Advent: Look Forward
The four weeks of advent are traditionally broken up into two halves. The first two weeks, we look forward to Christ’s second coming and the second two weeks we remember his first coming. Let’s talk about looking forward to Christ’s second coming.
One of the more obvious facts to grasp when we are looking forward to Christ’s second coming, is that he has not yet returned. This actually has incredible explanatory force when considering the state of the world. How is there such division, hatred, futility, despair? Well Christ has not yet returned to set things right.
Instead of seeing Christianity as a developing story taking place in real time and space, we often reduce it to a set of principles. If we could just get our ideas straight we could understand the wickedness in the World and perhaps be able to resolve this inner tension. But this is trying to resolve something which has not yet been resolved. The story is still developing. He isn’t back yet.
You can see this attempt at resolution in the question, how can a good God allow evil and suffering in the world? All sorts of philosophers and theologians have attempted to resolve this problem, but rarely is the concept of time or development included in the answer. I can almost always tell I’m talking to someone with a theoretical faith when they talk as though they have discovered the answer to this riddle. They’ll say that because God works all things together for good that evil is just our own misunderstanding of the world. Instead of weeping at the brokenness, or wrestling with our sin, we simply attribute this fallen state to a simple misunderstanding of God’s sovereign plan. Once you get this one simple trick, pain becomes optional.
But this isn’t a strengthening of our faith to endure the present hardship, it is an ignoring of the present hardship so we don’t have to engage with our faith. It is the same sort of coping by numbing provided by alcohol or the power of positive thinking. Both, at their base are a way of ignoring reality. But worse than that, it ignores the way that Jesus ultimately relates to evil and suffering in the world.
At the end of history, when Christ returns, he doesn’t sit us all down and explain why none of that evil was actually bad, and then line us up in order of who coped the best (Buddha followed by Seneca, followed by Keanu). No. When he returns he destroys evil (Rev 20:14-15). He resolves the problem of evil by removing evil from his creation entirely. The wonder of the gospel is that in removing the evil of the world he is able to preserve his church. Yes, the church! One day that pack of strays will shine like the sun.
Advent reminds us of the glory we’re looking forward to at Christ’s return. We get glimmers of this beauty in God’s abiding present care for us, and we are reminded that one day his presence will make all things new. This means that we don’t cope by ignoring or rationalizing the hardship that we face in the world and in ourselves, but instead we long for the glorious future to come.
When you cope you don’t have to feel the hurt, but you have to kill the hope. Longing reengages you with the hurt, but reignites hope. Coping denies reality in order to experience resolution. Longing allows us to call unresolved what is still unresolved and recognize that the only true resolution is found in Christ.
Perhaps the longing in your heart, to see true justice, to live honestly, to be seen and loved completely, isn’t just a stressor that requires proper coping mechanisms, but a pointer towards a satisfaction only found in Christ.