Tag Archives: Jesus

Trust to hope

Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane–Red in Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption

Farewell. Look for your friends, but do not trust to hope. It has forsaken these lands–Éomer in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers

For we walk by faith, not by sight—2 Corinthians 5:7


Reader response to A view from the darkness was notable. It came in the form of email and personal conversation rather than blog comments—probably because of the intensely personal and emotional nature of suffering. It was clear to me that the topic resonated. Unfortunately, this suggests that suffering is as pervasive a part of the human experience as we probably suspect.

In that post I tried to address God’s faithfulness to us, particularly in the darkness—his promises.  Today, I will do my best to describe what I think our role is—how we signal our desire to have an encounter with God. In so doing, I think we’ll see the importance of the larger life narrative to which we ascribe—the robust description of the world (discussed in Which reality, whose philosophy?) that dictates how each of us interprets events.

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One of the great things about blogging, as opposed both to other forms of media and to life, is that you can edit over time.  Once a newspaper article is printed, your only hope of revision is the little “corrections” box in the next day’s paper.  And as we all know, there’s no revision in life. We can die in the despair of “if I only this” or “had I not that” but there are no do-overs.

I doubt many of you know this (I feel lucky to have you read once), but I obsessively re-read and edit inklingz posts. Most changes are for style or readability, but recently a loyal reader asked if I realized I had altered A view from the darkness in a more material way.  She told me it initially read as if I hoped there was something to find in the darkness and later read with more certainty that indeed we will find God in the darkness.

Had something changed in my thinking?

My knee-jerk response was: Of course not!…I was merely trying to more effectively capture what I wanted to express all along. But on a long run this week (where I accomplish a good amount of my thinking these days), I realized something about faith that is difficult to quantify or explain: God meets those who take a step toward Him in faith, in such a way that faith itself is multiplied.

When I looked into the darkness last week, I can’t tell you I saw much but the thick black of a moonless night. But I also knew there was something I could not see and I was doing my best to reach for it.

I ‘knew’ because of the larger life narrative in which I believe. It allows me to look beyond my immediate circumstances and see a story playing out that suggests that each moment is more than just another moment in a set of disparate, meaningless events (see On the (in?)significance of what we do—two perspectives).

It reminds me of an illustration discussed in Exclusivism that welcomes all—of blind men each touching a portion of an elephant. Each one comes to a unique conclusion as to what he’s encountered—none of them able, based on his limited viewpoint, to identify the massive animal.

Similarly, when we see no light in the darkness we’re not seeing the full picture, the larger narrative.

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The problem of good in the world (Part 3/3): the end that has begun

“The great Spanish poet, novelist and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, once asked a farmer if he believed it was possible there is a God but no afterlife.  The rustic responded ‘Then wherefore God?’” (The New Criterion, Martin Garner, Nov 2008).

He came into our neighborhood—John 1:11 (Dale Bruner)

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field”—Matthew 13:44

“Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—Matthew 27:46

He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay—Matthew 28:6

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In part 1 (here) of this series we discussed the essence of God and what it tells us about the Creation—both humanity and the natural world.  We deduced from God’s inwardly loving nature that He created us for relationship with Him—and that with a proper understanding of our relationship with God, we can move out into relationships with one another.  Because we understand God to be a loving God, we also deduced that the natural world is inherently good—and also full of good things for our enjoyment.

But in part 2 (here) we acknowledged life doesn’t always feel so good.  We feel isolated from God, suffer on earth and are left to wonder what it all means and why God would allow such pain and loneliness.  We began to consider whether we have displaced God in our lives with the pursuit of other things—all good things, but none the right shape to fill our hearts—and in so doing have severed the relationship with God for which we were built.  The problem of good in the world being that it has lured our eye from the Creator to created things.

Garner’s farmer was right in a sense, but perhaps didn’t have enough time to fully think through his answer.  Yes, if this temporal life—with so much suffering and so many broken relationships—is all there is, we are left to wonder why God bothered; wherefore God (indeed!)?  On the other hand, if there is an afterlife—that is presumably more of what God had in mind—wherefore this life?  The latter is an earth-as-purgatory approach that suggests this was the best God could do for now—but that He’s engineering something better for us later. This is a notion we dismissed here, so we’re left to consider the farmer’s question.

Wherefore, God?

