Facing the Twin Realities
(For Part One see Temporary Smells...Lasting Smiles.)
Yesterday I read a number of posts and comments related to the weekly quote from In Other Words about hope. There were some very uplifting thoughts on holding on to hope in God during the tough times. There were also some heart-wrenching stories of those struggling with things like unemployment or illness.
This point and counterpoint is what Lucado refers to as the "twin realities of current difficulty and ultimate triumph." One is tempted to remark, "Easy for him to say - nationally acclaimed award-winning author", etc. And "current difficulty" sounds so innocuous, but what about a current calamity or catastrophe? However, none of us really knows what anyone else is actually going through.
Many years ago I heard an elderly Christian say, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is going through a battle." I was so impacted by this simple statement that I wrote it in the fly leaf of my Bible and have pondered it now and again for over thirty years. Another older believer, who was a stalwart member of the congregation where I attended as a teenager, used to often quote the Psalmist when he said, "Once I was young but now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken nor their children begging bread." (Psa. 37:25 NIV)
He was a wonderful old Norwegian, a first generation immigrant, with a charming accent. In those years, we had a practice of what was called "Sunday evening testimony" time, when various members of the congregation would stand and share a praise report or a prayer request. Nearly every Sunday evening, this same white-haired gentleman would stand, and with real fervor recite Psalm 37:25, and sit back down. He almost never said anything else. As a teenager sitting there week after week, listening to this, I was touched by his simplicity, his steadfast faith, and by the fact that he could still state this affirmation with such conviction while in his eighties. What a testimony.
But the years went by, and I grew up and read widely and sometimes indiscriminately. I read of the Holocaust and the obscene roll call of names like Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau and others. I read of Christians being imprisoned and tortured in China, Africa, and other bleak parts of the globe. I read a little paperback book entitled, "Tortured for Christ" (I do not recall the author's name) and could not sleep for days. And I recalled old Brother Jargonson (not his real name) and could not reconcile these "twin realities." Where was God in all this suffering? I could accept it better if this involved infidels or God-haters; but these accounts were about people who loved God and trusted Him.
Of course, part of my angst was simply youthful arrogance. I was quite the little budding intellectual in those days, often reading 100 or more books a year. I read theologians like Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and others. Eventually, I grew intellectually and emotionally weary with trying to reconcile the evil men do, with the Good God is. These twin realities were beyond my scope and I laid my anger and fear and confusion at the foot of the cross.
Thank God that I did, for within a few more years I would be embroiled in a series of events that would challenge every thing I thought I knew and everything I hoped I was. My children were victimized, my heart was broken, my household was ransacked, my family torn asunder, my friends deserted me, and I was left for dead by the side of life's road. This is not hyperbole, this is fact.
And what of, "I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his children begging bread?" The day I stood in line and walked up to a table where a community service group was giving away cheese and margarine to those in need, I was perhaps not begging, but my family sure needed the help, as jobs were scarce and we had recently been robbed and left with nothing.
Twin realities - current difficulties vs. ultimate triumph. How to reconcile them? Well, here is where I am with it. First, I once was young myself - and brash, and too smart for my own good - and very religious (but not nearly spiritual enough) - and now I am getting older. My darling little granddaughter (she is seven) wrote on my birthday card last week, "How old are you turning?" I laughed and laughed.
Psalm 37:25 was that writer's testimony, and by God's great goodness, it was also the valid testimony of dear old Brother Jargonson, and many, many others, but may not have been the experience of every believer, at least as regards the begging bread, not the forsaken part. Secondly, begging for bread - or anything else - is not the same as being forsaken. And while we are at it, let's just add, feeling forsaken is not the same thing as actually being forsaken?
Only one person ever had the right to even ask that of the Father, and Jesus was on the cross when he cried out this question. For the rest of us, or at least some of us, maybe we need to heed the admonishment of that noted theologian, Dolly Parton, who said of those engaged in self-pity or self-martyrdom, "Get down off the cross - someone else could use the wood."
Paul wrote in Hebrews in the roll-call of heroes of the faith that some "were tortured ...some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned..." and on and on. These Christians were subjected to things beyond my comprehension; but what they most assuredly were not was forsaken by God. Quite the opposite, his word tells us that the world was not worthy of them (Heb. 11: 33-40) but that "God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect."
I don't know about you, but that humbles me to my core. Once I was young, and I am not anymore. And I have faced the "twin realities" more than once in my life, and have been driven to my knees on many occasions. But I have learned through personal experience, as well as through the victorious testimony of others, that God does not forsake his own, and that there are much worse things than being without for awhile. And God has promised us, "Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you." (Heb. 13:5 NIV) Upon that, we can rely. God bless you.