“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” ~ Paul
A recent article I read tells the story of a young woman who having grown up in a devout Christian home traded in her bible for Dante’s Inferno. Both overflowing with darkness and unspeakable tragedy, she concludes neither to be more relevant than the other as it relates to life – equal works of fiction. Ultimately turning away from the legacy of faith that had characterized her upbringing, she converts to atheism. When asked why she came to reject the biblical record she replied, “I read it”.
In fairness, the bible does seem to overflow with stories hard to make sense of. Tragedy, pain and suffering, injustice, hardship, and difficulties prowl through the sixty-six books sometimes with every turn of the page. The characters we read about seem more often in peril than in safety. Fleeting are the oasis moments for men and women in the bible, and even when you happen across one, watch out, don’t get too comfy, there may be a cankerworm backstage soon to come out of the cage devouring your shade tree – ask Jonah.
Furthermore, one might think that a progressive theology would find the New Testament breaking out the bubbly in celebration of how much better life for the believer had become with the advent of Jesus but as Gomer Pyle might say, “Surprise – Surprise”. Listen to Paul’s story but I warn you, it isn’t pretty:
“I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT).
Truth is, the bible doesn’t paint a rosy picture for the believer’s earthly pilgrimage. “Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts”, Jesus once told a crowd, (Luke 7:25); “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head”, he told another (Luke 9:58 NLT); then to his disciples, he said, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33).
In other words, if you book a flight with Heaven Bound Airways, expect the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign to remain on the greater part of your travel. But once you arrive, I’m quite certain you won’t remember a single bump. I suppose Hunter Thompson captures my feelings best saying, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
Honestly, it is rather sad to know so many read the bible and become disenchanted when they find as many if not more dragons, goblins, Imps, ogres, and trolls than cute little fairies with a pouch of pixie dust to whisk you away from the hazards you are certain to find in this life’s enchanted forest. Yes, it’s true, there are still giants in the land, and although our yellow brick road may lead to the Emerald City, count on that wicked old witch being nearby with a trick or two up her deceitful sleeve to trouble you, to throw you off track impeding your progress. That is why Jude tells believers to“contend for the faith” (Jude 3), and why Paul told Timothy to “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) – it’s a war zone out there and although true; the bible does overflow with stories hard to make sense of; they turn out that way every time we try lining up those stories with a God that to us makes sense. But as Isaiah the prophet reminds [make careful note of this], ““I don’t think the way you think. The way you work isn’t the way I work.” God’s Decree. “For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think” (Isaiah 55:8-9 MSG).
Believe me, God’s got a plan that promises one day to find his children free from turmoil and turbulence, but for now we patiently persevere, living each day “by faith in the Son of God, who loved [us] and gave himself for [us]” (Galatians 2:20). Just like Paul, “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” (1 Corinthians 13:12 MSG) perhaps shouting, “free at last – free at last”; for the same Jesus who gave us the heads up saying, “In the world you will have tribulation” also said, “take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).
Please don’t run away or go off into a swamp of despair thinking as you read that a choice to follow Jesus means surrendering to a doleful life in the dumps. To walk with Jesus is the best decision I have ever made – not one regret. There are many mountain top moments for believers, exhilarating experiences along the way – good times, great times overflowing with laughter and inexpressible joy. My wife, children, and grandchildren are all sources of wonderful and precious blessings. My church, church family, and many friends know how to turn a frown right side up bringing needed encouragement just when I need it most. The sun always rises, always breaks through the clouds on a rainy day hanging a rainbow in the sky. However, I am a realist. Along with the mountain tops I expect there will be valleys to forge; with the laughter, sadness and sorrow will find a way past my defenses; along with joy, teardrops will many times dampen the eye; and with those encouraging booster shots I so look forward too and often receive, times of disappointment are sure to come. Regardless, come what may, that old apostle is right – “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us”.