Stott's reading this morning (page 235), "The Vine and the Branches," strikes home.
Yesterday I had a conversation with a Jewish friend, Bill, from my days as a freshman at Duke. He dropped by and wanted to hear about our trip to Israel. I told him about the visit to Mt. Carmel. He didn't know anything about Elijah (even though he is active in his Reformed Temple), except the "story about him setting the bears on the boys." Someone had told him that story to ridicule the Scripture. I told him that was Elisha, not Elijah, but conceded that he was God's prophet and a protege of Elijah.
I told him about Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, his spectacular victory, how instead of being rewarded by men, he had to flee for his life and descended into depression, how God's angel sought him out and fed him, how to further encourage him God showed him his power and glory and, finally, spoke to him in a still small voice. (1 Kings 18:16 through 19:18) Bill was fascinated. I told him that no one could make a story like that up, and promised to send him the text reference.
He said that the objection he had to God was the suffering in the world. I said that if God didn't allow men to make all kinds of decisions, even bad ones, then we would not be humans but simply robots. He got the point. I wish I had had John 15: 1 - 8 in my head, the Scripture that Stott addresses today. In part, Stott writes:
The first [of the secrets of the vine's fruitfulness] is the pruning of the vine. God is an indefatigable gardener. He prunes every fruit-bearing branch so that it may bear more fruit. This pruning is surely a picture of suffering. And pruning is a drastic process. The bush or shrub is cut right back, usually in the autumn. To the uninitiated it looks extremely cruel. Sometimes only a stump is left naked, jagged, scarred, and mutilated - but when the spring and summer return, there is much fruit. The painful pruning knife has evidently been in safe hands. Some form of suffering is virtually indispensable to holiness.