Cleanliness is truly next to godliness. If you have ever taken a creative writing class, you know I have completely failed the first day’s lesson: avoid overused sayings like the plague (Trite) because the road to hell is paved with them (Trite). Yet that first sentence captures a fascination for people. We like to be clean.
We are a culture that is captivated by creepy. If you look for only a few minutes at Hollywood movies (IT, A Quiet Place, The Conjuring), you probably can see this for yourselves. If you’re my age, you may enjoy reading Creepypasta to pass your time. And this isn’t a passing fad; just look at Edgar Allen Poe or H.P. Lovecraft. There is something in us that likes being scared, creeped out, or uncomfortable. What’s interesting is that horror stories did not begin with American culture; it didn’t even begin with any of our modern sense. Even all the way back in the Bible, we see the same fears, same thrills, same “creepypastas” that our popular culture plagues today.
I had a great friend in college named John. Although John was a business major by trade, he enjoyed having “deep-thoughts time” regularly throughout the semester. (Even if those deep thoughts came at 2:00 A.M. when I had a test the next day.) Probably most of these talks came from sleep deprivation, but one of them still stands out to me.
I don’t get to read much while in seminary. I should rephrase that; I don’t get to read much outside of what my professors tell me to read. For those that know me, that fact truly hurts me deep within my soul. However, in the time driving back and forth from Delaware and Chadds Ford, I’ve made time not to read but to listen to audiobooks. One book I’m going through is Mark Twain’s autobiography. And in this book, there is a moment where Mark Twain complains about Twain’s editor for a different book. During this monologue, Twain casually comments, “If we should deal out justice only in this world, who would stand?” But even within that thought is so much truth; we cannot survive in a world of only justice.
Have you ever noticed that history classes seem to focus almost exclusively on war? Yet we could never list every war in human history because there are simply too many. Violence and conflict have characterized humanity since the beginning. For this reason, peace has been called “humanity’s eternal, elusive dream.”
Throughout history, God’s people have faced injustice, suffering, disease, pain, loss, poverty, threats, and loneliness. Job lost everything, and his friends blamed him. Joseph was sold into slavery and was imprisoned. David was chosen to be Israel’s king, but Saul sent an army to kill him. Daniel was taken captive and sent to a foreign land, and when he was caught praying he was thrown to the lions. Mary lived a godly life, but her family abandoned her when she became pregnant. Our trials and struggles may not rise to these levels, but we all face times when we just don’t understand what God is doing and why He allows evil and wicked men to threaten and harm us and those we love.
Hello Darkness, My Old Friend (Psalm 88)
In today’s culture, it’s almost impossible to be disconnected. Unless you plan on going off the grid (might I suggest the Mid-West if you did), you will leave your footprint in the world. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, all of the internet has kept us connected with even acquaintances; but with all of this, why are we such an unhappy society? Even with our friends close to us, we feel the crushing weight of loneliness every day. We are a culture driven by depression.
Even in Psalms, we find people crying to God for deliverance. Particularly in Psalm 88, we see a man full of trouble (V. 1), put in a pit (V. 6), rejected by friends (V. 8), with darkness as his only friend (V. 18). The psalmist even sees God as the one who put him in this situation. And with a surface level reading, this Psalm seems to be without any redemption
But God, in the very beginning of the chapter, is called “God of my salvation.” Because of that, the psalmist daily cries to the Lord, knowing where he can find lasting hope. Even when the author knows who put him there, he knows who will bring him out.
You may feel hopeless with so much fighting against you. You may feel betrayed by your friends, alone in this technological age, and depression is your only friend. You may even ask, “Why would you do this to me God?” The biblical authors faced the same sadness that we face today.
But the Gospel gives hope of ultimate happiness and forgiveness. Because despite who we are, God sent his Son to die for our sins, and we have the hope of a future promise: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
You may feel alone, shunned, rejected, and hated today. Life on earth is a pilgrimage that brings tears, but the Gospel presents a Savior who will personally wipe your tears away.
Now that I’m older, I tend to romanticize my childhood. Back then, we didn’t have to worry about bills, or jobs, or in my case Greek. Now we usually worry about our IRAs, but then our biggest worry was having the right Capri Sun in our lunch. In all junctures of life, our satisfaction captivates our decision-making. We think our biggest problem is building bigger barns, when our problem is so much deeper.
In the book of Philippians, Paul had every right to lack satisfaction, because he writes this letter while in prison. Even then, Paul explains, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity” (Philippians 4:10). From a prison cell, Paul is thankful for the Philippians concern for him, but it doesn’t stop there: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:11-12). In both his lows and his highs, Paul says that he can be satisfied.
But how is this possible? Does Paul just have a stiff upper lip, hoping to find brighter days? Even in his suffering, you can see Paul’s excitement: he’s using language as if he’s been initiated into a secret society. So often our response to our circumstances is inward focused: in our lows, we blame others; in our highs, we congratulate ourselves. We think our biggest problem is our contentment when really it’s ourselves. We try to please ourselves with friends, money, and pleasure but are still left wanting more. The Rolling Stone’s song has truly become our mantra.
Despite of who we are, we have the answer in Paul’s secret: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). When we look to ourselves for contentment, we’re always left wanting. But in Christ, we can finally find true satisfaction, or as one of my professors has said: “We find ourselves outside ourselves.”
We are always looking to meet our own expectation. But if we look to ourselves, we will fail every time. We can have satisfaction, but that is only through looking heavenward. It is there that we see our Savior who has made satisfaction for us on the Cross.