April 23, 2018

Jesus Left Things Unfixed

The author Zack Eswine says, “We cannot expect to change what Jesus has left unfixed for the moment.” He calls these unchangeable realities, “inconsolable things”: the sins and miseries that will not be eradicated until heaven comes home, the things that only Jesus, and no one of us, can overcome.

We cannot expect to change what Jesus has left unfixed for the moment.

I’ve lived practically my entire life trying to disprove that statement. I’ve obsessed over perfection like a child attempts over and over to build a tall block tower only to watch it fall each time.

If I just try harder this time….

If I just use a little more willpower…

If I am more exacting with my work….

If I take more control….

If I finally figure out what will produce the results I’m looking for…

If I just do a little bit more…

If I could just figure out what it is that God has called me to do…

If I pray harder or have more faith…

If I could only accomplish all that I’ve set out to do…

If I could finally get my life in order…

What then? What is the conclusion I’m looking for exactly?

Well, in my mind, I’d experience peace, satisfaction, and joy. I'd finally reach the pinnacle. Everything about my life would be brought into order, including my marriage, my children, and my own mind and heart. More importantly, I’d avoid experiencing longing, unfulfilled dreams, pain, loneliness, disappointment, or failure. Somehow, if I can fix it all, I might be able to bypass what I’ve seen others walk through: betrayal, depression, cancer, and prodigal children.

In my obsession with perfection, I can pretend inconsolable things aren’t there.

I can earn my blessing.

I once heard of a pastor who spent time each week on a farm pulling weeds, hoping to bring about the renewal of all things on this earth. There is a reason he had to go back each week. The weeds kept growing back, because the weeds are always with us.

And my weeds are always going to be with me, just as yours are always going to be with you. To believe otherwise is to believe according to the Old Testament law, a dead stalk in dry ground, telling us we’re able to fix inconsolable things ourselves, that perfection on earth is possible. These are words of death, although often rather than sounding like death they sound like a noble dream. These are beliefs, however, that remove us from Jesus' fixed attention, beliefs that purposefully set him aside and force us to look inside of ourselves for the hope and power we need for living. We become the answer unto ourselves.

Jesus did address this, remember. He said these are the ways—the ancient ways—man has tried to eradicate sin and seek the conclusion their implanted seed seeks—peace with God. He said the only true conclusion is gifted blessing, gifted peace, gifted power, and gifted faith.

Gifted means it comes from someone else. He said that someone else was himself. He does it all for us according to our faith, but we have to wait to see with our eyes the completion and fullness of the blessing.

It is often an affront to us that Jesus left inconsolable things, that in his goodness he asks us to wait on the promise while also enduring pain and suffering. It is often offensive that he asks for us to go all in in the form of obedience that is hard and self-sacrificing. We stamp our feet and question how anything beautiful could be made from our suffering. We much prefer the pursuit of beauty we can grab onto in the present: immediately-satisfying things. Jesus doesn’t offer consolation to what cannot truly be consoled in the present; the world, however, will offer this false comfort.

Among the crowds, Jesus warned his listeners about this very thing. He described himself as a seed sower and his words as the seeds. There will be some, he said, who hear his words but don’t actually listen and still others who listen but then fall away, either because of suffering or because they are drawn away by the world’s offerings of false riches. (Matthew 13:1-23)

Our perpetual problem is that we don’t know true beauty when it is right in front of us. In our definition, beauty means no negativity, no suffering, no longing, and no waiting. Beauty is, in other words, instant and consumable.

We must be careful what we call beautiful. We must be careful not to attribute words to the Word that he never said. If picking weeds is our hope, than we have none at all. If we demand the present be perfectly beautiful, we not only prove we weren’t actually listening to Jesus’ words, but we become deeply offended that God is not living up to what we thought he'd be.

But as we look to time past, the inconsolable things communicate to us that there is still time to come, still creating left to do, and that there is a important element of waiting and faith involved in getting to see and experience ultimate beauty. Following Jesus still means going all in on commands and promises.

We are not meant to be completely fulfilled on this earth. This is a beauty held out by the world. It is shiny and sounds good and we believe if God really loved us he would fulfill us completely in the here and now.

But that’s not what Jesus said. Dear heart, Jesus didn't say he'd save you from affliction. Instead, he asked you to go all in on a promise of unexpected beauty sprouting up through that very affliction. He asks you to shift your eyes from tangible pain to an invisible hope.

Do we still think he is the most beautiful person we’ve ever encountered?

This post is an excerpt from my book, Searching for Spring: How God Makes All Things Beautiful in Time.