Introductory Note:

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
–John 16:33

I have to confess that I am one of those preternaturally happy people. Though I live in the cloud-shrouded Pacific Northwest, there is usually enough sunshine in my heart to dispel any amount of gloom. This disposition goes hand-in-hand with optimism and a tendency toward universal goodwill. When I first heard the gospel, it just seemed natural to me to receive that good news. I now carry it within me like a precious jewel at the heart of a whole lot of happy.

But, sometimes, and this happens to even those most annoyingly giddy among us, the darkness of circumstances will come crashing down upon me. Then, my jewel turns into a life raft, and I cling to it with fierce tenacity and a breaking heart. The Good Voice whispers to me, “Do not sorrow as others who have no hope.” And another voice tells me, “This is the thrashing time, my friend. Be of good cheer.” That second voice belongs to Renovaré’s Director of Education Carolyn Arends, speaking in this column below, originally published in Christianity Today. It is one of my favorites, and I am so glad to share it with you today.

As a kid, I loved Mis­sion Sun­days, when mis­sion­ar­ies on fur­lough brought spe­cial reports in place of a ser­mon. Some­times they wore exot­ic, for­eign cloth­ing; they almost always showed a tray of slides doc­u­ment­ing their adven­tures. If they were from a dan­ger­ous enough land, the youth in our con­gre­ga­tion would emerge from our Sun­day stu­por and lis­ten intently.

There is one vis­it I’ve nev­er for­got­ten. The mis­sion­ar­ies were a mar­ried cou­ple sta­tioned in what appeared to be a par­tic­u­lar­ly steamy jun­gle. I’m sure they gave a full report on church­es plant­ed or com­mit­ments made or trans­la­tions begun. I don’t remem­ber much of that. What has always stayed with me is the sto­ry they shared about a snake.

One day, they told us, an enor­mous snake — much longer than a man — slith­ered its way right through their front door and into the kitchen of their sim­ple home. Ter­ri­fied, they ran out­side and searched fran­ti­cal­ly for a local who might know what to do. A machete-wield­ing neigh­bor came to the res­cue, calm­ly march­ing into their house and decap­i­tat­ing the snake with one clean chop.

The neigh­bor reemerged tri­umphant and assured the mis­sion­ar­ies that the rep­tile had been defeat­ed. But there was a catch, he warned: It was going to take a while for the snake to real­ize it was dead.

A snake’s neu­rol­o­gy and blood flow are such that it can take con­sid­er­able time for it to stop mov­ing even after decap­i­ta­tion. For the next sev­er­al hours, the mis­sion­ar­ies were forced to wait out­side while the snake thrashed about, smash­ing fur­ni­ture and flail­ing against walls and win­dows, wreak­ing hav­oc until its body final­ly under­stood that it no longer had a head.

Sweat­ing in the heat, they had felt frus­trat­ed and a lit­tle sick­ened but also grate­ful that the snake’s ram­page would­n’t last for­ev­er. And at some point in their wait­ing, they told us, they had a mutu­al epiphany.

I leaned in with the rest of the con­gre­ga­tion, queasy and fas­ci­nat­ed. Do you see it?” asked the hus­band. Satan is a lot like that big old snake. He’s already been defeat­ed. He just does­n’t know it yet. In the mean­time, he’s going to do some dam­age. But nev­er for­get that he’s a goner.”

The sto­ry cap­tured our imag­i­na­tions then because it was graph­ic and gory — a stark con­trast to the nor­mal­ly gen­teel ser­mo­niz­ing we were used to receiv­ing. But the sto­ry haunts me because I have come to believe it is an accu­rate pic­ture of the uni­verse. We are in the thrash­ing time, a sea­son char­ac­ter­ized by our per­va­sive capac­i­ty to do vio­lence to each oth­er and our­selves. The temp­ta­tion is to despair. We have to remem­ber, though, that it won’t last for­ev­er. Jesus has already crushed the ser­pen­t’s head.

Recent­ly I heard a mes­sage from the­olo­gian Gary Ded­do that got me think­ing about that snake. Ded­do chal­lenges the ten­den­cy many of us have to be dual­ists — imag­in­ing God and Satan as equal foes dead­locked in mor­tal com­bat. To be cer­tain, Ded­do acknowl­edges, there is an immea­sur­able amount of evil in our world. But com­pared with God’s love and pow­er, all the evil in the uni­verse does­n’t cov­er the head of a pin. Love wins. Satan does­n’t stand a chance.

Thus, though we wres­tle with the bro­ken­ness that plagues the world, and our­selves, we do so not with grim res­ig­na­tion but with hope­ful defi­ance. We face both our addic­tions and afflic­tions not with a faint, white-knuck­led hope that some­day we will be healed, but rather with an assur­ance that we are liv­ing slow­ly but sure­ly into the heal­ing already obtained on the Cross. There is still a wait­ing. In some cas­es the heal­ing may not come in full­ness until we are face-to-face with our Vic­tor — but come it will. Guaranteed.

I’ve been try­ing to fig­ure out what all of this means with respect to the way we deal with evil and injus­tice in our world. In lin­ear, human time, per­haps the safest thing to do is bat­ten down the hatch­es and wait some­where secure till the thrash­ing is over. But one of the mys­ter­ies of liv­ing in God’s time rather than our own is that, although the end of the sto­ry has already been deter­mined, some­how he is still using us to write it. Because Jesus lives in us through his Spir­it, we are called not just to antic­i­pate the over­com­ing but also to be part of bring­ing it to fruition.

And so we are called to fight pover­ty, oppres­sion, greed, and mal­ice — in the world and in our own spir­its. We are invit­ed to live in light of the real­i­ty that greater by far is the liv­ing God who is with­in us than the dead snake thrash­ing about in this world.

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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