For believers in Jesus, it’s emotionally exhausting to exist between two worlds.
For a non-Christian, I’m sure it’s difficult to see the ever-spinning news cycle, with all the blood and terror and heartache. Solutions range–depending on your belief system–from being more kind to one another (not a bad idea, for sure!), to simply enduring this hellish world until we all inhale our last bit of air and then disintegrate into nothing (which, compared to eternal life in a world like this one, also doesn’t sound so bad, either).
For believers, what I think makes it a little more difficult is the tension between wanting to bring heaven to earth (our mission) and enjoying eternity in a sinless, perfect existence (our destiny).
The Apostle Paul can sympathize. He struggles out loud in his letter to the Philippian church:
22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:22-24)
So as another mass shooting causes the boisterous poles of public opinion to erupt into a predictable, maddening, inefficient ruckus, this tension is felt by many who have made the decision to follow Jesus. San Bernardino does not stand alone as a depressing, disheartening reality. It is one layer of the sick world we live in–with genocide, war, starvation, injustice, you know the drill–nearly suffocating the believer from whatever gasp of hope we’ve stored up to keep us going.
There are those of you reading who are skeptical at this stage, insisting that God doesn’t have anything to do with all this. Some outlets have poked fun at Christians reaction to tragedy. “Prayerful platitudes” do nothing to fix real-world problems, they insist. I may actually agree. Our prayers seem wasted when no one takes the courageous step to, you know, strive toward fixing problems.
Still, when the New York Daily News ran their headline recently that sent a lot of evangelicals into orbit, I didn’t get mad. First of all, I think the historically snarky paper was meaning to attack politicians more than Jesus. Secondly, I disagree with their thesis as well…just for different reasons than most.
It’s not that I want to argue that God is fixing “this.”
It’s that I know He already has.
For an unbeliever, this may ring hallow. The theology of redemption is difficult for a faith-filled Christian to wrap their mind around, let alone a skeptic. But essentially the Scriptures state that the old becomes new, the dead comes back to life, the wounded are healed and that which is lacking is made glorious. This is possible for one reason only:
The resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
In conquering death, Jesus ensured that the powers of evil in this world went from having a case of the sniffles to being on life support. Only the final coming of Christ pulls the plug, relegating Satan to hell. Those who have felt the sting of sin and death (past, present, and future) feel it no more as Jesus’ mission to redeem all of creation is fully realized once and for all.
For now, the devil is a dog on a chain — making a lot of noise through the evil of mankind. As for his bite, well–the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus ensures he cannot permanently harm us. Not if we belong to Jesus. I don’t mean to be insensitive. Those who are on the receiving end of acts of hate, who lack the necessities of survival in this life, who struggle to see any glimmer of hope because of their situation–they surely feel the clenched jaws of evil mauling their flesh more than most. But if we belong to Jesus, even death is only a temporary inconvenience to be suffered as a consequence of the fallen world we live in.
We await a resurrection that ushers us into new life and a new reality. The New Testament book of Revelation provides a stunning glimpse of this existence we’ll enjoy:
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He 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.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5, emphasis mine)
If God’s words are trustworthy and true, then there is nothing left to be decided upon. Evil will lose. It’s no match for good, no match for God. The fate of all man–good as well as evil–has already been decided upon. The final scenes must play out, but the ending has been written.
I’m not suggesting we do nothing to cure the ills of the society we’re called to serve. Indeed, we have been commissioned to bring light to darkness, pursue justice, and bring heaven to earth. What I am suggesting is that we not lose heart when we face trouble. Don’t be surprised when evil seems to take ground. Don’t abandon your faith when darkness casts a shadow over all that you hope for.
It is but a ruse. As singer-songwriter, theologian, and astute cultural observer Andrew Peterson writes in his new album, The Burning Edge of Dawn:
This is the storm before the calm
This is the pain before the balm
This is the cold before the warm
These are the tears before the song
This is the dark…Sometimes all I see is this darkness…
This is the dark before the dawn
Take heart, disciple. The light is coming. It is a sure thing. It has already been decided. May the tension of living in between two worlds remind us of the peace to come, and may it remind us of the truth that is hard to grasp, but is the truth no less. God isn’t fixing this.
Indeed, He already has.