Hope in the Darkness
There are days, weeks, and seasons in life where you are brought face-to-face with your own mortality. This happens when we wake up and there are new aches and pains. It happens when we watch a loved one struggle with a chronic illness, helping him/her perform ordinary everyday tasks. Or when a close friend or family member has an accident, and the person is left significantly changed (emotionally, physically, mentally). Or some dies either suddenly or slowly over months.
It seems that if we are paying attention, our own frailty and finitude is constantly held before us. We will not live forever. Our bodies will fail. We will die. For some of us this will be sooner rather than later. We can do a lot to pretend like it isn't going to happen. We find ways to occupy our minds with distractions from the coming inevitability. We workout. We eat right. We make sure we are using the correct supplements. Yet, there are these moments when the reality of life's fragility disrupts our lives.
What do we do in these moments? What do we do when we become acutely aware of the brokenness of this world? Often in those moments we are rocked and rightfully so. There is something in us that lets us know that this is not the way it is supposed to be. Decay and death are enemies, they are signposts that point us to the fact that this world is broken. The evidence of the brokenness of the world should shake us every time we see it. This is not the way it is supposed to be. We are to grieve the brokenness of the world. Paul says as much in 1 Thessalonians and Jesus himself wept when he heard of the death of his friend (John 11:35).
However, yet in all of this we do not grieve the brokenness of this world "as others do who have no hope" (1 Thess 4:13). There is a grieving of the brokenness of this world that looks in hope. This is what our weekly celebration of the Lord's Day directs us toward. It points us to the light that shines in the midst of the darkness. The hope that death is not the final word. That the pain and suffering we see and experience in this world is not the final word. We can look with hope knowing, "Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep" (1 Thess 4:14). “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…. but in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:17, 20).
Each week, as we gather to worship on the Lord's Day, this hope is set before us. We are reminded that in the midst of pain and suffering, there is hope. Christ came in the midst of a dark night of the world, and, as the light of the world, broke the darkness of night. We come together and we are reminded of our sin and the sin that devastates this world. The Gospel is displayed before us and we called to remember the work of Christ. We partake in the Lord's Supper and we hear that Christ died for us, and because of that we have a hope to sit down at another table - at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We hear the sure truth, "'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15:54-57). We are reminded of the whole Gospel and called to grasp hold of that truth in the midst of a broken world.
A moment's reflection on this world, and we are confronted by its brokenness. This should cause us to grieve. We feel the pain most acutely when we see how the brokenness touches our lives, our relationships, our bodies. We mourn, but we do not mourn as those who have no hope. I will leave you with this, rather lengthy, quote from John Calvin:
Christ, the Sun of Righteousness [Mal 4:2], shining through the gospel and having overcome death, has, as Paul testifies, brought us the light of life [2 Tim 1:10]. Hence we likewise by believing "pass out of death into life" [John 5:24], being "no more strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens of the saints and of the household of God" [Eph 2:19], who "made us sit" with his only-begotten Son "in heavenly places" [Eph 2:6], that we may lack nothing for full happiness. Yet lest we be still grievously exercised under hard military service, as though we obtained no benefit from the victory won by Christ, we must cling to what is elsewhere taught concerning the nature of hope. Since we hope for what we do not see [Rom 8:25], and, as is elsewhere stated, "faith is the indication of things unseen" [Heb 11:1p.], so long as we are confined in the prison house of the flesh, "we are away from the Lord" [2 Cor 5:6]. For this reason, the same Paul says in another passage that we "have died, and our life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, appears, then we also will appear with him in glory" [Col 3:3-4p.]. This, then, is our condition: "that by living sober, righteous, and godly lives in this age, we may await our blessed hope, and the coming of the glory of our great God, and of our Savior Jesus Christ" [Titus 2:12-13p.]. Here, then, we need more than common patience, that we may not in our weariness reverse our course or desert our post.
Therefore, whatever has so far been explained concerning our salvation calls for minds lifted up to heaven, so that "we may love Christ, whom we have not seen, and believing in him may rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy" until, as Peter declares, we receive "the outcome of our faith" [1 Pet 1:8-9]. For this reason, Paul says that the faith and love of the godly have regard to hope that rests in heaven [Col 1:4-5]. When, therefore, with our eyes fast fixed on Christ we wait upon heaven, and nothing on earth hinders them from bearing us to the promised blessedness, the statement is truly fulfilled "that where our treasure is, our heart is" [Matt 6:21]. Hence arises the fact that faith is so rare in this world: nothing is harder for our slowness than to climb over innumerable obstacles in "pressing on toward the goal of the upward call" [Phil 3:14]. To the huge mass of miseries that almost overwhelms us are added the jests of profane men, which assail our innocence when we, willingly renouncing the allurements of present benefits, seem to strive after a blessedness hidden from us as if it were a blessing shadow. Finally, above and below us, before us and behind, violent temptations besiege us, which our minds would be quite unable to sustain, were they not freed of earthly things and bound to the heavenly life, which appears to be far away. Accordingly, he alone has fully profited in the gospel who has accustomed himself to continual meditation upon the blessed resurrection. — The Institutes 3.XXV.1