The title of this reflection is likely to get two, strongly conflicting responses. First, some people will fear it bridges on heresy to imply the gospel is only “sort of” the answer. Second, other people will be relieved at the recognition that embracing the Christian belief system doesn’t immediately take us into “happily ever after.” The title is meant to draw out this tension in the Christian faith so we can speak to it directly. Both sides make valid points.
To help us navigate this tension, imagine a movie where the plot line involved a virus afflicting the entire world. In this movie the casualty rate is high, families lose loved ones, economies are ravaged, future dreams are made unobtainable, and fear dominates. Now, in this imaginative movie, an antidote is found. Through the miracle of cinematic timelines, the antidote is produced and delivered on a scale that alleviates the threat of the virus world-wide. Hope now invades the story.
This, however, is where most movies quickly end. If you follow a typical movie plotline, it has several key stages. There is an introduction where you get to know the main characters; bonding with the protagonists and building an aversion for the antagonists. Then the angst is introduced as you get to know the problem that must be overcome. The main part of the movie is the build up to resolving angst. This is followed by the climax, which is the high emotion and action point of the movie. Finally, there is the ending where loose ends are tied up. This is usually a very brief part of the movie; less than 10 minutes in 2-hour film.
As you can probably tell, I’ve been building a metaphor. The virus in our movie represents sin and the effects of the Fall. The antidote represents the gospel as God’s remedy and our ultimate source of hope. The gospel invades our life with hope. But this is where the metaphor breaks down. The post climactic part of our lives is not the briefest part of our lives. By contrast, they are often the longest.
Let’s continue in our movie analogy. What would be different if the movie was built on a real-life timeline rather than a cinematic timeline? We would follow the main characters when hope began to wear off. We would see the relief of hope emerging from the antidote give way to the weight of grief over lost family members, uncertainty over future ambitions, and the hardships of living in a broken economy. The hope would be real, but it would be muddled with many other real concerns.
The main problem could be eradicated (i.e., the gospel paying sin’s debt), and the aftershocks of that problem still create significant life disruption (i.e., the effects of sin and the Fall). The gospel is the remedy for the “virus” of sin that has infected us all. Yes, and amen! This is the only hope for the human race. But the ramifications of the Fall continue and must be endured. Celebrating one does not require minimizing the other.The gospel is the remedy for the “virus” of sin that has infected us all. Yes, and amen! This is our only hope. But the ramifications of the Fall continue and must be endured. Celebrating one does not require minimizing the other. Click To Tweet
First, the gospel means that we face real hardships with real hope. Place yourself back in our fictitious movie. When the virus had no cure, what did you want more than anything else? Answer: hope. When there was no cure, planting a garden for food seemed futile. What’s the point if we’re all going to die anyway?
After the virus had a cure, hard things still need to be done and harsh realities still had to be faced. But these hardships could be faced knowing the effort being put forward was not futile. Ultimate hope for survival gave meaning and significance to everything else that needed to be done. It did not make that work easy; it made the work meaningful. That is the first implication of the gospel for the kinds of hardships we’ve been processing.
Second, the gospel rewrites the future rather than rewriting the past. We wish the gospel rewrote our life script in both directions. It does not. The hard things are real. If those hard things are our sin, they have been forgiven and their power to interfere with our relationship with God has been broken. If those hard things are suffering, then we have the comfort of knowing those things will not have the last word over our lives.
Whether the effects we are facing are from sin or suffering, the gospel means that the effects of the Fall will come to an end when we see Jesus face to face. The effect of the gospel means that we can progressively experience more and more of the freedom this reality will bring between now and then (more on that in the next reflection).
The gospel means that our “forever future” will be free from the effects of the Fall and that our “temporal future” can be freer from the effects of the Fall. The vast majority of our work together in this series has been about experiencing more of this temporal freedom via the gospel. But whatever freedom we experience will come from healthily incorporating the hard things into our redemptive life story, not seeing them erased.
Third, we must realize ultimate hope still requires temporal struggle. Being “freer” from the effects of the Fall is not to be completely “free.” We still live in a broken world as fallen people in relationship with other fallen people. To use the example God first used in Genesis 3 to describe it, we still live in a world with weeds.
The same frustration we experience within ourselves after salvation – the frustration that selfishness, pride, cowardice, and other sins did not vanish – is being experienced by everyone and everything around us. We do have ultimate hope, but the experience of this hope is not as triumphalistic as we would like.
We live in the tension of celebrating this ultimate hope and grieving that things are not “on earth as they are in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). That we are both encouraged to pray this prayer and need to pray this prayer reveals the tension in which we live. The invitation is given knowing the promise will be fulfilled. The necessity to pray reveals the continued weediness of our lives.
Fourth, after profoundly hard experiences we may still have scars even after we embrace the gospel. In John 20:24-29, we notice that Jesus’s perfect, post-resurrection body still has scars. Whether we will carry scars from this life to heaven is unclear, but this is an accurate picture of our already-not-yet life between embracing the gospel and arriving in heaven. For now, at least, we have hope with scars.
This is the less innocent, still good faith we have mentioned in this series. Like other scars, when treated well, these scars shrink and the pain beneath them dissipates. This has been a focus of our journey. But we often dream of the scar (speaking by way of metaphor to emotional scars more than physical ones now) being completely gone and the memory of its presence erased. At least this side of heaven, this is more than we are promised.
Now we will turn our attention to the next major theme of the gospel – sanctification. This is where we consider how to squeeze as much temporal healing as possible from the ultimate hope of the gospel for the hardships we’ve faced.
But we should transition with hope and anticipation. Actually, anticipation that emerges from hope. When our grief was stunted in the anger-phase, one of the things we lost was anticipation – the instinct or longing to dream of a positive future. Understanding the power of the gospel revives this anticipation so that we look to the work of sanctification with positive expectation.
Questions for Reflection
- How did the metaphor of the movie about the virus and its cure help you understand the hope that is offered in the gospel and how we experience it?
- Which of the four implications of the gospel was most meaningful for where you are on your journey?
* * * This article is part of a series entitled Anger with God: Grappling with God Amidst Life’s Greatest Pains and Betrayals
 If this part of your journey is still hard, I would recommend these two brief articles and the resources cited in them: bradhambrick.com/forgiveness10 and http://bradhambrick.com/forgiveness17.