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Wednesday Writings

Why We Fall: Chronic Illness, Batman, and 2 Corinthians, Part 1

The Day I Fell

I took a fall the other day. Not the kind of fall that sends you down with a stubbed toe or a stinging knee, but the fall that sends you down with a bruised heart and a throbbing spirit. 

After a few weeks of mild improvement with my health, my hopes had lifted, only to be stymied and then dashed with a new set of symptoms and a return to unrelenting, pre-improvement crumminess. An appointment with my practitioner confirmed that my one small step forward had indeed been followed by two steps back. New problems. Old problems still unresolved. As if those small improvements had never happened. As if everything we’d done had never helped. 

I battled crushing discouragement that day even before hearing news from a loved one about a similar disappointment in their life. 

I carried a lot of weight to my Bible that evening. Typically I read a Psalm each night before bed, in addition to my morning selection of chapters on my way through the Bible, but that night I decided to return to the passage I’d read at the start of the day: II Corinthians 1-3. 

Words like “comfort,” “suffering,” “triumph,” “gospel,” “sufficiency,” and “glory” served as a balm to my aching soul and lifted me from the miry clay of discouragement (Ps 40:2) to the solid rock of Christ and His truth.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 

II Corinthians 1:3-5

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. . . . And who is sufficient for these things?

II Corinthians 2:14, 16

Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.

II Corinthians 3:5

As I reflected on the hardships of the day and the encouragement of this passage, I thought of how sweet it was to experience God’s grace and mercy in this very real, very specific way. I later texted Emily, “I can’t help but think that the one upside to being discouraged is getting to see God pick me up again. :)” 

I also thought of the scene from Batman Begins in which young Bruce falls and breaks his arm. As his father and their butler, Alfred, take him inside, Alfred says, “Took quite a fall, didn’t we, Master Bruce?” And Bruce’s father, carrying Bruce in his arms, replies with the iconic line that becomes the heartbeat of the Batman saga: “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Except in my case, as a believer, it’s less about picking myself up and more about seeing God pick me up. 

But the idea stuck with me, a simple line from a secular movie that echoes some powerful spiritual truths: why we fall, how we respond when we fall, and what we do when we fall. 

Giving Up Is Not an Option

Notice what shows up twice in the very next chapter, II Corinthians 4:

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 

II Corinthians 4:1, emphasis added

For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart. 

II Corinthians 4:15-16, emphasis added

In Spanish, the word for “lose heart,” desmayar, is used both in the literal sense of physically fainting or falling and in the figurative sense of emotionally or mentally having nothing left. The original Greek word, ekkakeo, means “to be utterly spiritless, to be wearied out, exhausted.” Whether physically or emotionally, it means to give up. 

Is it any coincidence that after my fall I should be confronted by Paul’s encouraging words that serve as the anthem of his letter to his Corinthian brethren?

Therefore we do not lose heart.

Paul says yes, life is hard and we fall and it hurts and we struggle, but no, we don’t give up. He doesn’t give up, the Corinthian believers don’t give up, and we don’t give up because of the truths of Christ that surround us and the mission of God that propels us. 

As these chapters remind us, Christ is sufficient. We have everything we need. God is with us in all His mercy, strength, and comfort, transforming us from glory to glory, using us for the ministry of the gospel, bringing us day by day closer to the same resurrection that raised Christ from the dead and gave us salvation.

We all fall. But we don’t stay down. Not as believers. Not as God’s children. Not as His servants of light in this dark world, carrying the gospel to a broken generation, ourselves filled with and transformed by that same gospel.

We get back up. We keep going. We don’t give up.

As I continued reading through II Corinthians and meditating on this theme, I found more truths that added pieces to my perspective, freed me from my discouragement, and bolstered my faith and my hope. 

I also found some, shall we say, more biblically-rooted answers to the question “Why do we fall?” The first two answers give reasons behind a fall (the “why”), and the next six offer purposes to a fall (the “what for”). I hope these thoughts can encourage you as they encouraged me.

“Why Do We Fall?”

1. Because we’re human

One of the themes of II Corinthians is the juxtaposition of man’s weakness and God’s strength, human brokenness and divine completion, our insufficiency and Christ’s sufficiency.

We’re human. Broken, incomplete, insufficient, and weak by nature. Falling is as much part of our behavior as it is for a baby learning to walk. We can’t help it.

If we didn’t fall, we would be perfect, which means we would be God. And we’re not God. We’re His creation, human beings designed to be like God but not God Himself. And then Adam sinned, and ever since then falling (morally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically) has been in our genes. Unavoidable. Part of our DNA.

We fall because it’s part of who we are as limited, sinful human beings.

2. Because we have enemies

Like Batman, we have a steady supply of enemies trying to bring us down.

Scripture makes it clear that we have an adversary (I Pet. 5:8) who wants nothing more than to see God’s plan dismantled and God’s people destroyed. We fight in a war not “against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

This adversary, Satan, is called the Accuser (Rev. 12:10), labeled as the Father of Lies and a murderer (Jn. 8:44), and compared to a hungry, roaring lion (I Pet. 5:8). He is “the prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2) who steals the Word of God from hearts (Luke 8:12), hinders the ministry of the gospel (I Thess. 2:18), and uses deception to lead believers astray (II Cor. 2:11, 11:14-15).

Can we add “tripping up believers” to his job description? He and the spiritual powers under his control are actively working against us and all that has to do with God, so we shouldn’t be surprised when spiritual attacks come and push us off our feet, into the pit of discouragement, doubt, fear, worry, despondency, or bitterness.

Please note that not all of these conditions are sinful in and of themselves; God gave us emotions and we are permitted to feel every one of them. But we also need to be aware of how easily spiritual attacks can nudge us onto the slippery slope of lies (most of them directed at God’s character), which before we know it can land us in a dark and unhealthy (and even disobedient) place.

It is not a sin to be tempted, and it is not always a sin to feel these emotions, but it IS sin when we choose to give in to wrong thinking, when we don’t trust God, and when we refuse to leave–or accept help–out of this dark place.

Come back in two weeks to see what Paul and other Scripture writers have to say about falling and why God may allow us to fall.

Have you recently had a fall? Do you feel like giving up? How has God used His Word to speak encouragement to you in those hard times?

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