Monday, March 30, 2009

Faith, Hope, and Love is About Proximity to Jesus

How do we get to that other side of our struggle, how do we see God’s method in the madness, God’s providence in our pain, before we get there?

To be honest with you, I’m not sure . . . I am generally reluctant to hand out a patented set of Several Steps to Whatevertheheck , especially when the steps we are taking are taken under the heavy weight of real life struggles -- illnesses and injuries, betrayals and infidelities, distances and deaths. The Christian life, despite what so many of our preachers often tell us, really isn’t “How to Succeed at Work”-type stuff.

Do you know the story of the invalid at the Sheep Gate pool? Here’s a portion of it from John’s Gospel, a little something to further whet your appetite for redemption:
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. (John 5:2-9a)

This man waited thirty-eight years for his healing. Thirty-eight years! You don’t need me to tell you that that is a long time. (And of course some people go their entire lives enduring excruciating pain that is never healed until they are received into God’s presence after their death.)

Day after day, for “a long time” the passage tells us, this man watched while others ignored him, even stepped over him to get their own healing. Day after day, for a long time, this man lay paralyzed mere inches from hordes of people celebrating the joy of the pool’s healing power. Day after day, for nearly forty years, I imagine this man had to fight feelings of resentment, of jealousy, of despair. But he didn’t give up.

Heck, how could he? He was paralyzed, right? What other choice did he have? This, I submit, is beside the point. The point is that the man could have decided, “This will never happen for me.” In his spirit, he could have abandoned all hope. He might not have been able to flee the pool’s tantalizing vision, but he could have given up hope he’d ever make it into the pool himself.

And in the end, it wasn’t the pool he needed. It was Jesus. How often do you or I believe material substitutes will cure what ails us? We hold out hope for a new job, a new home, a new relationship, a new whatever, believing that when we finally accomplish this or that, we will finally be free of our doubts or fears or struggles, rarely embracing that only the grace of God in Jesus is sufficient for our needs.

. . . [How do we emerge] on the far side of our journey seeing our traveled path with redemption-colored glasses?

The one tiny piece of advice I’d offer on how to see your painful journey as an act of God consecrating your life to his will is to work at consecrating each moment in the journey to faith, hope, and love. By faith, I do not mean “believing in yourself.” By hope, I do not mean “hoping for the best.” By love, I do not mean “following your heart” or some such vague nonsense. We, like invalids, are incapable. We, unlike God, do not really know what is best for us. We, unlike Jesus, have hearts that are deceitful above all things.

No, we will endure, we will prevail, we will persevere, we will be redeemed, both during the process and in the culmination of a Christ-centered faith, hope, and love. Day in and day out, we consider our options to endure or despair, and we choose endure, because to despair is no more valid an option for us than getting up and running away is for a paralyzed man. We consider our lot and, in the spirit of Simon Peter, declare, “To whom shall we go?,” because opting for anything other than proximity to Jesus is no option at all.

(This is an excerpt from the chapter titled "Jesus the Redeemer" from my book Your Jesus is Too Safe, coming in July from Kregel)

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