Saturday, January 26, 2008


More political thoughts to come, but this is something that has been brewing in my mind all day and needs to be let out.

Christians talk a lot these days about the pursuit of joy. It's the key theme in the theology of, for example, John Piper. We are called to find joy in God, to delight in him, to be happy in our relationship with him.

And I do think that's right. But I think there's another side to it, and I think it's important. I think Christians are called to pursue pain.


Okay, I put that in a deliberately provocative way. But think about it. As a Christian, I believe some things about the world that make it more painful than it is for others. I do not believe, for example, that suffering and death are just part of nature - I think they are terrible, awful intrusions into a world created good. I do not believe that when people die they go to sleep forever, or watch us from clouds above - I believe that they face the judgement of God, to give account for their lives. My beliefs - based on Scripture - make the world a more horrible place than some might think it is.

Of course I have hope: hope that the world will be fixed, hope for personal salvation, hope for those around me - even those who seem to ignore the hope that God offers. My hope is based on the life, death and resurrection of Christ, the man who was God, and as such it is absolutely certain. The future is bright.

But that bright future means that the terrible things that presently exist in the world - in my pessimistic moments I would say "dominate the world" - cast long and dark shadows. Without eschatology - without the God-guaranteed, blood-bought hope of the bright future - everything that is would just be what is. But because it ought to be and will be different, better, redeemed - because of that, what is is terrible, horrible, an abberation and abomination.

And people around us don't know that. Or if they do know, they ignore. They eat and drink and are generally merry, and they numb the pain of the world with temporary pleasures and sophistical philosophies and doomed projects.

In this world, we are called to be witnesses. That means rejoicing in Christ and being full of the joy that comes from knowing him, knowing hope, knowing the future. In our rejoicing, we witness to the watching world that existence is more than they think: that there is life, real life and not merely existence. But I am sure it also means feeling the pain that they should feel but don't. We acknowledge the verdict of God on the world of humanity that rejects him as a firm "no", a word of judgement that leads to death and more than death. We see that verdict proclaimed and announced and foreshadowed in every bit of pain and suffering in the world. And we have to feel it. We have to feel it for those who are numb to it. We have to feel it for those who are deliberately blind to it.

Would it be heresy to say that the church is called to feel vicariously for the world - both the joys and the pains?

The author of Hebrews tells us that for the joy set before him Christ endured the cross. The cross made the joy possible. I wonder whether the joy didn't also create the cross. I wonder whether the darkness of death and hell and tomb that must have filled Christ's vision - if there is any other way, then let this cup pass from me! - wasn't made darker, thrown into sharper and more terrible relief by the brightness and certainty of the joy?

Will the hurting people come to us if we will hurt for them?

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