Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Come, Labor On

as my wife and i were eating breakfast a few mornings ago, the conversation turned to the work we had accomplished the day before.  we discussed how, no matter how much was done, there was always some work that remained unfinished.  one of us--i can't remember which--thought of an old song that goes, "we'll work till jesus comes and we'll be carried (or 'go marching' in some versions) home."

that got me thinking about the generations immediately before my parents' generation, those of my grand- and great-grand-parents.  i began to think of songs they sang that were still being sung when i was growing up, though we don't hear them much any more.  one that came to mind was, "there's a land that is fairer than day, and by faith we can see it afar; for the master lies over the way to prepare us a dwelling place there." the refrain was "in the sweet by and by, we will meet on that beautiful shore."  others in the same vain that crossed my mind were "to the work," "i am a poor wayfaring stranger," and "on jordan's stormy banks i stand."

all of these promote a "if only . . ." kind of response to suffering in the lives of my ancestors.  the jist is, 'if only we can persevere to the end of this life, we are assured of a place in heaven where there is no more suffering.'  only the hope of a better life after death could make this earthly life bearable.  there is still a lot of that kind of thinking around.  still there are those who try to "put the fear of jesus" in people by teaching that if one does not have faith in jesus, an eternity of torment awaits the non-believer after death.  there are two billboards in our area which play on that fear.  one reads, "what part of 'eternity' do you not understand?"  another bluntly asks, "if you die today, where will you spend eternity?"

a life based on the hope that only in death can one escape suffering, and then only if one has "accepted jesus as personal savior," is a life more filled with suffering than is necessary, because one feels not only the suffering, but also the additional suffering of believing that only death can provide an escape.  isn't it better to accept that suffering is a normal part of life and to recognize that confronting suffering and dealing with it honestly and rationally is far healthier?  i can't imagine trying to get through life thinking that a fairy tale life in the "hereafter" is the way to deal with suffering.

those who go through life with a big smile on their faces and saying to those who are suffering, "i don't suffer any more because i have jesus in my heart, and i just turn all my problems over to him," are as unrealistic as those who wallow in suffering because death will bring an end to it.  perhaps these "smilers" are even more dangerous that the "if only . . ." folks.  there's nothing wrong with sharing a smile with others or smiling inside at ourselves, but the idea that the way to end suffering is to "lean on jesus" takes away any chance of dealing with life in a satisfactory way.  this way of thinking implies that those who continue to suffer are lacking in faith and have insufficient trust in jesus.

my prayer today is that we won't look to some far off heaven as the way to escape suffering or refuse to take responsibility for own lives in favor of blind faith that denigrates those who lack such a faith.  may we face the realities of life honestly, deal with life's problems rationally, and have compassion for one another as we seek to confront the suffering in the world. shalom.

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