How embracing the future helps us live in the preset
My mom loved going to movies, but she had one ironclad rule. She refused to knowingly watch any film with a sad ending.
She didn’t mind a movie that was tragic in the middle. In fact, she found a good cry rather cathartic. But no one, she believed, should pay good money to watch things end badly.
That’s why, when my mom was considering a movie, she would call me for intel. “Don’t give me any specifics,” she would say. “Just tell me. Does it end okay?” If she could trust the outcome, then she could find the willingness and the courage to endure any difficult plot twists along the way.
My mom applied this philosophy to more than movies. When the due date was looming for my first baby, she told me frankly I could expect labour to hurt a lot. “But just keep reminding yourself that the pain is not interminable. It’s bearable because you know it has a time limit. And it’s so worth it in the end.”
Looking back, I can see my mom had developed a model for cultivating resilience before resilience was a buzzword. She believed you could endure anything if you lived with the ending in view. Providing, of course, you could count on the ending to be good.
I found myself thinking about my mom’s approach a few weeks ago in the middle of our second Covid Easter. As Resurrection Sundays go, 2021 was not great. In-person church services were still not permitted in my area. Texting “He is risen!” to the people you love is better than nothing, but it’s not the same as singing, shouting and hugging it out in the same room.
Still, even if you’re only half awake to the story, it’s seismic. To proclaim, “He is risen!” – by text or any other method – is to affirm Jesus has literally defeated sin and death.
And to reply, “He is risen indeed!” is to agree with the Apostle Paul that, considering the evidence, “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, [neither Covid-19 nor any of its variants,] nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).
In other words, whatever life throws at us, we already know where this thing is going. We can peer into the future and see the ending John the Elder saw, the one where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4 KJV).
In our contemporary churches it seems to me we sometimes shy away from putting too much emphasis on our future hope. We’re concerned such a focus will turn us into escapist Pollyannas, unable to acknowledge the very real suffering in the present.
But I want to argue the opposite is true. Knowing this story ends okay can give us the courage to enter our own pain and the pain of others without fearing it might swallow us whole.
Picture Jesus, knowing full well how the story ends, yet present and able to weep for His friend Lazarus. Or think of Him finding the ability to endure the cross specifically because of “the joy set before Him” (Hebrews 12:2).
In my mom’s final years she entered a period of physical suffering that did seem interminable to the naked eye. But her conviction the story would end well continued to sustain her. More than once she told the nearest grandkid, “You don’t need to worry about me, you know. When I’m not here anymore, I’ll be with Jesus. And it will be great.”
In his first letter to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul offers a passionate treatise on the implications of the Resurrection. If Christ has not been raised from the dead, he argues, then people like my mom are “most to be pitied” (15:19). On the other hand, he says, if Christ is risen, then “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (15:54) … and the ending will be far better than we can imagine.
From my Go with God column in the May/June issue of Faith Today