There are a lot of ways one can answer this question, though we’ve dismissed a whole set of them in concluding that God is loving (part 1) and that the law is an expression of His character (here) rather than being arbitrary or dictatorial.  Much of what’s left in popular thought can be grouped into two categories that might be expressed something like:

  1. God is a means to a happy life here (or)
  2. God is the means to an afterlife

If we look closely, I think we see they’re the same thing with different objectives: God as an assistant to help us get what we want—loving and benign, but with goodies in his bag for us if we can get His attention; earning them or otherwise.  But God as a means to anything suggests that something is more important to us than God.  It’s using God to get what we treasure—not treasuring God as an end in Himself.

He came into our neighborhood

There was another man, another rustic, who had plenty of time to think the whole thing through.  He was a man of little standing like the farmer. Though civilization had awaited his promised arrival for thousands of years, he was not recognized when born amongst animals in a stable.  He was a fugitive from birth, running from those who would have him killed.  He was a wanderer with no home, rejected.  He was upright, lived a life of service calling people back into relationship with God.  He offered comfort to the afflicted, friendship to the lonely and performed restorative acts—giving sight to the blind and healing the sick. He was comfortable in the company of the irreligious; he was ridiculed by the religious. They eventually had him killed.

While on earth, he was an ordinary man in most senses, certainly fully human, but also much more.  This was Jesus, the Nazarene, a baby born of a woman, yet conceived by the Holy Spirit.  He was the promised Messiah to the Jews—the One who was prophesied to come and bring them out of exile.  Yes, He was much more than human; He was Deity who had come into to our neighborhood—Jesus Christ, part of the Triune God.

The brokenness and separation from God that results from our idolatry is not easily reversed.  We have been expelled from the Garden, as Adam and Eve were when they chose the apple over God.  Israel never made it back into the Garden, but rather spent much of its history in exile.  Like the ancients, we are on the outside trying to get back in.  We have lost the privilege of being in God’s presence.

So He came to recover His treasure

In the end, He was brought up on false charges but didn’t defend Himself.  He was stripped, mocked and beaten;  forsaken by His friends.  He was hanged on a wooden cross between two common criminals to die of asphyxiation, when he could longer get a breath by hoisting himself up by his nailed wrists and feet.

It was in this—the greatest of all defeats— that he prevailed (see also upside-down, inside-out.  It was on this day that everything changed forever.

JC was taken outside of the city, so that we could come in.  He was forsaken by God, so that we could be reunited with Him. He gave up his standing and record so that it could be credited to us.  He wandered so we could be invited home.  He was a nobody, so that we could become somebodies.  He was annihilated, so that we could be restored.

It was through Jesus’ sacrificial death that the depth of God’s love was made known; the means of exalting God to the proper place in our hearts was made simple; and the restoration of the creation was begun.

He loved us enough to give everything to have us back.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field

Though we treasured Him not, He treasured us all the more! By Jesus’ death, we see that we are God’s treasure—the thing He was willing to give everything to get.

Only by understanding this can we restore Him to the proper place in our hearts—above all the good things of this world.   Only when we reflect on the way He loves us can we begin to love Him as we should.  Only when we see the beauty of the cross can we joyfully give everything we have to be near Him again.  Only when we see that we are God’s treasure can he become ours.  The we will cherish Him to no other end except to see His face.

The end that has begun

But Jesus didn’t just die; He rose again—signaling an ultimate end to death and decay.

He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

In Him, we not only find a God who understands what it’s like to suffer (beyond that which we will ever suffer!), but also the promise of an ending that has already begun.  We find in Him not only understanding as we struggle in a world that is not yet perfected, but also the assuredness that the restoration has begun!  So we can mourn our present hardships and the world’s suffering with hope.  We can groan with Creation itself for the day when all sad things will come untrue.

It’s consistent with that for which our hearts hope, but also with what we see playing out in the world .   It’s the highest view of life and creation.

What Garner’s farmer didn’t understand is that this life and the next are part and parcel—that God’s love and presence are available in both. Yes, we are eternal souls in a world full of suffering, but we’re also children of God in a world full of His goodness.  The world is not against us, but is rather subjected to the same condition to which we are.  But the victory has already been won—death and decay are conquered.  We groan together with creation as we wait in hope for the end that has begun, but is not yet fully realized.

part 1 here.  part 2 here.

Today, circa 33 A.D.

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.  About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn intwo from top to bottom.  The earth shook and the rocks split.  The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely, he was the Son of God.”

Matthew: 27:45-46, 51-52, 54