Active or passive?

“The verb ‘to suffer’ is passio in Greek and it means ‘to undergo’.  Related to our word ‘passive’, it reflects the passive mode of living, which means to let reality impinge on you, to let things touch you and change you.   In contrast, to impose yourself on reality is the active mode of living, which means you are defining who you are and what reality is.

It is very telling that we speak of the ‘passion’ of Christ as redemptive, rather than the ‘action’!  The passive mode, the suffering mode, is where you are vulnerable, naked and teachable – not manipulating things around you.  In this passive mode, you are not forcing events, but letting your eyes be cleared and your heart be exposed more and more each day.”

Richard Rohr,  A Perspective on Luke’s gospel, p26

Father Rohr goes on to say that today’s word for ‘the passive mode of living’ is ‘openness’. It is about vulnerability and letting the revelation of God come in through what is happening around you, and then responding to what He reveals with faith.  Perhaps another word is ‘surrender’.  It is through this yielded-ness that the Lord works redemption.

I am from a tradition where the ‘active’ mode is seen as the way of faith. This is not wrong, but it can create such a ‘can do’ mindset that we imagine our behaviour can twist God’s arm.  For instance, if I receive a prophetic word, I must ‘position myself’ to see it happen, ‘sow into it’, pray it in and remind God regularly of what He has promised.  I am, as Rohr says, ‘defining my reality’.  It sounds very prophetic and faith-filled, ‘calling into being the things that are not as though they were’ (Romans 4v17).  But if we are not fully in line with His heart and timing we can even be manipulative, ‘prophesying out of our own imaginations’ (Ezekiel 13v2).  Perhaps this over-zealous ‘active’ mode is where we get the idea that ‘if someone is not healed there was just not enough faith in those who prayed’. Well, maybe… but maybe that was not the reason, maybe the Lord had other reasons – and blaming the bereaved is hardly loving!

There is a balance to be found, of external and internal – a softness of heart which waits for the still small voice and allows the moulding of the Potter, as well as the willingness and energy to get on with things! Its Mary and Martha, action and contemplation.  When we are in ‘action mode’ the knee-jerk response to adverse circumstances can be immediate resistance.  How many times do we stop and ask, ‘Is this sickness unto death?’ (John 11v4). Even as Christians we jump to defend our rights, claiming ‘the promises of God’, blaming the enemy: we’re going to put up a fight! It is great and vital that we rise up in faith and press in in prayer.  Yes, of course as His children we are blessed and protected, and we are supposed to ask our Father for the things we need.  But lately I have been asking myself a bit more often when I present my requests, what will he do, what will she feel, if things don’t turn out the way they wanted – the way I wanted?  This is the testing of our faith in a good God!  Is He still good if my life is hard and ‘bad things’ happen? Its Christianity 101!

A few weeks after Sam was diagnosed with brain cancer one of the things that struck me most was our daughter’s comment, “How can anyone stop believing in God because suffering comes into their own life?” Rebecca has been on a deep spiritual journey to atheism and back again, via an MA in Philosophy (Neitzche!).  She knows how to think straight!  If there is so much suffering in the world around us, why did we ever believe in God to begin with? Had we not noticed it before it touched our own small world?  Did we care so little? Or did we imagine we were immune?

On the contrary, we are followers of One who embraced suffering as an intercession for us all.  We have taken this to mean that He went through it so that we don’t have to… and of course that is true as far as winning salvation for us goes.  But He left us in no doubt that we are called to deny ourselves and daily ‘take up our cross’ and follow Him.  Walking round with a cross on your shoulder is like saying, “I am a dead man’!  We are encouraged repeatedly that it is as we share in His sufferings we will share in His glory.  And as priests and ministers of the good news in this needy world, we are also called to share in the suffering around us: intercession is identification.   There is no escape from this ‘undergoing’…

BUT God uses what we undergo to work good for us!  He forms character and maturity, conforming us to the image of His Son (Christian = little Christ). He develops authority in us in those low places: we can comfort others with the comfort we have received (2 Corinthians 1v4-7). He promises never to leave us alone, to give grace, peace, strength, salvation – and ultimately victory over death.  NB “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death” Revelation 2v11. As a friend of mine used to say, there is no guarantee about the first death!  It says here below in Hebrews that through His supplications Jesus was saved from death… well He was – by passing through it!  If He learned what it means to be a son through suffering and submission… how much more do we.

“During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.  Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered (passio – underwent)…”     Hebrews 5v7-8

“Then He said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.’  Going a little farther He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father. if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me.  Yet not as I will, but as You will’…  He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, May Your will be done.”   Matthew 26v38-39, 42.

Jesus painfully settled the matter in prayer: the Father wanted Him to go through it (passio). Then a few minutes later, Peter (typical action man) put up a fight!  But Jesus said,  “Do you think I cannot call on my Father and He would put at my disposal more than 12 legions of angels? But then how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?” v53-54.Here is our great example, refusing to take supernatural action at the crucial moment because He knew God’s will and word.  He had already done it at least once before – in the wilderness, when it was the tempter who threw the verse of Scripture at Him, challenging Him to a supernatural exhibition (Matthew 4v6)! Ah, be careful with those apparently divine calls to action: it is not always the right way. But if we ‘correctly handle the word of truth’ (2 Timothy 2v15) there will be a balance between active and passive, suffering and glory, death and life, as we patiently ‘undergo’ – and emerge as new creations.

Its all about the timing  – and being totally secure in the love of God! 🙂


About Sally Ann

True-story teller - words and pictures
This entry was posted in Quotable quotes, Something to say, Suffering. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Active or passive?

  1. Steve says:

    Speaking as a disempowered action man, never thought I would hear myself say it………….but yes to passivity!

  2. christine says:

    Thank you, Sally Ann. This is good stuff!

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