Regardless of our expectations or resolutions, 2016, like every year since we were evicted from Eden, will bring both wonderful and profoundly difficult moments.
What we need is a perspective on our new year that's hopeful, yet grounded in eternal certainties. No Christian should be a pessimist. We should be realists, focused on the actuality that we serve a sovereign and gracious God. Because of the reality of Christ's atoning sacrifice and his promises, biblical realism is, ultimately, optimism.
If we build our lives on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ's eternity-shaping redemptive work, we can be optimists. Why? Because even our most painful experience is but a temporary setback. Our pain and suffering may or may not be relieved in this life, but will certainly be relieved in the next. That is Christ's promise — no more death, crying, or pain; he will wipe away all our tears (Revelation 21:4). Indeed, any other foundation is sand, not rock. It will inevitably disappoint us.
Knowing that our suffering will be once and for all relieved and God will use it for our eternal good (Romans 8:28) doesn't make it easy, but it does make it bearable. So too does the promise, "The sufferings of this present time aren't worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). Same for the profound truth that our present sufferings are light and momentary, but are achieving for us something weighty, glorious, and eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Locking our minds onto these truths allows joy in the midst of suffering. Jesus said, "Happy [makarios] are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you. . . . Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven" (Luke 6:22-23). We who will one day enter into our Master's happiness can frontload that happiness into our lives today.
Paul said, "I rejoice in my sufferings" (Colossians 1:24), and James said, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds" (James 1:2). The apostles didn't enjoy suffering, but they rejoiced in the midst of it, because they trusted their gracious God's sovereign plan. They believed in his constant presence, that we are more than conquerors through him, and nothing shall separate us from the love of Jesus (Romans 8). They looked forward to Christ's return, their bodily resurrection, and the redemption of God's creation.
Christ said to his disciples, who would suffer much, "Rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). Our optimism isn't "health and wealth gospel" wishful thinking which claims that God will spare us from suffering here and now. Peter said, "Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 4:13). Christ's future glory, in which his children will participate, is the reason for our present rejoicing while suffering.
As Christ's followers, we know this world isn't evolving into something better. Even if bright spots seem few, we have much to be grateful for. Thanking God and others feeds our perspective and helps us enter into our Master's happiness today. It then spills over to those around us.
Understanding the biblical doctrine of Heaven, the New Earth, and the resurrection will shift our center of gravity and radically change our perspective. We'll realize we never pass our peaks in this life. We don't need a bucket list because we'll live forever as part of a great adventure far better than anything here and now. This realization is what the Bible calls "hope," a word used six times in Romans 8:20-25, the passage in which Paul says that all creation longs for our resurrection and the world's coming redemption.
Don't place your hope in favorable circumstances, which cannot last. Place your hope in Christ and his promises. Jesus promised he will return, raise us, and live with us on a new, Redeemed Earth, where we'll behold God's face and joyfully serve him forever (Revelation 22:3-4).
I'm not optimistic about everything, but I am very optimistic about the future of all who trust Jesus. Our glass is already half full and will one day, for God's beloved children, be completely and eternally full to overflowing.
In Tolkien's Return of the King, Aragorn says, "Dawn is ever the hope of men." King David wrote, "Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).
The night may seem long for God's people, but the truth is once morning comes, it will never end. Neither will Joy. Every day will be better than the one before. It isn't Pollyanna but Jesus who promises we really will live happily ever after.
1/13/2016 5:00:00 AM