When you have a chronic illness, at least in the beginning, people urge you not to ‘give in’ to your illness. They do it automatically, for it is the thing our culture says to those who are stricken in some way.
‘Don’t let it get the better of you!’ they urge. ‘Don’t be defeated!’ – as if we have got bored of battling, and slackened off with a Mars Bar, leaning on our shield, forgetting we ought to be sword-wielding.
But I remember being a child and standing in the sea in France. I was in the shallows, paddling and laughing. Suddenly, a huge wave came out of nowhere. For what seemed like ages, I was thrown into limbo by the wave, submerged in an underwater prison.
For as long as I was under the water, I felt lifeless, powerless, moving only where the wave wanted me. Then the wave spat me onto land, and I coughed and spluttered while my body recovered from being slapped very hard by a ton of water.
That’s what it feels like to be struck by tragedy – whether by illness, grief, poverty or loss. This is what it feels like to be in a limbo season of life.
It’s not a battle: it’s losing your foothold and swirling beneath the waves. You cannot overcome when the hard times come; you are overcome.
This is our reality. But it is not the only story. We see Jesus: who overcame death, literally. He defeated evil.
This is why John’s gospel talks about overcoming not in terms of something we do, but what Jesus does for us. It doesn’t mean we don’t lose our foothold or get swept into tragedy. It just means that when we do, we can grab onto the hand of someone who isn’t swayed by the waves and can help us through.
Crucially, if we tell Christians they should overcome, we fail them. It is not our job to overcome. Christ has done it, and Christ will do it for us.
All we can do in suffering is reach out a desperate hand. Fortunately, that is all we need to do.
‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ John 16:33, NIVUK
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