(this is a bit longer of a post than I usually publish. i always think it’s good to have a heads up before diving in.)
Our world is increasingly sad and disturbingly nonsensical.
The news broke suddenly and publicly across the wires; an NFL player had taken the life of his girlfriend in front of his mother, and then taken his own life in front of his coach and general manager.
It’s a grim testament to our world that this is a repeated scene, shockingly common when one browses through the daily headlines.
Many rushed to conclusions because of the nature of his work and the color of his skin. Even more rallied to uplift their political agendas, to leverage the moment as something of a talking point for a “greater” issue. I guess that we also tend to find out a bit about ourselves when we react to such terrible news.
This isn’t a second amendment issue. Nor is this a culture of violence issue. Nor is this a race issue. We tend to look for scapegoats in the aftermath of such question-laden events, blaming everything from the guns to the ghettos. Jovan Belcher was, by all accounts, a humble success story. He’d never been in trouble with the law, didn’t surround himself with a shady entourage, and was a bit of a blue collar worker on the field, working hard to find himself in the starting rotation. He was living the dream of almost every little boy in America.
And in twenty minutes, it all crescendo’d with the sound of gunfire.
I’m not sure why this particular story has stuck with me. I’m not a Chiefs fan, and had never heard of Jovan Belcher before this weekend. I can’t explain my reaction, only suffice it to say that this singular event took on a bit of a symbolic nature in my mind.
Often, in this world that we live in, terrible things happen.
They happen to good people, and they happen to bad people. They happen to religious people, and they happen to non-religious people. There’s none exempt from the prospect of such grim tragedy unfolding in our own lives. That makes us a bit uncomfortable. It makes me a bit anxious.
As Christians, we have a bit of a stock response to tragedy.
We are quick to point out that this world isn’t our home. That beyond the grave we have new life, and death here holds no sting. We are taught to hate this world, or at least not like it very much. After all, it’s not very Christ-like to enjoy living in such evil times. We tend to bemoan our culture and blame the politicians, while clinging to our bibles and guns (literal or figurative, your choice). That’s a generalization, sure, but an apt one.
And I believe that it’s a sentiment that dangerously misses the point of Jesus and his Kingdom.
We should long for heaven. Perhaps, however, our view of heaven is cripplingly one-dimensional. Our definition of heaven tends to emphasize the then nature of after-life. It conjures up images of angels, clouds, harps, and cherubims. We find solstice in the prospect of no more pain and no more sorrow. And, those are all true and good things, except for one thing:
With Jesus, there is no after-life. There is only life. Now, then, and always.
Yes, heaven is real. Yes, there will be no pain and no sorrow there. Yes, we hold onto heaven as our hope. But, we ought to long for a now-heaven and a then-heaven. A heaven that is not confined by our understandings of time and death, but an invasive and persistent heaven which will never be conquered or held back.
That’s the heaven of which Jesus, standing in the cracks of a falling apart world, proclaimed to be at hand.
I wonder how different our world might be if the church championed such a heaven, rather than presenting a retreating theology? I believe that our view of heaven greatly determines our intentionality in living this life. Think of heaven as an escape, and our theology tends to be shallow and self-centered. Think of heaven as a coming force, and our theology tends to wear skin and becomes significantly more compassionate.
I’ll always believe that Jesus loved living among us, even amongst the most oppressive and violent empire in history. He didn’t come to destroy, but to save. He didn’t come to pat us on the heads and tell us that one day things will all be better. He taught us to have an audacious and adventurous faith that believes that God is behind the scenes making things new.
In the face of tragedy, may we never retreat and offer simplistic answers. May we never distance ourselves from a world our Savior loves. Humanity, life, and spirituality are complex. So are tragedy, pain, and doubt. Let us engage our falling apart world with a hope that transcends time, understanding, and situation.
Let us always hold onto hope that Jesus is making all things new, now.