“The humans live in time but our Enemy (God) destines them for eternity.” C. S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters, 1946. Quoted from a letter from the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood.
This time of year is always hard. I won’t go into details and get overly dark, but several people I know are going through a rough time today. We all do. It seems joy and happiness are the exception, yet we expect them. We go to great effort to obtain them. We feel cheated if we don’t get them.
Photographs, such as the one I post here, are trite. However, if I posted a butterfly would that be better? It would be cloying and clumsy, even sacrilegious among images of suffering we could present. We cannot show too much, else we become callous to the grotesque. When cruel reality finally smacks us upside the head, many of us despair, rage, rant, grieve, deny, or go mad. “Life sucks, then we die,” is the pre-mortem epitaph we humans stamp upon it all. It is the air we breathe on this earth.
Yet. There exists something very different and real.
Hope exists in spite of it all. Faith exists. Love exists. Joy exists. Four part harmony responds to the madness and contradicts the lie. In Psalms, in the Bible, many of the 150 songs and poems speak of not just humans but the entire creation, even mountains singing and… praising God? In spite of all this trouble we see?
The entire book of Job deals with suffering and the good man’s dialogue with God about the matter. “In all this, Job did not sin.” Yet he suffered.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” “Be of good cheer” in the original language means to be bold and courageous. There is also a connotation of calm inner confidence. Loony Tunes. Is Jesus crazy? Many think so.
I dislike medical dramas. Nothing like that lasts only an hour. Reality is a minimum four hour wait in the ER if you are there personally, and not some actor. Sucks to be you.
In the drama, when the dying patient or her family talks of hope, I question in my mind, “Hope in what?” “She’s gone to a better place.” Really? How do you know? Upon what do you base it? They never define “hope” in what or where or who on streaming TV shows.
But Jesus says what we know deep down. His is “good cheer” based on something solid and not a vague wish. He backs it up with himself. And “himself” is backed up by eye witnesses that Jesus is actually, really truly alive after dying, and the fact is backed up by the assurance of the Holy Spirit within us. It is backed up by lives of real people who meet trouble not with a dance routine but with courage. (As an aside, it is definitely not true that everyone who claims to wear the label Christian has a golden ticket out of here.)
“Oh, there you go. You brought in Jesus. I thought I smelled it.” Yep, he’s all I got to offer. What’s your alternative when you are eaten alive with cancer, or your child is, some wispy wish? Reliance on good deeds that you hope will be good enough? Reincarnation? The Force? Reabsorption into the Cosmos, black hole, or into an energy field. Nirvana? Or is reality just food for worms: “When you die you’re like dead dog Rover; When you’re dead, you’re dead all over.”
Some of the social media apps offer you a photograph. You know, a “memory” from so many years ago. After hearing all the trouble going on in my friends’ lives today, I was sitting here about to write, and a photograph popped up. It looks pleasant enough, but the hidden context we later discovered in some dark times that began on that day. Things stayed dark for a couple years, but broke out into joy. That’s another story.
So, the photograph pops up. And I think about my friends… And I think about their trouble… And I looked at that photo… And I think about trouble… And I almost went dark myself.
Then I started laughing. There is a neurological condition marked by inappropriate laughter, the pseudobulbar effect. That’s not what happened. Nor was it my dark humor. I know how to be dark. No, I started laughing, because I saw through the Evil One’s strategy, that even though the suffering is very real, I know the lie is in despair and hopelessness. I do not have that. We do not have to accept that.
Laughter! Yeah it stops evil in its tracks. When laughter comes from joy, it is an indignity that evil cannot endure. It is the emphatic contradiction of suffering! Jesus says, “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”
Happy New Year.