When my marriage ended, I didn’t doubt God’s love for me, but I believed my life was ruined beyond hope of repair. Any future I could have would be a “making do”—a consolation prize.
But one of the peculiar things about Christians is that we believe in resurrection. In fact, resurrection is the hope of the Christian life. Without it we are, as Paul wrote, “of all people most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).
Our good God is in the business of breathing new life into dead things. But here, in this world, we live in a blind spot. We take physical to mean real and easily relegate that which is spiritual to the realm of psychology and metaphor.
As we come to know Christ and wake up to kingdom reality, we are resurrected. Little bits of future glory break into our dark world. Territory is taken for God’s kingdom. Bonds are broken and healing takes place. It’s an invasion of epic proportions.
There is no limit to what God can do with a life yielded to him. There is no pre-conversion sin that can withstand the power of the resurrected Christ. There is no amount of spiritual brokenness that cannot be healed by the new birth. Sin certainly has consequences, but those consequences are limited at the very most to this life, and they do not bind God’s resurrection power in any way.
Why then do we balk at this same power when we experience severe heartache? Believing this way is the opposite of faith, and an insult to our heavenly Father. Our God is good—so, so good—and he is in the business of bringing life to places where only death remains.
But there is a danger in this line of thinking. If we’re not careful, we can begin to place our faith in some future set of circumstances. For someone like me who’s walked through the pain of abandonment and divorce, it is natural to hold out hope for a new relationship, possibly a new marriage and family. For other pains, there are other hopes, but the danger is the same: we’ll seek the gifts, rather than the giver. Something other than Jesus may become the object of our faith. This is nothing short of idolatry.
There is another danger too—an equal but opposite one. When we stop trusting God for good things, we can begin to imagine we’re on our own. We can push Jesus so far out of our everyday lives that we no longer trust in his goodness or power—at least not in any practical sense. This is a way of minimizing risk, of lowering expectations, of not getting our hopes up too high. But this is really just idolatry in another form.
When we stop looking to Jesus as our hope and the source of all good things, we invariably place our hope in someone or something else—our own perseverance, an important relationship, a certain pleasure or one of a million other false gods.
There have been seasons in my own life when I’ve placed my hope in and allowed my joy to hinge on my circumstances. At other times, I’ve stopped hoping God could make something out of the mess of my life. I’ve settled for my lot and frantically taken control of the wheel.
The problem with these approaches (other than the fact that they’re transgressions against the King of the universe, of course) is that they are hopelessly reckless. They imagine that some perfect set of circumstances will satisfy our souls. But the truth is, nothing will ever satisfy us—nothing but Jesus. Jesus is the only satisfaction and rest our souls will ever find.
So then is it unholy—sacrilegious—to want God’s blessings here and now, to desire anything at all other than him? In the valley of pain I walked through following the divorce, I wavered back and forth.
I came to see that my heart’s cravings were not sinful in and of themselves. In fact, inasmuch as those desires were good and beautiful, they could be traced back to God. He is the author of all good things, and by his redemptive power, all of history will culminate in a heaven-meets-earth kingdom where the good, true and beautiful will burst forth from every molecule in new creation, no longer tainted by sin, death and heartache. The problem comes when I let my desire for the good overshadow my desire for Jesus.
The answer is not to deny those desires, but to give them over to Jesus, no matter how much it hurts to let them go. When we give our dreams over to him, we don’t stop dreaming. Rather we refocus our hope away from the particular gift and fix it on the giver. This is the only way to keep otherwise good desires from becoming idols that stand between Jesus and us.