Bittersweet Eyesight and Spiritual Depths Demand a Rugged Trust
One of our key jobs as we read the world’s deepest book is to align our minds with the oceanic truthfulness we find there. The Bible is a spiritual sea, we open it and embark on a spiritual journey. At first glance, all we see is surf and blue shadows. We begin to sound the depths, and need to adapt ourselves accordingly—accept the mysterious dimensions as reality, and then coax our minds to catch up.
There’s no doubt it would be easier to skip over verses like 1 Peter 4:7. Or sneer at them, cultivate a speck of cynicism that could grow into cancerous distrust.
The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers (ESV, emphasis mine).
This morning I read the verse, and found myself face to face with my own tendency to turn on a puzzling statement with annoyance. I thought, 2000 years ago, Peter assured the disciples the “end of all things” was about to jump up and slap ‘em. And today this is meant to still be convincing? My reasoning progressed as follows: I don’t get this, so Peter was obviously misled; Peter got it wrong, so God failed to give him solid information; God didn’t deliver the goods…so God is not entirely trustworthy? My irritation at an apparently opaque verse had me posing as a skeptic. But further reflection revealed my position was absolutely indefensible.
Our hard and necessary task is to reconcile God’s truthfulness with our fragmented, darkened, bittersweet vision. By so doing, we inform our hearts, soothe our minds, and heal our eyes. If I fail to pursue this Truth-soul reconciliation, I elevate myself to a position that apparently transcends the cosmos. Armed with makeshift system of truth-detection, I precede to affirm or debunk God’s word as the fancy strikes me. I provide a few modest disclaimers, then apply a quick lie detector test to the Creator. As C.S. Lewis would say, I look up from a Bible-reading session to discover I’ve put God in the dock for needed renovations. I have this feeling there are millions of us who specialize in God-mechanics.
But in fact, Peter had it right. He got it right because God got it right. God said precisely what he wanted to—and the fact that I readily misunderstand him should not reflect on the truth of the message. God wrote this mysterious book for the purpose of self-revelation, not to affirm the quirks of my cultural identity.
For God, it makes perfect sense to say “the end is near” and then allow 2000 years to elapse. For us, it seems a statement bordering on nonsense. But suppose the divine logic is perfect; how does the statement add meaning to my life, seeing as how another 2000 years might go by before the “near” conclusion finally explodes on the scene? It seems a trick that banks on the opacity (to us) of the future, but it must be utterly truthful. God isn’t surprised at the fact that I’m surprised at his apocalyptic report. So assuming the statement is absolutely truthful (necessary if I am to call the Bible holy), how can it be seen as relevant to our lives?
We’re living out this flash-in-the-pan conclusion, a final act, walking through the “last times,” as the disciples saw it. The match has been struck, the fuse is lit—Christ was born, lived out his cataclysmic years, and died—and it’s all downhill from there, earth’s slowly stooping final bow. Forget for a moment that this finis, history’s swan song, lasts for millennia—it’s still the “instant” before the curtain sweeps closed for good. We’re living on the knife’s edge of eternity.
God knows I prefer to think in terms of calendars and timecards, and he deliberately moves to confront my chronological obsession and replace it with something better: trust. He wants me to embrace this strange “end of all things” ideology, and learn to live it, easy as breathing. He wants me to do it for decades, if necessary—years elapsing in this strangely lovely final instant. We know the clock is ticking down, but we don’t know when it will stop.
This end is waiting in the wings, its proximity having very little to do with the duration of its approach. I read the verse again, and it’s as if God is saying, I will manage this alone. It’s my story. And it’s only your obsession with managing everything that makes you feel compelled to read my stage cues. “But I want hard facts and data, please.” No, I didn’t intend to tell you that. The point was never chronology.
In a sense, to be encouraged by this conclusion requires a humility so sharp, so control-relinquishing, that it hurts. This, I now believe, is just what God intends. Joy appears via child-like trust. I grudgingly hand over my Daytimer, and learn to live like a child again. I give up my calculator and spreadsheets and Christ pushes me toward the heart of true spirituality. Rugged trust.
I now believe that the verses that puzzle us most acutely should be explored most avidly. They may bring a much-needed throwing of life on its head.