Throughout time & across cultures, mankind has consistently pondered himself, the world he inhabits, and the likelihood or necessity of a God or gods who might exist outside the confines of the earthly and heavenly planes. He questions, because he desires to know. He enters into relationships and discovers the dichotomous reality of living in community. He accuses and accepts responsibility by turns, for a moral ‘code of conduct’ presses upon him from within and from without. He longs for beauty, recognizing it in the world about him and often creating his own beautiful things. He laments beauty’s absence, praises its existence, and sometimes thinks it a mere matter of preference. He knows that life is, indeed, a ‘beautiful thing.’ Before he dies, as he must painfully acknowledge that all men do, he strives to find his purpose, because surely, surely, this life he has must mean something.
These enduring issues cannot be escaped. C.S. Lewis, author of Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, “God in the Dock,” “The Weight of Glory,” Miracles, Till We Have Faces, The Abolition of Man (to name a few) knew it. His words testify to the reality. The Anglo-Saxons lived the uncertainty in their wintry, warring nights. So too did those in the high Renaissance. Christopher Marlowe by turns embraced and rejected the hard truths presented in his own day. Marlowe’s successor, Shakespeare, plundered the depths of existential despair (think King Lear) and exalted the better way of forgiveness and restoration (think The Tempest). Later, Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo echoed the restoration theme through the darkness of Revolution. Life lived redeemed. Or life lived self-immersed, fragmented, uncertain. (Think Huxley’s Brave New World, Barthelme’s The Dead Father, Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49.). The literature of the ages reflects the undeniable reality: We are a people in desperate straits. We are born. We live. We die. In that middle part, unspeakably marvelous things happen. Babies’ first cries. Bellies filled. Wounds healed. Laughter. Discovery. Forgiveness. Joy. Promises. Fidelity. Sacrifice. Undeniably, unspeakably horrible events transpire as well. Abortion. Poverty and famine. War and rumors of war. Tears. Denial. Retribution. Fear. Lies. Revenge.
We believe that ours is the right to ask ‘why?’ Hearts hurt, falter, break under the weight of man’s inhumanity to man. We keep telling our story — a mingling of truth & lies — hoping for a ‘happily ever after,’ trying to convince ourselves we even deserve one, fretting that, based on our evidence thus far, justice will instead be served.
I bring ‘good news.’ Justice HAS been served. The evil that men do cannot outweigh the grace that the God we feel entitled to question has already poured out. At the cross of Christ, man’s inhumanity hit its pinnacle. A Savior born, clothed in flesh to conceal his divinity, submitted that flesh to the ‘whips and scorns of time/the opressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely/The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay’ — and crushed them. All of them. The evil that men do cannot overcome the Good already accomplished.
In this time of Christmas we confront a time of sorrow, loss, horror. Instead of placing packages underneath a warmly lit tree, our neighbors are going to watch, stunned and stricken, as their little ones are laid in the ground. Their anguish rings more loudly than the bells of Christmas Day. With them, we would rightly sing, “hate is strong, and mocks the song of ‘peace on Earth, good will toward men.” But another song can be heard. We must be still and listen, for it sings in our deepest sufferings: “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ ” (Revelation 21: 3-4)
For yet a little while, we remain in the old order of things. But, see. He is coming soon.
Believe. It makes all the difference.