The best answers to problems seem to be objective ones… but those are also the hardest answers to find when you are living through the problems. As hard as it has been to move back from Honduras, and as much as I miss it there, being removed from an environment allows you to think more objectively about it, just as being exposed to a new environment broadens your perspective of the world you live in.
Sam is an early riser, and he doesn’t get it from me. In the morning, he’ll usually be up and dressed with the TV on by the time I wake up. One of the things that I’ve found odd in our new rhythm here is that I can’t let him watch the news. I certainly don’t want to prevent him from experiencing objective reality, but more often than not, the news isn’t that. It’s typically a tiny, shocking or salacious slice of world events that gets a misrepresentative amount of coverage, because it grabs our attention, and attention means ratings. I very much appreciate the need for and the service of good journalism, so this is not what I mean by “the news.” Unfortunately, news coverage does not normally paint an accurate and wholistic picture of our reality. And even the best journalism will struggle to do that.
So it made me wonder about Sam’s perception of reality, because theoretically, he hasn’t been spoiled by the news quite yet. One day I asked him, “Which country do you think is more dangerous, Honduras or the U.S.?” I think most U.S.-based adults would somewhat fairly answer Honduras, and that answer would be because of what they have seen or heard or read in the news about crime rates, etc. But Sam had lived in both places with only his life experience to draw on. So he said… “Honduras.” But his answer was a little unsure. When I asked him why he thought that, he said, “Because of the way they drive there.” The young man has a point.
So where do we get the news that we choose to allow to rule our lives? From the media, whether right, left, or center? Or from the eternal good news of the gospel? Which news do we let consume our thinking and guide our actions?
In Philippians 4:8, Paul writes, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Why? In the next verse, Paul says that this leads us to peace.
If we don’t let our kids watch the news, and we also don’t let them use judgmental and divisive words like idiot, bigot, or snowflake… is that stuff really all that good for us as adults? This way of experiencing the world not only lacks benefit, but it is also destructive… to our thoughts, actions, relationships, mental health, and ultimately… it robs us of our peace.
So can we just deny the bad things going on around us? Certainly not.
I have been struggling lately to understand what Christ meant when he said, “It is finished.” I look around and see the needs of the Honduran people, and indeed the needs of so many in this country, and I can tell you objectively…. it is NOT finished. Or possibly, I don’t really understand what “it” is. But I don’t think Christ is a liar, and I don’t think he’s crazy, so he must be right. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explores this idea when he talks about people who say that Christ was just a good teacher. Well, he said he was the Son of God… he said he was God. So there are only a few options… either he is a liar, he is nuts, or he is the Lord of heaven and earth. I’ve chosen to believe he is Lord, so how can I believe him when he says, “It is finished”?
Well, the distinction here is the finite versus the eternal. Eternity is not just “a very long time” – it is a state of existence beyond the limitations of time. This means it is likely more dynamic than static, and likely more so than we can currently comprehend. Just as I gain objectivity about life in Honduras as I am more removed from actually living there, I will only gain true objectivity on this question after I am removed from life in the finite… removed from life on earth. Until then, we must hold these apparently opposing views at the same time, but there is an important distinction between them that we can use to guide our beliefs and actions.
It is FINISHED in the sense that Christ lived, died, and was resurrected to fulfill all the prophecies in the scriptures, and ultimately to make grace available to all who will accept it. And his redemption of the world is also ONGOING in that there is work to be done and we get to be a part of it.
The good news of the gospel is that Christ already completed the ultimate work. The joy of life is that we get to participate in God’s ongoing redemption of his creation.
Being able to hold apparently opposing viewpoints simultaneously isn’t just a characteristic of Christianity, it’s a requirement. We preach hope to a hopeless world. We love those that don’t believe they deserve to be loved. We wage peace. Our God fills us with joy in the midst of sorrow.
One of my biggest failures recently (and historically, but especially recently) is that I think I have to solve the world’s problems by myself… with my own ideas and my own work. Thankfully, the world is not dependent on only these things, or we’d certainly be in an even worse position than we currently are. We can’t rely on our own solutions and actions alone to bring about God’s justice. We must first accept the grace given us and only then can we extend his goodness to others. We can’t help the world with our own plans… but we can’t fail when we allow God to accomplish his work through us.
So is it finished or is it ongoing? The answer is yes. God is not constrained by the time that creates an artificial distinction between these two thoughts. It is finished in the sense that God’s grace has been offered to all. It is ongoing in that there is still work to be done to redeem the broken parts of our current existence. But it is only from both of these thoughts existing simultaneously that we can draw the courage to deal with the brokenness all around us. We take heart in the certain hope that is extended through God’s grace… a hope that dares to stare into the face of poverty, war, and suffering of all kinds, and then guarantees the eternal redemption of it all. How can this be?? I ask how it could be anything else. Christ’s hope is no respecter of circumstances. It is in all, and forever.
So is it that simple then? We just tell people not to worry about their suffering because it will all be better in the end? Never mind that you never met your birth parents; look how you turned out. Don’t worry that your friend killed himself; God will wipe away every tear in heaven. Move on from the death of your child that you don’t get to be with anymore; you’ll see them in heaven. These are hollow human responses, lacking the supreme empathy of God’s love. While well-intentioned and perhaps not entirely untrue, they lack the fullness of God’s truth. This isn’t a truth to be imposed on someone else’s situation. This is a truth to accept through the experience of finding your true identity as a child of God.
In Romans 8:18, Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Paul suffered through a great deal, to put it mildly. But still, he’s not denying the existence of human suffering. He’s just looking to the light of God’s glory… a light we don’t fully understand right now, but one that can give us great peace when we accept the grace of God through faith. It is not a notion for us to impose upon others in their suffering, but it is for us as individuals to choose to accept in order to attain incredible peace in the face of any adversity. Read the rest of Romans 8 to see a bit of Paul’s incredibly encouraging faith when faced with his own suffering and a suffering world. The world as we know it today isn’t historically unique in its apparent hopelessness. The devil has been using this deception to varying degrees of success since the beginning of recorded history.
The evil in this world often seems overwhelmingly powerful, and it can overwhelm us if we let it by denying God the opportunity to help us. But this evil has no place even being on the same scale as the power of the one in whom I choose to put my trust.