Simplicity: The Other Side of Complexity

Simplicity: The Other Side of Complexity

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Victor Peters was well into semi-retirement as a part-time staff member when I became pastor of Los Angeles First Church of the Nazarene nearly 30 years ago*. I was only 32 at the time and the rest of the staff members were about my age. The other young staffers and I set out to solve the tough problems of the world, especially our world in Los Angeles—complex problems, unsolvable perhaps.

Daily, we found ourselves confronted with the injustices of racism and poverty, the disappointments of people relapsing after months of sobriety, or the pain of parents whose children died before they were born. Throw into the mix the occasional but determined doubts and fears we carried in our own minds. Well, let's just say there were plenty of restless nights.

I remember one Sunday evening when Victor took his turn in the pulpit. He preached on the peace and contentment we could know as Christians and perhaps, more importantly, that he knew in his own soul. I remember how he looked at all of us, especially those of us on staff, and in a knowing and gentle way, talked about how years before he had settled the tough questions.

Victor had settled the tough questions of what God wanted him to do (he served for years as a missionary in Korea) and who he would marry (a wonderful woman named Ruth). But he also alluded to the unsettling questions of faith and doubt, of injustice in a broken world, and ultimately the questions of full and final commitment to Christ. It wasn't so much that he had found answers to all the challenging questions of life, but rather he had come to a place of quiet rest in Christ. A place of peace, the other side of the storm, a place of simplicity, the other side of complexity.

This peace in Christ comes through loud and clear in the writings of the Apostle Paul. Paul was a person of considerable education and influence. He was obviously a very deep thinker (consider the book of Romans!). I picture him in my mind challenging the intellectuals on Mars Hill in Athens as he argued the faith and him presenting his case before the Roman Governors Felix and Festus before appealing to Caesar.

But Paul also came to a place where he knew he could not depend upon his own intellectual abilities to figure out the mysteries of life or on his own wisdom and skill to accomplish the work God had called him to do.

Somewhere along the way he came to know that his only hope was the cross of Christ. A symbol of "foolishness" to the Greeks and a "stumbling block" to the Jews, but for Paul and those who believe, Christ was, and is, the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1)! It was a place for Paul of full and final commitment to Christ.

In that place there were still plenty of unanswered questions, plenty of storms on the horizon, but deep underneath it all was a sense of the peace of God, a quiet confidence in his soul. His words speak volumes when he wrote to the Corinthians, "I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2 NASB). And in his letter to the Philippians, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am" (Philippians. 4:11 NASB). Peace, the other side of the storm. Simplicity, the other side of complexity.

Thomas Kelly is one of my favorite authors. After he and his wife served in the work of Quaker Centers in Vienna and Berlin in the 1920s, he accepted a position of professor of philosophy at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. He went on to Harvard University to further his studies, and then back to teach again at other universities of distinction. He demanded a great deal from his students, but not nearly as much as what he demanded of himself.

With all of his skill and competence, he was driven with the insatiable need to know the truth, to excel in his field, and to be recognized and honored for his work. In his relentless drive, Kelly's health began to give out and he began to show the stresses and strains of his quest. And then, by the grace of God, he came out on the other side. Or perhaps better said, he came to the end of himself. He found a place of confident rest and peace in the Lord. Listen to his words to a congregation in Germantown in 1938:

To you in this room who are seekers, to you, young and old who have toiled all night and caught nothing, but who want to launch out into the deeps and let down your nets . . . I want to speak as simply, as tenderly, as clearly as I can. For God can be found. There is a last rock for your souls, a resting place of absolute peace and joy and power and radiance and security. There is a Divine Center into which your life can slip, a new and absolute orientation in God, a Center where you live with Him and out of which you see all of life, through new and radiant vision, tinged with new sorrows and pangs, new joys unspeakable and full of glory.1

Thomas Kelly went on to write one of the simplest yet most profound books I have ever read, A Testament of Devotion. It wasn't so much that he had come up with the answers to all his questions, but rather that he had come to a place of quiet trust and confidence in the Lord. And in that place he found his rest. Peace, the other side of the storm—a beautiful and wonderful simplicity, the other side of complexity.

And I hear ringing in my ears the words to the old gospel song by Eliza E. Hewitt (Lidie H. Edmunds):

My faith has found a resting-place,
Not in device or creed
I trust the Ever-living One,
His wounds for me shall plead.

I need no other argument,
I need no other plea
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that He died for me.

Thanks be to God!

Ron Benefiel was president of Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, and is now dean of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.

1. Kelly, Thomas. A Testament of Devotion. Harper and Row. 1941, pp. 18-19.

*Note: Victor Peters passed away at age 109 in August 2012. This article was originally published in 2011. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.

Holiness Today, Jan/Feb 2011