The Inner Battle
by Lynne M. Baab
I was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1997, and soon after that I had a conversation about Lent with the senior minister at the church where I was an associate pastor. He told me he’d read an interesting article about why Lent was irrelevant, and he gave me a copy of the article.
I pondered that article for a long time. The author talked about the fact that post-resurrection, our focus is supposed to be on Jesus’ triumph over death, sin, evil and Satan. All that negative power had been broken in Jesus’ resurrection, the author said, and we need to focus on that amazing gift. Lent, the author said, focuses too much on the negative – Jesus’ painful journey to the cross – and we are called to focus on the positive. Every day should be a day of joy and celebration of God’s power over the forces of evil.
The article reminded me of the issues raised in Romans 7 and 8. In Romans 7, Paul describes the inner battle of wanting to follow God and do good things, but he also felt pulled in another direction: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . . I can will what is right, but I cannot do it” (verses 15 and 18). He goes on to say that he delights in God’s law in his inner being but he also experiences himself as captive to sin (verses 22 and 23).
Then he says, “Wretched man that I am! Who can rescue from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (verses 24 and 25). Paul goes on in chapter 8 to describe what the rescued life can be like in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I believe we live in the tension of Romans 7 and Romans 8. Both are true. We still fight our inner drives to do things we know are counterproductive for us and the people around us. This tension between the sin at work in us and the triumph of Jesus over sin is a real and pervasive part of life on earth, even life as a follower of Jesus. It’s sad. It’s hard. It takes constant effort, constant trust in God, constant reliance on the Holy Spirit to trust God in the midst of inner forces pulling us elsewhere. But there are moments – many wonderful moments – when God’s power does break into our lives and we experience God’s joy, peace and hope.
To argue, as the author of that article on Lent did, that Jesus’ triumph over sin, death and the devil is fully realized on earth is inaccurate and destructive. It’s simply not true, and it damages Christians to have the expectation that because they now follow Jesus, everything will go well in their inner being.
I’ve struggled with food, eating and weight for decades. It’s gotten better. God has brought amazing healing, but the inner battle of thinking that food will solve emotional issues still rages within me sometimes. The fact that this battle still recurs is so sad. It’s hard. It takes constant effort, constant trust in God, constant reliance on the Holy Spirit to fight those inner voices. And there are moments – many wonderful moments – when God’s power does break into my life and I experience God’s joy, peace and hope.
Artists use the word “chiaroscuro” to describe strong contrasts of light and dark that make paintings come alive. A painting with even tones doesn’t work very well. The watercolor painting above is by my husband, Dave Baab. The setting is Lake Hawea on the South Island of New Zealand. Notice how the painting simply would not work without the dark patches.
My life is full of chiaroscuro, and the dark and light are both at work within me. The dark makes the light so valuable and precious, and I know the light is triumphing and will one day triumph completely. Lent provides us the opportunity to journey with Jesus to the cross, to focus on those places within us where our own inner voices battle with our desire to follow and obey God, to feel sad about this inner darkness and mourn, knowing that God’s resurrection power is also at work in us.
Today’s post is written by Lynne M Baab. Lynne is the author of numerous books on Christian spiritual practices, including Sabbath Keeping,Fasting, and Joy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your Congregation. She teaches pastoral theology in New Zealand. Her website has numerous articles she’s written about spiritual practices, as well as information about her books.