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Holding on to the Solid Rock in Turbulent Times

Holding on to the Solid Rock in Turbulent Times August 29, 2021

Bell Rock Lighthouse, illustration by Miss Stevenson, in Alan Stevenson: Biographical Sketch of the Late Robert Stevenson: Civil Engineer. W. Blackwood, 1861. {{PD-US-expired}} The illustration appears to be inspired by Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish builders: “This parable compares building one’s life on the teachings and example of Jesus to a flood-resistant building founded on solid rock.”

The sands of time and fortune keep shifting below our feet. Hurricane Ida is picking up steam and is expected to rage against the Gulf Coast. COVID is wreaking havoc on countless people. Yesterday, the family of a friend of mine prepared to say goodbye to their critically ill parents who contracted COVID several days ago. The US is pulling out of Afghanistan August 30th. That’s nearly twenty years after moving in to remove the Taliban, to take out al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden (whom the Taliban protected), to eliminate terrorism, and to foster democratic rule. This Tuesday, the Taliban will be back in charge, while just a few days ago suicide bombers took out the precious lives of US soldiers and civilians at Kabul’s airport. The hope for democracy and all that it entails for freedom appears to lie in tatters there. My adult son Christopher lies in bed at a thirty degree angle most of his days and nights after suffering a traumatic brain injury in January of this year. What do we hold on to for comfort and security in turbulent times?

Days go, when I visited Christopher’s room at his care facility, news of the chaos surrounding the pullout from Afghanistan resounded from the television. While it’s not easy to discern given Christopher’s minimally conscious state, he appeared to be watching as well as processing what I had to say about the horrific events of September 11, 2001, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the US’s approaching exit. Christopher has always been quite keen to discuss world affairs, so I thought and hoped he would find this discussion meaningful.

During that visit, I didn’t share with Christopher Bob Dylan’s live performance of the song “Solid Rock,” which Dylan did shortly after Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979. But you can listen to it here. Dylan spoke about that invasion and the fleeting reality of peace and security in our world. I often return to that live performance of “Solid Rock” these days, as well as the words Dylan shared from 1 Timothy 3:16 before he and his band broke into “Solid Rock.” While Dylan has always been a controversial figure, and even spoke to the audience of the controversy his words about Russia and the Middle East stirred, neither he nor the Apostle Paul thought there was any controversy regarding the Solid Rock to which they held:

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.” (1 Timothy 3:16; KJV)

Dylan paraphrased the text after sharing with his audience that while he did not know what they had to hold onto, he had a solid rock to which he held in the midst of the world’s turbulence. I’m hanging on to that same rock. The song refrain keeps playing in my mind these days: “I won’t let go.” No, I won’t. Not only will I not let go, “I can’t let go.” I plan on playing that live performance for Christopher today.

To be completely honest with you, I have never felt so much upheaval and emotional vertigo. Hardly anything is secure these days. Every day when I visit my son, I am reminded of how quickly the sands of time and fortune shift. What does the future hold for my son? What does it hold for anyone of us? Who or what do we hold onto? Who holds onto us?

Christopher was making more sounds than usual last night. I guess that is good. He had a fever when his Mom and I entered the room, but it was gone the next time the nurse checked. That is very good. His hand was shaking for whatever reason early on, so I held it and sought to provide words of comfort as he looked up at me. He relaxed. Being with Christopher always relaxes me. It was exceptionally good and comforting to be with him last night. It is all the more comforting to know that the Solid Rock is there with him when we can’t be.

You and I can debate COVID vaccines and American foreign policy. There are so many controversies that can consume our waking hours. But as 1 Timothy 3:16 proclaims, “without controversy great is the mystery of godliness.” There’s no controversy in my mind that God was manifest in the flesh. I bank on that good news and am convinced that Jesus walks the halls with me when I visit my son day or night at his rehabilitative care facility. I take hold of the fact that God justified Jesus as the Truth in raising him from the dead in the Spirit. My Lord brings that resurrection power with him to bear on people’s lives in the face of death and as they are thrown against the rocks of despair. Angels have born witness to the Solid Rock, as have countless people across the world. He ascended in glory and is not subject to the shifting sands of time and fortune. Just as I will not and cannot let go of my son, who sometimes squeezes my hand, I will not and cannot let go of my Solid Rock who holds my beloved Christopher in his hand. Who or what will we hold onto? Whose words do we take to heart and put into practice? Jesus, the Solid Rock, says at the close of the Sermon on the Mount:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27; NIV)

The sands of time and fortune are a-changin’. A hard rain’s a-gonna fall. How weak or strong is the foundation we’ve been building upon?

 

Here are pictures Christopher’s wife Keyonna took of him and their daughter Jaylah on beloved rock formations in their desert wanderings. For all updates and reflections related to our journey with Christopher, please go to this link. Thank you.

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author and Editor of numerous books, including "The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town" and "Beatitudes, Not Platitudes: Jesus' Invitation to the Good Life." You can read more about the author here.
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