Do you sometimes feel like you are on the losing end of life? The load has been heavy during these past seven months: a struggling economy, racial tension and violence, the never-ending vitriol of politics. Need I mention the pandemic and the social restrictions associated with it? Things are stressful. Our bandwidth is stretched to the breaking point and our patience is thin.
Recently I find my mind drifting again and again to a passage in scripture: Revelation 21:5a. “And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
I find my thoughts drawn there because I find it a hopeful passage and I need hopeful thoughts. I also find my thoughts drawn there because of frustration with it. Given our current circumstance, I wonder how it could be possibly be true! How can Jesus really be on the throne, exercising authority over the mess we have in our country… our world? How could he really be making all things new when everything just seems broken and only getting worse with every news cycle?
I want to be hopeful but… how!?!
For those who believe in the story of Jesus’ life death and resurrection, we live in the in-between time between Jesus’ triumph over the curse of death (the Resurrection) and the “happily-ever after” described in Revelation (you might think it’s a book of doom and gloom, but the vision of God’s victory at the end of the book is something to treasure). We live and wait patiently (or we’re supposed to) for God to put things right. And rarely does it feel like the road to victory. It feels more like the St. Louis Cardinal’s 2011 season.
That season was marked by mediocrity, missed opportunities, and disappointment. The first half of the season was so… meh. The Cards barely squeaked into playoffs only to face the best team in baseball that year, my Philadelphia Phillies! With the Phils up 2 games to 1, game 4 looked like the end for the Cards. But with the help of a gray squirrel (later known as the Rally Squirrel, an unlikely symbol of hope!), the momentum changed, and the Card won that game and the next to advance. The Cards then faced the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Championship and later the Texas Rangers in the World Series.
One strike lay between the Cardinals and elimination a number of times. Game 6 of the World Series looked like amateur night for the first half of the game, but the series is best remembered by Cardinals fans by the triumphant 11th inning home run by David Freese, a hometown boy. The Cardinals won that World Series in 7 games and it remains one of the most cherished victories in Cardinals history.
But the road to triumph was anything but triumphant.
That is the Christian life. It seems that at any moment, it will all be irretrievably ruined. We go from one harrowing moment to another. We feel the tension of Paul’s story as he described it in 2 Corinthians 4: “8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” I suppose there is some comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our experience. Is that all the comfort there is?
That’s a hard ;’no.’ We await something that is certain: when the uncultivated Garden of Genesis 2 is presented as the marvelous Garden City… when Tree of Life is back at center of community life and celebration… when worship will be as full and diverse as God intends. When God himself “… will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
As we head towards an election season with many deep divisions in this country, with our exhaustion from the pandemic and even finding some level of hatred in our hearts, we may discover an unwelcome motive: fear. We are afraid of court rulings and economic ruin. We are afraid of injustice and violence. We are afraid that life will never go back to normal or that someone insisting on acting like nothing is wrong will unwittingly pass along disease and maybe even death… perhaps the death of someone we love.
This life presents us with many challenges and heartbreaks, but if believe in the Christian hope of the curse undone in Christ… if you believe in the certain victory of Revelation 21, what do we have to fear? The loving and merciful God wins!
Don’t let your fear of something being out of your control lead you to abandon God’s ways of loving pursuit, compassionate understanding and healing. Don’t let you social media posts or conversation characterize you as fearful or worse. Keep displaying the character of Christ: firm and principled, yes… but also kind, respectful and long-suffering. No matter the results in November, God still reigns supreme! Will there be setbacks, stumbles and outright failures along the way? Yes. But this road leads us to a triumph that makes the sting and even memory of those heartbreaks fade away.
We may feel like we are on the losing end of life. But the best stories of triumph always lead through dark places.