standing there, when Jesus says this. They will remember later that Peter's job, as a sifted soul, is to strengthen others. He can only do that if he is strong himself. Sifting strengthens the believer for ministry in the church.

Oh, if we only believed that, and lived it. Instead, the church often rejects the sifted believer. His experience has been too terrifying to watch. How much is the church weakened, because the strengthening power of these people, is rejected?

3 comments:

  1. Our priest says that there is nothing that happens to us that God does not allow; which is sometimes cold comfort and at others the very thing I need to hear. He also says that we are never stronger than our temptations; something that makes it ...or should..a little easier to accept the speck in someone else's eye while looking through the beam in ours. Excellent post MK!

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  2. Thanks, Karen! We should look mercifully and humbly at the trials of others, as if they were our own. Your priest is right.

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  3. Amen! Thank you for writing this.

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