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Our world is very well acquainted with suffering. In fact, there is so much pervasive suffering that we actually develop a numbness and blindness to it. All creatures seek to avoid pain, and so do we. Our bodies are created in such a way that we have sympathetic pain when we encounter it in others. We are wired to perceive the suffering of others, and then trained to ignore it.
I’m not going to talk about the common forms of suffering like living displaced as a refugee, or poverty, grief, addiction, chronic pain, or isolation. Instead, I’m going to share a form of suffering that is uncommon. Spiritual seeing is an uncommon form of suffering because so few possess it, and of those who do, few will ever say anything about it. It is a graced form of suffering. Beautiful pain.
Being a spiritual person doesn’t necessarily mean we possess spiritual sight. Religion cannot give this to us, but it can provide opportunities through austerity, prayer, silence, song, and communion where this experience of suffering can bubble to the surface. When it does, we experience overwhelming emotions of sadness, lament, loss, disappointment, dread, long-suffering, or even anger. This spiritual sight resides just beyond these emotions. In order to see, we must not be carried away with the initial emotional wave. Remain the observer of these emotions and let them go. These feelings are awful but they are not the suffering. Instead, they are the physical manifestations of this graced awareness that is coming in the same way a birth pain is not the baby.
The world system or what the Bible calls the kosmós, is the default mode of humanity. It can take a lifetime, if it ever happens, for a person to awaken out of the anesthesia and distraction imposed by the world system. Like zombies, snoring through life, we appraise the world as a trillion different things all bumping into each other, some of which we can control and influence for our benefit and survival. Those who can only see the world system will have no idea what I’m talking about and may be incredulous as to its existence.
Below the surface of on a quantum level, everything is light particles…the dance of atoms and energy and vast inner space. The scientific algorithms and paradigms which allow us to “see” this is fascinating, but not spiritual seeing. We must see beyond everything, to perceive the underlying “ethos” or “pathos” of this kosmos which radiates out from the most crafty of created darkness. Like seeing stars in the light pollution the city, so the stupor is strongest in our cities where noise, and distraction, and ego displace solitude, stillness, and divine union. Scripture describes it like this:
“The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” (1 John 3:1)
“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time..” (Luke 4:5)
“My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.“ (John 14:16-18)
Spiritual seeing is a graced awareness that emerges as our faith develops. Perceiving the world system is the beginning of suffering, but it takes time for the deep pain to set in. Learning to see and discern is a spiritual discipline that is built on our knees, in the study of God’s word, the transformation of our minds, and in our repeated failures to possess holiness. The seeing begins when we see our false self and the horror that, as J.I. Packer puts it, “the seeds of every sin reside within our heart.”
The person who sees themselves as holier than others does not have this sight. He or she who has been humbled by possessing both faith and failure, and who by the chastisement of their besetting sins sees themselves as worse than others, is being given this kind of sight.
Only the soul who is filled with the 2 Corinthians 7:10 kind of “godly grief” can be graced with this form of suffering. For when the most sincere, the most devoted, fail despite their deepest prayers and best efforts…does the weight of this suffering settle in upon us. That is when the desperation of our brothers and sisters held captive in the system is felt. The suffering is not a prideful judgment, or any condemnation upon anyone for this graced awareness and our own frailty have long purged the “otherness” that fills the unholy prayers of the religious false self. This suffering is the identification with those in chains with an eye which sees just how far below the surface the world system is from clean air.
It’s horrifying. It’s tragic. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do…”
The suffering of spiritual seeing is a desperate groan for the advent of the kingdom of God to come into full bloom. It’s to pant for water, it is to wait for help.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons (and daughters), the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22-23)
The suffering of spiritual seeing is like the thorn in Paul’s side which cannot be removed. This cannot be unseen. There is no red or blue pill to put us back to sleep. On one hand we are overjoyed to see it, while at the same time the seeing inflicts a pain which disorients the rest of our life.
Just about anyone can see the corrupt power plays at work in business, politics, and human endeavors, but that is not what I’m describing. Despite the evil and corruption, people willingly join and adopt the darkened hive mind which separates innies from outies in our institutions. One layer of spiritual seeing means we can perceive the burden of seeing the evil thread which ties it all together. The next layer of spiritual seeing means we can follow these threads to the rope in the hand of this kosmos’s shadowy wielder and then our suffering becomes the gravity and scale of this principality and power. The final layer of suffering is like a dagger which wounds us as we see beyond and realize that the persona beyond it all is seeing us…personally…staring right at us…eyeball to eyeball, in and as those who control our day to day life.
Our well meaning boss, pastor, teacher, or elected official is at the same time a victim and Satan himself. Our society, our city, our schools, businesses, and endeavors are at the same time, infrastructures for good to be redeemed, and Hell itself. If you cannot see this, just leave it, it’s not your suffering to endure. It’s better you call me crazy than to perceive this. An unprepared soul who meets this moment will be filled with hate for others.
The graced freedom we posses to see this is painful because there is the realization that this freedom isn’t completely free. The longing which emerges from this spiritual sight is a weight of suffering far beyond hunger or homelessness. This is one of the few things that makes me wince and cry throughout my days. It’s at the same time a cry of pain, and a prayer to never remove it. Its a torturous cross worth bearing and here is why:
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
“..he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (kosmos).” (1 John 4:4)
Though this suffering is great, it is temporary. The kingdom of this world, the forces and the face which is behind and through so much of the evil we experience, has been overcome. The Kingdom of Heaven is here, and is expanding and will one day displace the horrors we see today. The fact that we see is enough, but this graced awareness means we can see how to pray. It means that we can speak to the pain behind our world’s suffering and heal it at its headwaters. This spiritual sight is the prerequisite for spiritual warfare. We are not helpless, nor overpowered, nor is this ultimately hopeless. The suffering of spiritual sight means that we can see ourselves within the midst of the drama, not its conclusion, and our role is to summon the greater power given to us, to remind the ruler of principalities, that he serves one term and that is it.
That is how this pathos ends forever. May that give us a taste of peace in the midst of our suffering world.
If your experience doesn’t line up with this or if you just can’t get your head around what I’m saying, simply disregard this post, as it’s not for you. Your confusion is not a deficiency or a failure, it’s simply not your cross. For those whose experience aligns with this description, I offer the reminder that Jesus shared with his disciples.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)