It all seems so bewildering: disrupting and devastating floods on the east coast and forest fires on the west coast, typhoons in the Philippines and China, chaos in our political arena, moral confusion with so many prominent people in high places, opioid devastation in lives, sixty-five million refugees in the world, persecution of religious minorities in Myanmar, human trafficking on a frightening scale, hopeless migrant families being separated, domestic conflicts and divorce, urban crime,  … and on and on …. What is one to think? Is the world coming unglued? Well, actually, no. Jesus forewarned us that tribulation / trouble has been and always will be the normal situation with us.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Jesus didn’t have rose-colored glasses. The context of Palestine in his day was one of the military occupation by a foreign power, ethnic prejudice, a religious power-structure, with leadership that too often forgotten its own sacred calling and purpose. Sound familiar. Jesus so often addressed these issues, and proposed to his followers that his New Creation transcended all of this tribulation, while not in the least denying it very real and omnipresent reality. At the same time, he commanded an ethic, a way of behavior, that, in turn, demonstrated the love of God for all the fractured persons who occupied the systems of darkness.

Jesus was the great Reconciler, the lover of sinners, the incarnation of God’s righteousness, and the of the God who forgives, recreates, and endows his followers with a “peace that passes understanding” even in the most horrendous circumstances. Jesus was the embodiment of what he was teaching, and became the victim of its worst violence. Such self-giving love has set us free to be the continuing embodiment to that love … always in the context of human brokenness and tribulation.

It is into this brokenness, and with all of its victims, and tragic realities that we find our holy place. C. S. Lewis has one of his characters contemplating the horrendous circumstances that he has just gone through with these reflections: “This chapter, this page, this very sentence, in the cosmic story was utterly and eternally itself; no other passage that had ever occurred or ever would occur could be substituted for it.” (Ransom in Perelandra. p. 146). What he had been through was an encounter with evil in its most vicious personality—a nightmare. And yet his faithfulness to his calling was awesome in its liberating consequences. Ours may never be quite so dramatic, but the reality of ever-present tribulation / difficulties is our ‘normal’ in this age, … in this age where we are the agents and demonstrations of God’s age to come.

Our calling is to be a people of hope, who wear the garments of salvation in the midst of the most mundane, and often tragic, contexts. And would you believe? … it is in such contexts that we are to “rejoice always”?


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About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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