Not for This Life Only

Yesterday, I woke up to the sound of a crying, vomiting child. My third child’s mysterious food allergies had caught up to her again. I felt despair, failure. In years of this, we haven’t been able to nail down what precisely triggers it. And lately, she’s looking anemic. I’m going to have to take her in for bloodwork.

In spite of that, I got up and dressed to the sound of singing. At least three parts, with a strong, clear young man’s bass line. It Is Well. They’d found the hymnal with the good arrangement in the right key, and they were practicing for this Sunday’s upcoming concert at the little church nearby. The sound sent shivers through me. Even sweet little Miss Sicko was warbling away on an improvised high tenor, before retreating to the couch to moan over her twisted-up tummy some more.

Sick children and all, I was supposed to cart off to the city for lessons, groceries, and faithfully meeting my overworked, overtired man. Lately, when things haven’t gone well, to tell the truth, there’s been a fair bit of barking back and forth around here. I felt wound up inside, dreading another round. I felt cut off from my primary source of support and comfort.

I sat down, put my head in my hands, and cried.

Shall We Accept Good From the Lord and Not Evil?

I got caught up on the news of the day. A friend’s child has gone missing. Another has recurring family tensions. At least two (that I know of) are struggling due to recession cutbacks. And, you know, we could get into the damage of the earthquakes lately and so forth as well. The world’s always serving up something. I quit crying for myself. I cancelled lessons. I gave up trying to figure out how to collect the part we need for the heating system. I prayed about real problems instead. None of them were mine.

It’s an interesting point that evil isn’t really evil unless there’s some objective good. A friend reminded me recently during a rough patch, “There has to be some good at the end of it all, or else none of it means anything.”

With all it serves up, the world finds itself in a quandary: if there is no God, we have no standard definition for evil. To standardize evil, we must have something to compare it to. If good is relative or arbitrary rather than objective and transcendent, then so are pain, sorrow, wrongdoing and crime. Yet we see that evil objectively exists, we can agree upon it, and still we refuse the existence of God.

At the same time, in accepting the existence of God, evil becomes less real in a way — or rather, less powerful. In a world where evil is the one objective standard, it takes on a sort of transcendence in our thinking. In a universe ruled by a greater good, evil loses its transcendence; it is rebutted down to its proper, finite proportions. In the knowledge of God, we find that evil becomes less real in that it loses its perceived self-existence.

God Has a Plan, But Who Cares?

However, the idea of a greater good and providence is little comfort in the worst moments. It’s completely abstract when a person is mourning or suffering. For those skeptical of the value of the God idea, “it’s all part of the plan” is just a big cop-out. (Frankly, it still doesn’t work on me, perhaps because of the ingrained reactions of my background.)

Well, our redemption is not found in God’s plan, it is found in God’s person. This is a distinction that’s often muddied in casual theology. We talk about God’s plan of salvation, God’s plan to send His Son for us, and a plenitude of other such jargon. It has subtly missed the point.

As we have received Christ, so we’re to walk in Him. I don’t know about anyone else, but I didn’t receive Him by acquiescing to His plan. I received Him by surrendering to His person in faith and repentance. From there, a change in my life might be the next step. But it’s not the first. Christ always, first and foremost.

If We Have Hoped In Christ For This Life Only

Now, evil can and will come knocking. I hope and pray my friend’s barely-adult child is found safe and whole. I hope and pray that family and job matters resolve themselves for those affected. However, none of this may come to pass. This is a horrible thought. I acknowledge that.

But Christ didn’t die to give us health, wealth, prosperity and peace. He died and rose again to give us Himself. We have a tendency to look back to the account of Adam and Eve and the garden, and say, that’s what we lost. That’s what we want back.

Difficult as it is, I’ve faced this challenge from the Scriptures: Did I in fact lose it? Did I ever have it? Was it ever a right, or in fact a passing circumstance? And the truth is, I’ve lost nothing. I have only gained from the first day until the last. Not health — mine is somewhat in question at the moment, as is that of a couple of other people in our household. Not wealth. Jobs come and go. We’ve been at the end of the rope and slightly beyond in the past. We can be again.

And not peace. We are soldiers in active duty, not to be entangled in life’s everyday affairs.

That I May Know Him

What I gain day by day is the presence of Christ, the thing truly lost through sin. The rest is to be counted but dung, that we may gain Him, and the fellowship of His sufferings.

This is not a horrible thought, because it is the heart of the transcendent good’s triumph over evil. In the power of the cross, eternity touches the earth.

This doesn’t mean counting our friends and loved ones as waste material — how could we do anything but keep our hearts tender toward the problems of the world? But we do not hope in Christ for this life only. If we do, our own holy book says we’re of all people most to be pitied. If nothing ever works out again in a loved one’s life, or for that matter, our own, our one constant prayer can be for the hope of eternity.

And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes. Count on it.