A Hope on Both Sides of the Grave

… in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…
1 Peter 3:15-16

The modern mind is impatient. Furiously so.

We live at a frenetic pace in today’s world – a thing James Gleick calls “hurry sickness” in his book, Faster.  And in this world with a glut of information and a deficit of time, we often hurry without purpose, going nowhere faster than ever before. We take in more data in an hour than we can process in a week.

This acceleration of tempo has infiltrated the church and affected our views on the promises of God. Too many of us have become consumers of the 5-minute devotional or the single-verse meme, taking nibbles on the Bread of Life here and there throughout our week and hoping it will somehow counteract the vast measures of cultural junk food we absorb. Too often, we expect microwave answers to slow-cooker problems.

When I was an atheist, I would point to some calamity or cancer or sexual abuse as evidence that Christianity “didn’t work.” I believed if there was such a thing as a loving God, He wouldn’t allow such things.  In my ignorance, I supposed God existed for our earthly good – kind of like a jolly old man giving out candy to children without concern for their long-term nutrition.

And if our entire existence were summed up in the eighty-odd years of mortality, this would be a just argument. As Paul once wrote, if Christ was not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins.

So many people, believers and unbelievers alike, struggle with the fact of continued suffering and death. If we believe God’s promises, why do we not always see them borne out? Why, when we pray for healing, do we see even more sickness? Where is this plan to prosper and not to harm us we see in memes on social media?

The answer is simple. A happy, healthy life on earth is not the goal.

Healing is great, but sometimes pain drives us closer to God in areas which we would never voluntarily venture. Sometimes it takes a great evil done to us to see the monstrous evil within our own hearts. Hardship can remind us of the fleeting nature of possessions and lay bare the illusion of control.

In my walk with the Lord, I’ve asked such questions. In the dark of my own inner night, I’ve wrestled with God in a desperation to understand painful experiences. And through the struggle, He revealed my impatience to me.

Take Abraham…

Genesis 15 tells of Abraham, a man to whom God made a sweeping double promise: he would possess a huge swath of land and his descendants would be as numerous as the stars. In actuality, the first glimpse of this promise was given to Abraham at age 75, as Genesis 12:2-4 tells us. It was reiterated in chapter 15 and revisited in chapter 17 when our man was 99 – a lapse of 24 years since the original promise of “a great nation” from his line.

Somewhere in those decades, Abraham made a choice to believe God despite his childless state.

And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 15:6

Of course, if we read on in Genesis, we find one part of the promise fulfilled in his son, Isaac – a miraculous birth since his wife was well past her child-bearing years. Still, Abraham died owning naught but the tomb his wife, Sarah, and eventually he, himself, were buried in.

Did God fail to keep His promise?  Our impatience tempts us to reply, “Yes.”

But the truth is, God never backs out on His promises. It’s just that too often we assume the promises are meant for us right now.

We disdain posterity, preferring miraculous healing instead of patient and faithful endurance. We crave a bold delivery from difficulty instead of the testimony of trust in the midst of trial.

Though Abraham did not live to see it, his descendants did eventually possess the promised land – at least until they fell into disobedience. And that part was their choice, not God’s plan.

The core of the matter, the point of real hope is this: If I feel God has not kept a promise in my time, it’s a sign I need to broaden my scope.

God’s promises are not about me living a cushy existence with my every whim granted. It doesn’t mean I won’t experience suffering, hardship, and loss.

What it does mean is that I will experience them with purpose. And whether I like it or not, that purpose is His glory. His, not mine.

The promise I trust in – my hope – is despite the grave. It is not in health or wealth or politics or gain. It is in God Himself. Eternity in the presence of His glory. Pleasures forevermore at His right hand.  It is also hope for now – in His power made evident by my constant weakness.

In Christ, both life and death are redeemed, for to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Friend, if you find yourself hopeless, take time from the press of urgency to wrestle with Him.

How do you find hope in the midst of hardship? Feel free to share!

Legacy

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Just over a week ago, a lady I have immense admiration for passed from this world. She was an absolute beauty and the wealth she left behind is a fortune of dizzying proportions.

But neither her wealth nor her beauty were notable by the standards of this age and culture.

In fact, her body showed the wear and tear of her 96 years. Small of stature, I doubt she weighed 90 pounds fully dressed and soaking wet. The last few months saw her in much pain and often in a wheelchair, yet she was cheerful and had a smile and kind words for everyone.

Nonetheless, she was truly lovely. Hers was the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit – a beauty which has followed her and found its fulfillment in her permanent home with the Eternal God.

And her fortune… How can I describe it? It is one of the largest I have ever seen. A spiritual legacy spanning four generations. A wealth of faithful obedience to God and of love and compassion which staggers the mind. It is a fortune of far greater value and permanence than any dollar amount.

Her son and daughter-in-law, their children, and their grandchildren have all been heirs of this vast treasure. I see the same gentle and quiet spirit in them. There is joy and laughter and love all around.

Of course, there is pain and strife, too. But when error or rebellion rise up here or there in the family, mercy and grace abound. Within the family and for those who know them, there is not a soul who has reason to doubt that they are loved and important, not only by the family but also by the Lord.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
Psalms 103:17-18

One of my close friends, a prayer and accountability partner, comes from this spiritual inheritance and so I, too, benefit from it. So do our daughters who are also close.

Of course there is mourning for the temporary loss of this precious woman of God. Yet I must say they grieve splendidly, for in the family’s grief, there is also a streak of joy – the joy of knowing she has arrived safely Home.

All of us, myself included, look forward to our own Homecoming. Some future day, we will see her again and once more worship the King of Glory together, but better than before. Then, we will no longer encumbered by sin, weariness, or pain.

And in the meantime, all of us have seen in her an example of eager expectation of the day the Lord calls us home and faithful, uncomplaining endurance if He leaves us here – even if leaving us here is the most difficult part.

So today, my prayers go out for these, my friends. But even more so, my prayers reach out for those friends and loved ones who do not have this hope. My prayer is for my Lord to draw all who are consumed by sorrow and despair to Himself that they may share in an inheritance beyond all imagining.

I was once one of these – hurting and hopeless – and I well know the futility of denying God and living for myself. But He called me out from this pit; called me to die to myself and live for Him.

For my recently departed friend,  for her loved ones, and for all of us who are in Christ, physical death is no longer the enemy to be avoided but the friend to be embraced. It will be the final conquering act over our flesh before our true lives begin.

My friends, my dears, if you have not found love in this dark world, know that it is there. He is there – the One who is Love. The Way, the Truth, the Life.

Find Him. Find hope.

And someday, I pray I can introduce you to Nan – one of my personal heroes.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:55