I had a hard time writing this post. Frankly, I was distracted this week, and it was hard to focus my thoughts with so many things going on around us. My approach to writing usually requires several days of meditating on a topic or a passage of Scripture, and then once I start writing the words start to flow. The examples start to fall into place to illustrate the points I want to emphasize. But not this week. This week my mind has been dwelling especially on Florida and the tragic events around the school shooting there. I’ve never been so drawn to the aftermath of an event like this before. I’ve seen debates before that inevitably happen after these events – people start arguing about gun control, guns in schools, mental health issues, decline of culture, the devaluing of human life, and why we should have known this was going to happen and what should have been done. There’s never lack of blame to be handed out and impassioned accusations leveled at anyone within hearing. We argue about all-or-nothing stances on issues versus defining open dialogs as being the honest and civil approach. None of this is new.
So why did this event affect me differently than before? Why was I not able to penetrate the fog of the discussion, offer some commentary to close friends or family, and move back to focusing on the concerns in front of me? After getting to this point in writing this post, I still can’t fully answer those questions.
But I have started asking myself the questions that have helped me in the past. What’s important? What matters today, and what will matter in the long term? When I was teaching, I would post this phrase to my students a lot: “Quid ad aeternum?”, which is Latin for, “What is it in the light of eternity?” I think answering this question has gotten harder for me recently, because the things that I see in the near term are so fresh and painful to watch, and I find myself empathizing so much more with those who are suffering. Eternity is hard to reach for which the tyranny of the immediate is so close.
So again, I go back to basics. What is true? What is honorable? What is just? What is pure? What is lovely? What has a good reputation? What should we label as having virtue or praise? Paul reminded the Philippians that these are the things that we should be thinking and meditating on. I cannot ignore the circumstances around me, but those things don’t give me hope or joy. They are not the foundation for my happiness. So what is? Glad you asked…
Paul writes to the Roman church about the foundations of their faith. He lays out a series of clear, almost legal, arguments that build one on another, to explain to them that their hope and joy are not based on feelings, but based on a rock-solid basis of faith in Christ. He spends the first four chapters of Romans discussing the basis of our salvation, our ability to stand before God justified, with Christ standing as the perfect sacrifice for our sins. God looks at us now as blameless – the price for our sin has been paid.
But it gets better. In Romans 5, Paul uses our justification through Christ as the springboard to explaining what a new life in Christ really means for us. Not only are we declared righteous, but we have peace with God. It’s the difference between declaring a cease-fire and building a meaningful relationship. Not only is God no longer angry with us over our sin because Christ’s blood covered it, but we now have the basis to develop a friendship with God as a result. Stop and think about that for a minute. The Creator of the universe wants to spend time with you. He wants you to know Him. He doesn’t just blindly forgive you and then ignore you; He holds out His hand and offers a peace that passes understanding.
When that thought gets hold of you, you’ll understand better why hope and joy follow as a natural result. Paul writes that through faith we access this grace in which we stand. Daily we follow His lead, having faith that He loves us, wants to steer us in the right direction, and wants to offer us meaning in this life. We live a life that shows the benefits of that daily grace through the joy that comes from that walk. We have a hope that transcends every other care that we have. That hope shines through in a joy that can’t be suppressed. We should be wearing it on our faces every day, with every interaction we have with people around us. Please understand this: it’s not a forced smile because we know Christians should be nice to people. Joy on our faces is a natural result of not just the legal justification where we are declared righteous, but because we are constantly reminding ourselves through seeking a daily relationship with our Father, that we have hope in this life and in the next!
I must be careful to point out that joy, hope, and peace don’t take away circumstances. Pain and suffering in this life are real. We feel anguish and loss, sometimes ourselves, and sometimes as we empathize with others. While we live in this fallen world, we will have trouble. But joy, hope, and peace happen in the midst of these heartaches – that’s where they are the most effective. The best lights are those that light the darkest spaces. That’s where they are needed the most.
We should not shy away from engaging with constructive debates on real issues that face our culture and communities. In doing so, we cannot forget the basic and real truth that there is only one foundational and eternal source for the things that we’re all looking for. Real and lasting peace, hope, and joy can only be found in one place. So whether you choose to engage in the discussion or watch respectfully from the sidelines, try to run each word and action through this filter: what is it in the light of eternity? Will your next statement or act show the joy that you have in your reconciliation with God? Will it be a light in a dark place? Will it spread the hope that our world desperately needs? Will it point people to the Savior? Meditate on these things this week.
Kevin Dow loves being a project manager and photographer, and has been using his gifts to support Hope for about four years now on the Production Team and leading small groups. You can follow him @firstcreationphoto.