The beauty of surrender

The film Doctor Strange is about an egotistical brain surgeon named Dr. Strange who is in a horrible car crash and damages the nerves in his hands. His damaged hands means the end of his career. He goes to a Buddhist-like place in Nepal and learns how to harness magic from the spiritual dimensions. Instead of utilizing the power to heal his injured hands, he decides to use his powers to fight evil and defend good. Yes, the story is very strange. Dormammu, the main antagonist, is a supernatural being from another realm who seeks to destroy earth and all that is in it and envelop it in darkness. Near the end of the movie, when Dormammu is about to destroy earth, Dr. Strange flies out of the earth to meet Dormammu. He says, “Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.” Dormammu responds, “You’ve come to die. Your world is now my world.” Dormammu then kills him, but Strange, who can go back in time, creates a time loop, and flies back to Dormammu. Basically, both of them are trapped in the same moment forever, and only Dr. Strange has the power to break the loop. Dormammu enraged, incinerates Dr. Strange again, but Dr. Strange is killed and repeats the time loop again and again and again – indefinitely it seems –  that it annoys Dormammu so much he agrees to Dr. Strange’s bargain; in return for Strange exiting the time loop, Dormammu agrees to not destroy earth and bring death to its inhabitants. The key moment is when Dormammu realizes what Strange is up to, and what he is willing to do: die an indefinite number of times to save earth.

Dormammu: You cannot do this forever….you will spend eternity dying!

Strange: Yes, but everyone on Earth will live.

Dormammu: But you will suffer!

Strange: Pain’s an old friend.

Dormammu: End this! You will never win.

Strange: No. But I can lose. Again. And again. And again. And again, forever. That makes you my prisoner.

Dormammu: No! Stop! Make this stop! Set me free!

Strange: No, I’ve come to bargain!

Dormammu: What do you want?!

Strange: End your assault on my world. Never come back. Do it, and I’ll break the loop.

Somehow, seeing Dr. Strange killed again and again and again in such a helpless state to save everyone on earth was so moving it brought tears to my eyes. Ignore for a moment that Dr. Strange didn’t actually die an indefinite number of times. The point is that he intended to if necessary, and we find this to be incredibly stirring.

Indeed, we are obsessed with sacrifice, the most noble subset of the action of surrender.

There is something inherently beautiful about surrender. It draws us in, compels us, inspires us.

Every superhero created surrenders himself for the benefit of others. 

I suggest there is a cosmic principle: Surrender is Attractive. 

The Example of Christ

One of the most compelling aspects of Jesus that is agreeable to our inner sense of beauty is the extent of his surrender. His surrender is so utterly unprecedented and strange to our human eyes it seems almost surreal and ridiculous. He is the Lord and Creator of the whole universe, the cosmic force of the heavens, the sustainer and provider of all life (John 1:1-12). He abided in heaven, not lacking or needing anything. Yet He came down and humbled Himself in obscene ways. 

He didn’t have to. He chose to surrender His heavenly rights in order to follow the Father’s will:

“Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 

but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, 

being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human
form, he humbled himself 

by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death
on a cross. 

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him
the name that is above every name,  

so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and
on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” 

(Philippians 2:6-11; spacing added for emphasis).

We are commanded to have the same mind as Christ (Phillipians 2:5), and this is the mind that He had – surrender to the point of death. Whatever right He had He freely abrogated for the sake of the kingdom of God.

What Is Surrender?

Do we have any rights, then? Do we get to keep any of our possessions or freedoms in surrender to Jesus? 

These rights, gifts, resources, and our expectations for them, are good.

But to follow Christ, and walk in his footsteps, means that we must be willing to surrender all of these good things if need be. We must be willing to give them up for Him, the original giver.

Yes, this means that we must be willing to give up the things tangentially related to our identity. But it also means we must be willing to give up the things most central to our identity; the gifts and talents that we feel make us who we are; the financial resources that make us secure and enable the luxuries of life we most enjoy; literally our own bodies, including any claim to physical health and well-being; even the deepest desires and dreams of our heart we long for more than anything else.

What this looks like might vary depending on the person. 

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:57-62).

This and the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-27) demonstrate that Jesus Christ requires complete and total surrender of everything that is a distraction or obstacle from following Him. For each person the barrier looks different, and so Jesus thus made sure they were aware of the full cost that following Him would entail.

But fundamentally, surrender is about denial of self. Jesus tells us that “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). This shocking metaphor indicates that following Christ is akin to being crucified everyday on account of the most painful and taxing surrender possible: the denial of self.

It is easy to sing of surrender in a song. But stop right now and reflect on everything that in your life that you love, enjoy, and hope for. And think about the prospect of losing it all for Christ. It’s not so easy now, is it? If it still seems easy, chances are you may still be holding on to something that you’re not yet willing to surrender.

If you want to be even more convicted, consider that Paul was willing to sacrifice his own eternal security (!) for that of others: “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Romans 9:1-3).

He explicitly states that he is telling the truth in the Holy Spirit lest we think he is being metaphorical or facetious or lighthearted.

Why Is Surrender?

God may ask you to surrender something for many different reasons. Surrendering something often prevents or saves us from making that thing an idol, for example. It guarantees that God isn’t just number 1, but owns 100% of our heart and lives. Surrendering is also a necessary step to become part of His work on this earth. For instance, becoming a missionary to a new geographic area might entail surrendering your comfortable lifestyle, job, and friendships. Oftentimes surrender even takes the form of acceptance of suffering (2 Corinthians 12:9).

