by Jenniffer Ogden
The alarms were blaring and all conversation had to be shouted at full volume. The bilge pumps could not keep up with the water rising in the holding tanks. We were sinking. The terror was visceral. We helped everyone to life vests and clung to each other as we wrestled into them. Instructions for swimming away from a sinking ship were given. Prayers pounded in our heads. Ragged breaths were drawn and we edged toward the railing. All any of us wanted was a way to escape, together, alive.
As I read the news of church policy votes, shootings, hurricane devastation, presidential debates, and gender bias, my heart sinks. And the grief is real. And much of what I can think is ‘I want a way out of all of this’. The pain is too heavy, the grief smothering, the horror overwhelming. I want out.
And I hear that sentiment echo in emails, texts, blogs, and conversations. People want to avoid the pain, want to run and hide, earnestly desire to evade the suffering, and quite humorously, head for Canada in the event of every election.
Oddly, this escapist sentiment often arrives cloaked in biblical language. ‘Come soon Jesus! Oh Lord, come quickly! Please Jesus, come now!’
We ask heaven to move so we can sidestep the hard. We implore God to aid us in escaping. We ask for eternity to come now. We attempt to force the hand of God to move.
This oft repeated refrain strikes an uneasy chord with me. Whilst we plead with the Lord, are we so distracted that we fail to live today, in the midst of brokenness, as He would have us live? How many moments are actually spent doing what He has already asked us to do? Have we fed the hungry, the refugee, the widow, the orphan? Have we clothed the naked, or sat with the grieving? Have we loved our neighbors as much as we love ourselves? Has the joyous, hopeful news of a Savior been shared with liberality?
It is risky to become so absorbed with leaving, that we fail to live God displaying lives today. The world is in need of care, in need of those willing to stand though the heavens fall, folk who are willing to love beyond hurt, lead beyond pain, and work to grow the Kingdom. The world needs us here, now, advocating and acting for the betterment of us all.
We, as Christians, have all hope of an eternity of peace, and joy, and perfection. This “light and temporary affliction” (2 Cor 4:17) is nothing compared to what we will one day enjoy. It is this promise of the beyond that spurs us on. This hope that carries us through and empowers us to wade through the disillusionment and despair. It is a divine hope that enables us to carry an eternal message to a dying world.
Jesus has not come because the people of this world are not ready.
Our begging to leave without laboring for our potential heavenly neighbors indicates that we are not ready, even as His followers, for Him to come. If our first priority is our own exit, we are focused internally. Internal focus means we are missing out on the mission of working with God to introduce many to salvation. When our desire, individually and corporately, to escape supersedes our desire to share Christ with the world, we are not ready for heaven.
In the midst of our wrestling, we hang on to Jesus and He supplies the courage to stay though the madness is overwhelming. Ellen White says it this way “The Spirit furnishes the strength that sustains striving, wrestling souls in every emergency, amidst the hatred of the world, and the realization of their own failures and mistakes. In sorrow and affliction, when the outlook seems dark and the future perplexing, and we feel helpless and alone, these are the times when, in answer to the prayer of faith, the Holy Spirit brings comfort to the heart.” (EG White, Acts of the Apostles, pg 51) The Spirit strengthens us to reveal the Light in darkness. We are empowered to thrive in adversity. We are enabled to point to eternal hope in the despair.
The prophet Jeremiah lived in perilous times. However, when he contemplated not sharing the message God had given him to carry, Jeremiah reveals the personal consequence of attempting to restrict his actions. “But if I say, “I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9) When God dwells with us, and in us, the personal necessity to share becomes so intense that sharing happens. For Jeremiah, this happened in the words that God intended to be shared ringing out. For us, the need does not vary widely from the biblical record. What God asks of us is to follow His leading and share His goodness. As the prophets of old, we are asked to share.
While it is tempting to jump into an ocean of despair as we watch this world, the most honest cry for a returning Lord will be exemplified in a life lived in hope today. All those years ago, boat sinking, panic rising, the calm captain guided us to the railings, lashed our boat to a neighboring boat, and with engines whining at full speed, the boat was run aground on a sandy shore. We piled off. In the darkness of midnight, with the tide out, the gaping 4 foot long gouge in the boat was plugged with scavenged items. We all survived, unscathed. Christ, the victorious captain, has steered this ship for a long while. And He will courageously bring us to shore, in perfect timing. Hold on, beloved. In the darkness, hold on to Christ, the One who is coming, the One who is here.
Jenniffer Ogden is the Children & Family Pastor at the Walla Walla University Church.