“The erosion or loss of hope is what makes suffering unbearable” (Keller, p. 313). But here’s God’s ultimate remedy as the apostle John saw it . . .
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth disappeared, and the sea vanished. And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared and ready, like a bride dressed to meet her husband. I heard a loud voice speaking from the throne: “Now God’s home is with people! He will live with them, and they shall be his people. God himself will be with them, and he will be their God. He will wipe away all tears from their eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. The old things have disappeared.” Then the one who sits on the throne said, “And now I make all things new!” (Revelation 21:1-5a, GNT).
Those words were written to Christians suffering persecution toward the end of the first century A.D. As they were ripped apart by beasts, they sang hymns. As they were tortured, they forgave their torturers. Future hope determined how they lived and how they died.
African-American slaves suffered. But they sang their “spirituals”, believed that all injustice would eventually be judged and all their desires fulfilled.
In 1927 African-American scholar Howard Thurman wrote of them . . .
“The facts make clear that [this sung faith] did serve to deepen the capacity of endurance and the absorption of suffering . . . It taught a people how to ride high in life, to look squarely in the face those facts that argue most dramatically against all hope and to use those facts as raw material out of which they fashioned a hope that the environment, with all its cruelty could not crush . . . This . . . enabled them to reject annihilation and to affirm a terrible right to live” (p. 315).
How can we be sure this future is also for us? Keller: “The answer is—you can be sure if you believe in Jesus, who took what we deserve so we could have the heaven and the glory he deserved” (p. 317). Keller tells the story of Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia for many years. Barnhouse lost his wife when his daughter was still a child. He was trying to help his daughter and himself process this terrible loss . . .
“Once when they were driving, a huge moving van passed them. As it passed, the shadow of the truck swept over the car. The minister had a thought. He said something like this, ‘Would you rather be run over by a truck, or by its shadow?’ His daughter replied, ‘By the shadow of course. That can’t hurt us at all.’ Dr. Barnhouse replied, ‘Right. If the truck doesn’t hit you, but only its shadow, then you are fine. Well, it was only the shadow of death that went over your mother. She’s actually alive—more alive than we are. And that’s because two thousand years ago, the real truck of death hit Jesus. And because death crushed Jesus, and we believe in him now the only thing that can come over us is the shadow of death, and the shadow of death is but my entrance into glory’” (p. 317).
Keller tells of the day his cancerous thyroid was to be removed, followed by radiation treatment. He and his family were shaken by it all. After his wife and sons left, he was ready to be prepped. In those moments, Keller prayed—and he tells how, to his surprise, “It seemed to me that the universe was an enormous realm of joy, mirth, and high beauty . . . And within this great globe of glory was only one little speck of darkness . . . and soon that speck would fade away and everything would be light.” He thought, then, that it didn’t matter how surgery would go. Everything would be all right (p. 318).
C.S. Lewis wrote . . .
“At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in” (p.318,319).
I write . . .
Hope is here. Revelation 21 will become a reality. Why, then, do I sometimes feel the unbearableness of suffering without hope? Because I have to fill my mind with it until it reaches my heart. “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” helps. Here’s the last stanza . . .
Soar we now where Christ hath led, Alleluia!
Foll’wing our exalted Head, Alleluia!
Made like Him, like Him we rise, Alleluia!
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia!
Keller explains what that means. It’s like saying . . .
“Come on, crosses,
The lower you lay me
The higher you will raise me!
Come on, grave,
And all you will do is make me better than before.”
“If the death of Jesus Christ happened for us and he bore our hopelessness so that now we can have hope–and if the resurrection of Jesus Christ happened–then even the worst things will turn into the best things, and the greatest are yet to come” (Keller, p. 318).
That hope makes suffering bearable. Listen and let hope fill your heart . . .