The author of Hebrews sends a poignant message to his readers when concluding the famous “Hall of Faith” passage: by faith the saints overcame. When picking out memorable biblical passages, this one should top the list, as it summarizes God’s past faithfulness to His people. Often we use this passage to encourage one another and to remember that God’s story far precedes our part in it; yet, the chapter comes to a close by mentioning that “all these…did not receive what was promised,” recognizing that God’s story far exceeds the heroes’ roles.
Pastor Judah Smith, of City Church in Seattle, spoke passionately on this “partial fulfillment” after he watched his father, a lifelong pastor, die at far too young an age. John Piper echoes the sentiment of faithful uncertainty in what is arguably his most famous sermon, “The Glory of God in Sight of Eternity.” Piper pleads with his listeners to hold firm to faith in the midst of grave tragedies: losing a loved one to cancer or watching your mother die in a car accident. “Of course you can’t see what the suffering is doing,” he says tearfully, “but it is preparing an eternal particular sort of glory for you that will be revealed to you in eternity.” The question, embodied in this passage, which makes this one of the most poignant passages in Scripture is “why must we suffer?”
If you do not feel the burden of sin that holds all stories hostage, you will not feel the freedom of release that comes when the Savior breaks the hold of darkness.
To tangibly and pragmatically deal with suffering, we must deal with our fearful conception of darkness. I read an article on The Atlantic recently that described a children’s author’s motivation for writing scary stories. When asked on his writings’ purpose, N.D. Wilson said “The goal isn’t to steer kids into stories of darkness because those are the stories that grip readers. The goal is to put the darkness in its place.” Lewis journeys into the darkness, urging children to follow him, in order to show them that darkness is just as real as light, yet that light always overcomes the darkness.
Because of our fear of darkness (or suffering), we often choose to neglect its existence until tragedy forces us to acknowledge it. Finding darkness only in its most powerful and personal form (loss of a loved one, for instance) skews our perspective of darkness by making it consuming and inescapable; when, in reality, we know that Jesus has conquered such darkness for all eternity.
I believe it is impossible to live in the truth that Smith, Piper, and Wilson describe – that Jesus conquered sin, death, and darkness and reigns over them now – if we have not experienced the unfathomable depths of the darkness: its loneliness, its confusion, and its fear. Wilson screams what the author of Hebrews whispers – “You too must journey into darkness like those before you.” “Samson lost his eyes and died … but he has new eyes in the resurrection. Israel was enslaved in Egypt, but God sent a wizard far more powerful than Gandalf to save His people. Christ took the world’s darkness on his shoulders and died in agony. But then … Easter.”
If you do not feel the burden of sin that holds all stories hostage, you will not feel the freedom of release that comes when the Savior breaks the hold of darkness. Without the burden of sin upon Him, Christ’s resurrection would have only been another miracle, not an eternal one. Pain, loss, agony and depression all have a rightful place in our broken world, and they ought to be taught, studied and preached as such. However, we cannot let the fear of these subjects control our decision-making. We too must follow Lewis into stories of discomfort so we can experience the power of the Resurrection over such sorrow and draw on such knowledge when tragedy strikes us.
Our heroes memorialized in Hebrews felt the same weight of darkness that we feel today, each dealt with a rebellious world, yet they drew upon the strength of Christ – that none of them saw to fruition – in order to persevere. Their faith looked to the cross, and while we can see the cross from our point of view, we look to His Second Coming in the same way. So let us walk as they did – by faith – holding firm to the promises of God in the midst of darkness while knowing that we may not see their ultimate fulfillment.
Will Thompson is a graduate of the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program.