“Jesus is the same yesterday today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) Therefore to know the Jesus of tomorrow you need to know the Jesus of yesterday.” I would often exhort folks to do journaling with the above challenge. (Sounds kinda cool too.) I would say that unless you record your memories of how Jesus has answered your prayers, and the lessons that He has taught you, you will soon forget. However if you keep a record of how the Lord has blessed you, and the things He has thought you, you can always revisit those memories and allow them to shape your faith as you face new challenges.
Last Saturday evening I was speaking to a group of university graduates and I also challenged the group to do journaling as a key spiritual discipline, with the above challenge. A member of the group asked about those whose Christian lives have been characterised by unanswered prayer and those whose Christian lives are experienced as long stretches where God seemed to be absent. How can such experiences be any help in shaping one’s picture of God much less serve as a source of faith for new challenges?
I was glad the brother raised the question. Questions like these force me to think and to consider new perspectives and nuances in the things I teach and I hold to. (It also reinforces my commitment to communal, interactive learning.) The question was a good one.
I realised that the person who raised the question was relatively young, probably in his late twenties. I have come to realise that some lessons can be learnt only after sufficient time has passed. We have been preaching through the story of Joseph at my church community. Joseph had to wait thirteen years before he was made prime minister of Egypt and understood the reasons why God allowed him to undergo so much injustice. If life is understood backwards but lived forward, as Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) tells us, we need some distance between ourselves and the things that happen to us to be able to get some perspective.
In the case of Job, he was never told why he had to undergo the horrors that afflicted his life. Eventually, Job had a personal encounter with God who basically reminded him that He was God and that He knew precisely what He was doing. Job was vindicated in the end but he was never told the reasons for his suffering. Sometimes, with the passing of time, you may not always understand why certain things happened, but you grow in your certitude that our loving Abba always has His reasons.
I now realise that I need to be more sensitive to the age group of my audience before I exhort them to plumb their past for evidence of the trustworthiness of God. If their own life history is all they have to go on as a source of their knowledge of God, it could be an inadequate or even a misleading source. Speaking to the young and even to those who are older, I must always remember that for them to get an accurate picture of what God is like, they need to go back even further in history — they need to go back to the events of Good Friday and Easter.
The Cross is at the heart of God’s revelation. From the Cross we know that God loves us so much that He would not withhold from us any good thing (Romans 8:32). The resurrection is a clear statement of God’s victories over sin and Satan and death. Good Friday and Holy Saturday teach us that we sometimes have to wait for God’s deliverance. Good Friday and Easter are the primary sources of our knowledge of God and the bases of our trust in Him. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17-20:
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (TNIV)
I will still challenge Christians to pay attention to their own lives, to plumb their own stories for the fingerprints of God’s activity there. As Frederick Buechner writes:
If God speaks to us at all other than through such official channels as the Bible and the church, then I think that he speaks to us largely through what happens to us, so what I have done both in this book and in its predecessor is to listen back over what has happened to me — as I hope my readers may be moved to listen back over what has happened to them — for the sound, above all else, of his voice. (Now & Then, San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1983, 3.)
But I will also remember to remind them that all that they need to know is this:
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance : that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8 TNIV)