The title of this post is a sentence pulled from an email that was sent to me. No, it wasn’t some strange spam email. It was a response to me in a discussion with someone about trials, and how we get through them. What you see in the title is what this individual claimed is the message of most Christians in the face of trial.
Is that accurate? Is that really the message we’re giving? On the one hand, if it is, then we need to stop and reexamine our message, because if it can legitimately be reduced to this, then it’s not very comforting and doesn’t seem very loving. On the other hand, if it’s not a legitimate reduction of our message, then what is our message, and why would someone come away with the impression that this is what it is?
Before I go on, I should stop for a moment of self-assessment. Just because this isn’t the message of Christianity doesn’t mean this isn’t the message I put across, right? So what did I have to say? “…at all points in life, good or bad, we look to Christ for our true purpose and hope. …trials and difficulties are a part of this life – we live in a fallen world. Too often what people tell someone who has endured a lot of trials… is that they ought to look inside themselves for strength and meaning… We need a more reliable source of strength than the person in the mirror. …trials are a part of life as well, and we can look to Christ in those too… My point is…there is a place to turn when life gets rough.” (The ellipses represent information that would have revealed more about the context of the discussion and the person involved, and don’t represent selective editing to strengthen my case).
I’m pretty confident that my words can’t be reduced down to the simplistic statement in this post’s title. Quite the opposite, my point was that we have strength for dealing with things right now. When we turn to Jesus, we aren’t just saying that someday when we die all the bad stuff will be over. We’re saying that having Jesus in our lives gives us the strength and hope to get through the bad stuff now.
But you know, there is some truth in the accusation after all. Part of what gives us the strength and hope to get through the bad stuff now is the fact that when life ends we have something much greater to look forward to. And why shouldn’t that give us strength and hope now?
When I was 18 I broke my back in a car accident. Thankfully, my spine was undamaged and I didn’t lose the use of my legs. But it was a long, difficult, painful recovery. I spent a year going through physical therapy. During that year, the thing the physical therapists always told me was, “I know it hurts now, and nothing is going to change that. I know it’s hard. But if you work through this, if you just keep at it, then later on you will be better. If you don’t, it’s only going to be worse for the rest of your life, but if you fight through the pain now then for the rest of your life it will be much better and easier.”
Would it have made sense for me to say to my physical therapist, “You know what, screw you and your sweet talk about the future! All you’re telling me is ‘suck it up now and in a year it’ll be better’. That doesn’t help me at all! I’m in real pain right now!” Granted, I probably did say something like that once or twice, but did it help me? Did it change anything? Did it make the words of my therapist any less true? No, no, and no.
In the same way, it may not always make a person feel better when they are in the midst of suffering or trial to hear that this is just going to be the way life is for a while, and it may not always comfort them to hear that someday, when life is done, it will all end. But it’s still true. And here’s the secret that isn’t all that secret: While that message may have occasionally fallen on deaf ears during my PT, later on I appreciated that it actually gave me a lot of hope and reason to keep going, and in the same way the message that there is a home in heaven waiting for us can give a person hope and a reason to keep going even when they don’t feel particularly comforted by that message.
So in the end, there is some truth to the accusation. Indeed, we do find hope simply in knowing that someday all the crap in this life will come to an end. But really, isn’t that a good reason to hope? This life is crummy, but it’s temporary, and when it’s over, you get to spend forever being happy. Seems like a pretty good message to me.