In short, the Christian surrenders because Jesus Christ commands him to. We surrender all because He is worthy of all. Every other end and object of our worship is not worth our worship and allegiance. But Christ is worthy of all. We are not our own; we are His, as we have been fully bought by His precious blood. We lay down any personal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—not before just any person or government, but before our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ and His eternal kingdom.

How Is Surrender?

Practically, what does this look like? It does not necessarily mean that we must literally give up everything that we have and are and live like a minimalist mystic beggar.

Depending on our specific life circumstances God will move us in different ways. Throughout the bible we see people of faith being willing to surrender all, manifesting in multiple ways. Early church believers surrendered their reputation by preaching the Gospel, financial wealth by selling all physical goods for the poor, and their own lives by refusing to recant in the face of death.

The Christ-follower does not actively seek out suffering, but is sure to experience it through struggling against sin and fleshly desire (Romans 7, Galatians 5), through opposition from a Christ-hating world (John 15:18-25), and through discipline from the Lord that purifies and completes us (e.g. Hebrews 12:1-11; James 1:1-4; 2 Corinthians 12; Romans 5:3-5). 

The most important thing is to be willing to truly surrender all and to adopt a humble, listening attitude to hear what and how God might be asking you to surrender. In some respects, one can fully summarize what it means to be a Christian as a lifestyle of surrender (Romans 12). Jesus’s command is to take up our cross on the daily. Every single day we must recognize our desires, lay them before God, reject our selfish desires, and affirm His will instead. In doing so we identify with Christ in His suffering and sacrifice and unify ourselves with Christ and with each other.

Choosing to surrender is the most difficult thing you will do, every day, for the rest of your life. But it will be the most rewarding thing you will ever do, for all time. Yes, it may defy the cold logic and reason of your finite mind—probably most of the time. But there is a beauty to it that draws your soul in.

The Beauty

But there is a timeless beauty of infinite value that comes with surrender: upon surrendering all we attain a peace that transcends circumstance. This profound realization has been shared by countless truth seekers and philosophers – both secular and religious – who put a premium on peace over prosperity.

The German philosopher Scopenhauer said

All striving comes from lack, from a dissatisfaction with one’s condition, and is thus suffering as long as it is not satisfied; but no satisfaction is lasting; instead, it is only the beginning of a new striving. We see striving everywhere inhibited in many ways, struggling everywhere; and thus always as suffering; there is no final goal of striving, and therefore no bounds or end to suffering (emphasis supplied).

If Scopenhauer’s argument is correct, and I believe it is, then the only path for the elimination of suffering is the renunciation of Will.  Which is exactly what Christ commands us –  and the Holy Spirit enables us –  to do (Romans 8). It is through surrender that we achieve a universally sought-after inner aesthetic and harmony that I can safely label peace. 

Now return to the Philippians 2 verse above and examine it closely. There is a reason it is spaced the way it is. Numerous Christian theologians have noticed its underlying chiastic structure. We see that in every way Christ surrendered His glory he will is/will receive much more: where he humbled himself as human, he’s been given the name above every other; where he served as a meek servant, every knee in the cosmos shall bow to him; where he surrendered his God-nature, every tongue shall call him Lord. At the heart of the passage/poem is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. His surrender is the central idea and the hinge-point logic of chiasm. 

The beauty of surrender is also found in the cosmic principles of God’s kingdom. Those that are last on this side of eternity shall be first on the other side (Matthew 20:16). In Christ’s economy, the poor of this world shall be wealthy in the next (James 2:5). Lovers of Jesus who lose homes and family members and friends for their faith shall gain 100-fold for what they lost (Matthew 19:29). There is no purpose and joy merely scratched by something surrendered now that is not and will not be most fully satisfied in communion with Christ (John 10:10; Ezekiel 16:6). The more we surrender our plans to God the more firmly our plans are established (Proverbs 16:3). Seeking to meet the needs of Christ’s body results in one’s own needs being satisfied (Matthew 6:33). As we strive to surrender, we enter into the rest of God (Hebrews 4:10-11). The beauty is that in the absence of striving our desires are satisfied. We rest in God’s abundant provision for our lives and every need. 

I conclude with the following true story (brackets added):

“One night in the early 1980s, [King Hussein of Jordan] was informed by his security police that a group of about seventy-five Jordanian army officers were at that very moment meeting in nearby barracks plotting a military overthrow of the kingdom. The security officers requested permission to surround the barracks and arrest the plotters. After a somber pause the king refused and said, “Bring me a small helicopter.” A helicopter was brought. The king climbed in with the pilot and himself flew to the barracks and landed on its flat roof. The king told the pilot, “If you hear gunshots, fly away at once without me.”

Unarmed, the king then walked down two flights of stairs and suddenly appeared in the room where the plotters were meeting and quietly said to them:

“Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that you are meeting here tonight to finalize your plans to overthrow the government, take over the country and install a military dictator. If you do this, the army will break apart and the country will be plunged into civil war. Tens of thousands of innocent people will die. There is no need for this. Here I am! Kill me and proceed. That way, only one man will die.”

After a moment of stunned silence, the rebels as one, rushed forward to kiss the king’s hand and feet and pledge loyalty to him for life.”

This story was told by Kenneth Bailey, in his book Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes. (According to Bailey this story has been confirmed by an ex-CIA officer. Take from that what you will.)

Dear reader, I implore you, today, here and now, to take a moment to identify your every desire, and lay them before your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Submit your will to His, affirming His sovereign and good will over your life. Experience the resulting peace, and rejoice in the beautiful tapestry of grace your life will become.

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