Recognize this picture? It is the parlor at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, where General U.S. Grant offered terms of surrender to General Robert E. Lee, a meeting that ended the Civil War. My wife and I visited Appomattox Courthouse recently on a trip home.You would think that a place which commemorated “surrender” by any American would be a place of shame, not honor. General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, (below) who was present in April 1865 to witness the stacking of the arms by Confederate troops at Appomattox, agreed. Returning to Appomattox Courthouse in 1903, he wrote, “Here I found everything in ruin and designed forsakenness. It is not to be expected that the survivors of a lost cause should cherish with much enthusiasm the scenes and tokens of the last days of their glory and the ground of their surrender.”
But Chamberlain did not live to see the full picture. He did not live to see the “forsaken” fields become a place of honor. Similarly, for those of us addicted to or struggling with lust, the lead up and aftermath to surrender can seem like a forsaken country. Devastation can surround us and our lives can seem like everything is coming apart, with little hope in sight. The looming decision “to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him” can seem like death itself. But we, like Chamberlain, are wrong. Surrender is not the end but in fact, the beginning of real life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when he was being led away to execution said to another prisoner, “This is the end, but for me, the beginning of life.”
Perhaps this is why Appomattox Courthouse has gone from “designed forsakenness” to hallowed ground. Robert E. Lee may not have appreciated at the moment the greater purpose in surrender. But it was the beginning of the healing of the nation. Appomattox Courthouse stands today as a harbinger of a country waiting to be born again, to embrace the promise held out by Lincoln at Gettysburg, “a new birth of freedom.” Surrender, in time, can indeed become a beautiful thing.
Why can’t we prevent collapse, especially in those we love and care for? For some reason, God allows it. The world is in great pain right now, as many of us know. As Frodo said to Gandalf, “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” We know this: It is precisely in the weakness and the collapse that God’s power is often seen in sharpest relief.
Appomattox Courthouse was rebuilt brick by brick in the 20th century to commemorate this important transition in American history.There were about 65.000 troops amassed around Appomattox Courthouse at the time of the surrender. (Many were massed on the ridge in the distance above) Lee’s surrender no doubt staved off a bloodbath and saved thousands of lives that day. He took the risk of ignoring the advice of Jefferson Davis to do it. Alternatively, Grant graciously allowed Confederate military troops to keep their horses, presented them with parole papers and gave them access to rations at any military base on their way home. “Let ’em up easy,” President Lincoln had said earlier to General Grant. If the Civil War saved the Union and provided a “new birth of freedom,” the surrender at Appomattox paved the way.
I raise this because we know the war clouds of addiction can seem overwhelming. They are currently slaying their “thousands and ten thousands.” No collective surrender is available. We come to it one by one. The answer to getting out of a hole is to first stop digging. To discover our powerlessness can be a gift. A great defeat can become a new beginning. Many say that surrender has actually them give for the first time “a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29).The grace of God ‘lets us up easy.”
Yes, we will need to make amends and account for our wrongs.We will need to become honest with ourselves and others. But there comes a point when we just know we must surrender. There is no other way to freedom. Robert E. Lee accepted the reality before him, namely that fighting and resisting would only lead to more death and devastation. Surrender became the necessary path. I remember when I surrendered to God and became willing to allow Him to build a better future for me. I just knew it was time to stop resisting and living a lie. I had to to admit defeat and surrender.
Yes, life is often painful in the lead up to surrender. After all, we must become convinced that we cannot continue our lust-driven self destruction and pain teaches us so. But we must also remember that we serve a God who turned the place of shame and devastation, the cross of His own Son, into the place of honor and glory. Since then, He has delighted in doing the same, for each of us in whatever field we have fallen. So whether we are struggling ourselves or helping someone who is, God is the one who gives hope. And hope “does not disappoint us.” Romans 5:5. If we look for Him in this struggle, we will find both Him and the path ahead. So if you find forsakenness and lost causes all around, remember that God is not finished yet. Hope abounds in Jesus our resurrected Lord. He has many things to show us. “Afterward, you will understand.” John 13:7.
As we start a new school year and church activities ramp up again, please let us know how we can help.
Living Without Lust