Years before I met her, Joan had come to Christ and met and married Henry, a successful, wealthy Christian businessman. They built a mansion in an affluent suburb, had a circle of great Christian friends, and were involved together in several exciting ministry projects. As the years zipped by, Joan gave birth to three healthy and vibrant children. All in all, there was little she lacked.
It wasn’t a big deal at first, but in the little moments she began to notice two things about Henry. He seemed distant, not as communicative. Furthermore, Henry seemed to be at the edge of irritation and anger all the time. Joan tried her best to avoid things that would upset him, and she told herself that he was under stress because of his rapidly expanding business, but in her heart of hearts she knew there was more.
She was right. Before long, the relationship morphed into a state of uncomfortable marital détente. They talked only when schedule or finances demanded it. He increasingly was an absentee husband. Joan tried to talk to him about the distance between them, but he always shut down the conversation.
In desperation, she began to seek help for her marriage. She wanted solid advice before she approached Henry again. But it wasn’t long before she was meeting with me alone.
Hurt, frustrated, and exhausted, Joan decided to get away for a weekend with two of her closest friends. Relieved, she set out. She had no idea what was happening back at her home.
For eighteen months, Henry had been expertly planning his exit. He had divested himself of the company, putting all his assets in the name of his partner. He not only wanted to get out, he wanted to devastate Joan, both emotionally and financially. The trucks were at the house less than half an hour after Joan drove away.
Arriving back home late Sunday night, the first thing Joan noticed was that the house was completely dark. Fear rose in her throat. Inside, she found the light switch by the door. Joan gasped. The sound bounced off blank walls, empty floors, and uncovered windows. She ran through the house, hysterically yelling the names of her children, but all she encountered was room after empty, echoing room.
She found the note on a cold granite countertop in the kitchen: Henry was never coming back; he would give her visitation rights to see the children if she didn’t make trouble for him, but she was going to have to fend for herself.
The first thing Joan said to me that Monday afternoon was, “I have lost all hope.” For a long time, Joan’s hope had been a dangerous hope. It was hope in a man, hope in material things, hope in a house, hope in a family, and hope in a lifestyle. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with appreciating people, position, or possessions. But these temporal things were never designed to be a source of hope.
She had been left penniless. Henry was still going to their church, but he had poisoned many of her closest friends against her. She didn’t know where her children were, and it would take a long and expensive court battle even to try to get them back.
Joan was facing some of the harshest and most hurtful realities of life in this broken world, and there was no escape. The things she had looked to for her daily support had all vanished. It was one of those profoundly discouraging times where death really does seem easier than life. How did things go so awry?
The world Joan, you, and I live in is a lot like a broken-down house. Every single room has been dirtied and damaged by sin. Not one part of it shines with anything like the pure glory that was so evident when it was first made. Sin has left this world in a sorry, terrible condition. You see it in each life as we all struggle with physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational brokenness every day.
I think many of us live in a permanent state of local amnesia. We have forgotten where we live. We have lost sight of the fact that this is a broken-down house where nothing works quite right, and it sets us up for all kinds of trouble. This impaired vision originates largely from our failure to accept the picture the Bible provides concerning the world.
The Bible is not a higher-plane tome about some mystical life of spiritual devotion. It does not teach blissful separation from the brokenness of everyday life. No, the Bible is a book about this world. It is a gritty, honest book. When we read Scripture, we face the world as it actually is, in big-screen, high-def detail. There is no denial of what is real and true.
Sometimes the Bible’s honesty about our situation comes through diagnostic observations. A good diagnosis tells you what’s wrong, and the Bible accurately diagnoses the human condition on page after page. For example, the words of Genesis 6:5 tell us that “the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” The words of Romans 3:10–18 are much the same. Each of these passages is honest about what you and I will encounter as we live in the world that is not operating as it was designed to operate.
The Bible is not only honest in its diagnostic observations, but in graphic, real-life, fallen-world stories as well. You have the shocking account of sibling homicide in Genesis 4, the dark idolatry of duplicitous Israel, and the sex, power, and money intrigues in Kings and Chronicles. The New Testament hits you with the horror of politically motivated infanticide by Herod and the perverted justice that leads to the crucifixion of the Messiah.
Lest we think the Bible’s diagnosis does not apply to our own hearts, bear in mind that there will be a war in our hearts between what the Bible has to say about us and what we would like to think is true about us. You and I tend to think we are wiser and more sanctified than we actually are. That is why we get defensive when someone points out our sin and weakness. It feels like we are being misjudged.
This is why we need to remember constantly that the Bible is the world’s best diagnostic tool. When I look into the mirror of the Word of God, I see the exact essence of who I am. This means that I must face the fact that my greatest need is not environmental. My greatest need does not derive from the fact that the brokenness of the fall fractures every situation, every relationship, and every context. No matter what I face in this fallen world, my greatest problem in life exists inside of me and not outside of me. My biggest problem is moral. There is something wrong inside of me, and in one way or another it influences everything I desire, think, choose, say, and do.
In its refusal to minimize, diminish, or deny the harsh realities of this broken-down house, the Bible calls us to face the facts. However, no child of God can get by recognizing only his or her identity as sinner. The weight of it will defeat you. But you are more than a sinner: you are also a child of grace. These two identities must be held in a healthy tension and balance. Only the person who is deeply aware of his sin gets excited about grace, and only grace can give you the courage to humbly face the enormity of your sin and the brokenness of this world.
The entire Bible is a narrative of God’s grace, a story of undeserved redemption. By the transformational power of His grace, God unilaterally reaches into the muck of this fallen world, through the presence of His Son, and radically transforms His children from what we are (sinners) into what we are becoming by His power (Christlike). Grace alone enables God’s children to recognize one of the biblical realities that make life in this sin-shattered world livable. It presses us to listen to eternity and consequently delivers hope amid the internal and external wreckage.
Listening to eternity helps us know how to live in the here and now. We cannot understand what is truly important, grasp the reality of what we face in this life, or know what to do about it until we see life from the perspective of eternity. A biblical view of eternity brings the Christian genuine hope in any situation, and hope produces insight and courage. Everything God calls us to do with our hearts and our hands looks to the sure reality of eternity.
But what is going on here, in this life? Paul tells us: “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:25–26). This means that our world is not one of chance and chaos. It is a world under the persona l rule of a Redeemer who is so loving that He willingly gave His life for others, and so powerful that He is able to defeat even death. Evil is in the process of being defeated. Death will eventually die. There is reason for hope even when your life has fallen down around your feet. Through Christ’s rule, justice and mercy will win.
So, what about Joan? No, Joan’s husband never came back, and her kids suffered from the shattering of their parents’ marriage. Joan lost most of her friends permanently and will probably struggle with her finances for many years to come. But in the middle of it all, something wonderful happened. Joan got hope like she never had before — a hope that will never shame her or let her down.
Joan began to listen to eternity. She finally realized that the guarantee of her hope was not found in the size of her bank account or house, in her circle of friends, in the love of a man, or in her work as a mother. Hope was to be found in what the empty tomb of Jesus Christ guaranteed her.
Are you listening to the eternity that is your hope? Are you listening to the promises for the here and now — promises of a rule that guarantees that every promise the Ruler has made to you is trustworthy and sure? There will come an eternal day without betrayal, injustice, anger, or vengeance. There will come a day when no more pain will fill the heart and no more tears will fill the eyes. On that day, Joan — and you and I — will say with her fellow pilgrims, now finally home in their restored house: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10b).