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Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of things unseen.

Hebrews 11:1

I confess to being lazy in my reading of John Bunyan. I have read several adaptations of Pilgrim’s Progress, most of them written for children, and I’ve read snippets of the original text. But I’ve not actually sat down to read the entire original text cover to cover. This is a real shame. Because if the snippets make me groan with inward conviction that this man’s ink bleeds Scripture anywhere you prick it, how much more would I glean from reading all these snippets put together?

I sat with a group of my favorite women last week, discussing things unseen–grief, pain, loss. I’ve read that verse from Hebrews many times but I’ve always thought of things like angels and the Holy Spirit when I read those words “things unseen”. But here were some things we could not see, could not touch, at times we did not even have words to describe them. But they were real. And so were the wounds.

At some point during our conversation, Wendy mentions the lions. Those lions that are chained, but those chains, too, are something unseen.

Now before [Christian] had gone far, he entered into a very narrow passage…and looking very narrowly before him as he went, he espied two lions in the way…(the lions were chained, but he saw not the chains). Then he was afraid, and thought…to go back…for he thought nothing but death was before him. But the porter at the lodge, whose name is Watchful…cried unto him saying, ‘Is thy strength so small? Fear not the lions, for they are chained, and are placed there for trial of faith where it is; and for discovery of those that have none: keep in the midst of the path, and no hurt shall come unto thee.’

Pilgrim’s Progress

My lions came in the form of hospital beds, ambulances, IV tubes, ultrasounds, pulse oximeters, wires and injections. As I approached that narrow passage, I looked at those lions and I saw nothing but death. I saw the ways in which I had been abandoned by God. He wasn’t taking care of me. He wasn’t taking care of my baby. Why didn’t He care? He had promised to be all Goodness and all Mercy and all Love. Why wasn’t He, in all that mercy, giving me good and lovely things?

Before he met the lions, Christian met two men who warned him of the danger ahead. Timorous and Mistrust had encountered the lions and, fearful that the lions would “pull them to pieces”, had turned back. They reasoned that the path to the Celestial City was too dangerous, and they should go back to the City of Destruction. Christian considers this and responds,

‘You make me afraid, but whither shall I fly to be safe? If I go back to mine own country, that is prepared for fire and brimstone, and I shall certainly perish there. If I can get to the Celestial City, I am sure to be in safety there. I must venture: to go back is nothing but death, to go forward is fear of death, and life everlasting beyond it. I will yet go forward.’

I have stared down those lions and I made a decision to proceed forward. But the truth is that I’m still passing through them. I have left behind those circumstances, but I am still passing through the midst of the lions. Still passing through my trial of faith. Still praying that those chains hold.

Each time I’m able to identify a wound, grieve a loss, and open my hands in praise and thanksgiving in spite of it, I take a step forward

Faith is proceeding forth, even when what is before you looks like death.

Faith is trusting that God has the lions chained, even when you can’t see the chains.

Faith is keeping your feet in the middle of the path, even when you fear your ankles will turn (Psalm 18:36)

May we all, dear ones, find the faith to pass through the lions of life without fear. May we all have the faith to know, if not the eyes to see, that God has those lions chained and they can’t hurt us if we keep our feet on the narrow path. 

** Images of Christian and the lions graciously provided by Dr. Barry Horner at Bunyan Ministries