Today’s post is by Amy Whitfield. Amy is the Director of Communications at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.
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True confession: sometimes I wish I could hide in my house and never leave. I’d round up the kids, lock the door, and build our own bubble that nothing can penetrate.
Don’t get me wrong—it’s not fear that causes this feeling. I’m not afraid to engage the culture. There is so much in the world that is beautiful and I love the opportunity to experience it, and even in the more difficult issues I want to stand ready to give an answer to neighbors that I love. I don’t desire escape because I am afraid of being challenged. The bubble isn’t to protect me from a big bad world that might tarnish my family. It’s to protect me from a sad world that might drown me with my own tears.
The days I want to hide are when the sadness of the state of things can seem too much to bear. And this last month has been a doozy. Revelations of marital infidelity among millions of people around us, videos of people talking about babies as nothing more than a commodity for gaining a profit, the world awakening to a refugee crisis that results in the bodies of children lying on beaches. I can’t turn on the television or look at a twitter stream without feeling the burden of something like despair. Suddenly the Psalmist’s cry of “How long, O Lord?” makes all the sense in the world.
However, it’s important to remember what despair truly is—the complete loss of hope. We are called to a life that is the exact opposite of that definition. But when everything seems so lost and broken, how can we ever begin to overcome the deep sadness that we feel? At some point we lose the resolve to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps again and just put on a happy face. Our own strength is not enough to face the darkness, and one day it will just seem easier to lock the door and block the pain. Then we soon realize that the pain lives within our hearts, because that same darkness can just as easily be found in us when we are looking to our own strength for the answer.
But the good news is that the answer isn’t within us.
The answer is in the story.
When our children were small, we tried to tell them the story of the Gospel in a straightforward and simple way they could understand. But we made sure to tell them the whole story from beginning to end. It always started with a garden and it ended with a white horse, with a manger and a cross in between. But even though we were deliberate in that, we still found ourselves surprised by what happened next. One of our children began to cry out whenever the clouds were moving on a particularly windy day. There we would be at the playground, and I would suddenly hear, “Mommy, mommy, Jesus is coming!” There was complete and total belief that the clouds must be parting and He would be with us any moment. I finally understood what it means to have the faith of a child. A child hears “He will return” and starts to look for Him everywhere.
The beauty of the question “How long, O Lord?” is that asking it assumes there will be an answer. We can still experience the sadness, and we certainly will feel it more days than not. After all, we know that even Jesus felt grief as He wept over Jerusalem. But grieving for the world around us still allows for hope in a greater reality. It’s a reality that counts on a future full of light even as the present feels so dark.
Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True, and He judges and makes war in righteousness. His eyes were like a fiery flame, and many crowns were on His head. He had a name written that no one knows except Himself. He wore a robe stained with blood, and His name is the Word of God. The armies that were in heaven followed Him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. A sharp sword came from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it. He will shepherd them with an iron scepter. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty. And He has a name written on His robe and on His thigh:
KING OF KINGS
AND LORD OF LORDS. (Revelation 19:11-16, HCSB)
Sometimes I still cry “How long, O Lord?” But I can get up every day and leave the house and face the world, and I can do the tasks I’ve been called to do. I can do this because I’ve been promised that the question we ask has an answer, and one day that answer will be “now.” The new creation brings hope to a world that is groaning, and while we groan with it, we don’t have to do so in ultimate despair.
A story that starts in a garden can’t escape the pain of what happened in that garden. But it also can’t escape the joy of what will happen in the sky. And that hope makes all the difference.