A Promise for Troubled Times.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

 



“I am with you always, until the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:20

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:5

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I was reminded recently, by a number of sources (isn’t it funny how a revelation will repeat itself, gently but insistently, until you claim it as your own?) that the goal of the Christian life is quite simply this: union with God.

Everything that we do as believers should draw us to that end: Union with God. Divine intimacy. A heart like His because it has learned to rest in it.

This unity with the Lord isn’t something that we achieve, earn, or accomplish. It’s more like a romance, a drawing ever deeper, an unfolding. I have to make the choice to seek Him out, but the fact is that He is already with me, making the first move, inviting me to blossom into the fullness of myself, and tending the garden of my heart, if I but assent to be with Him there.

God with us is the glorious good news of the Gospel, our greatest hope. And it also means that we don’t have to be afraid.

I once heard a priest say that Christianity is unique among the world’s religions because, while others tell the story of humans trying to reach the divine, Christianity is the only one that tells the story of how God did everything to come to us, even entered into this broken world Himself, in human flesh, to give Himself up for us and fill our suffering with Himself. So that we might find meaning in this weary, broken, wounded world. So that we might live with Him forever. Christianity is the great story of God’s “with-ness.” He comes to us. Every minute, every hour, without fail.

God with us means that we are never alone in our suffering. It means that He is here among us still, very much alive.

I know this, of course, but I never stop needing to be reminded of it.

The world is once again tiptoeing on the brink of catastrophe, and the unthinkable has already happened to so many. I stare into the terrifying unknown and increasingly find that the only thing I can cling to is the knowledge that God will be there.

Last week, when I was unburdening some of my anxieties on my sister as she drove me to the airport, she quoted my great-grandfather, who lived through the Great Depression and World War II: “It will be okay, because what other choice do we have?”

He meant that we would endure whatever we survived to see, that life would go on and we would figure out how to persevere. But there is a greater truth here:

It will be okay because the Lord will be with us.

In her new book Aggressively Happy: A Realist’s Guide to Believing in the Goodness of Life, Joy Clarkson reflects that feeling like the world is about to end is in fact nothing new, and that our fragile existence has always been threatened by some type of tragedy:


I have come to expect the end of the world. I think it’s only reasonable to do so when all the generations before me have done it too. When I look to the future, I see the manifold ways the world could end, and when I look to the past, I see that the world has always been almost ending. (195)


In other words, our fears for what tomorrow will hold are merely the latest in a string of them that is as long as human history itself. But for Clarkson, the precarious fact of our existence isn’t a reason to give in to despair. Instead, it’s a reason to stare unflinchingly into “the finitude of the material universe” (196) and of our own lives with the knowledge that the Lord has vanquished death, that light will always triumph over darkness, and that “death is not the truest thing at the heart of the universe, but life, beauty, joy” (199). The most sensible response to a world that is falling apart, she argues, is to put it back together again with acts, no matter how small, that proclaim this truth.

Amen.

Zach Vinson’s song “Hold My Son” is an anthem to these small, courageous acts of love and creativity in a world that would have us believe that death gets the final say: “…I will pray that death is small beside the light,” he sings. And I will, too.

I like to think of it as turning to my sphere of influence and loving the people in that space as fiercely as I can. I can’t control what is happening on the other side of the globe, but if I want to see a braver and more loving world, it starts in my house. In the classroom. In the Writing Center. With small acts of kindness, tiny sacrifices, and my whole attention given as a gift in love to the person or task in front of me. It starts, too, with beauty and creativity, poured out in new melodies on the piano or words on a page.

These are the acts that make death seem small. These are the acts that affirm that life, beauty, and joy are the heartbeat of this world.

In a world that is still so unsure, I know this with absolute certainty: God will never leave us alone in our suffering. He is not going anywhere. He will always be with us, until the end of the age.

That is the promise. That has always been the promise.

And in the promise that the Lord will be with us is this animating truth, pulsing through our existence: Love will always have the final word. This is not an abstraction or a clich├ęd aphorism or an empty platitude. It is the surest thing I know.

I don’t know what tomorrow or next week or next month or ten years from now will hold. But I do know that He will be there. That the Lord is still very much alive in this world, that the Holy Spirit is everywhere, and always will be. Turning darkness into light. Breathing life into death.

Press on in hope, dear friends. We are not alone.

God is with us.