When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy…—Psalm 126:1-3
Let’s talk about tension.
In the Christian faith, there are things we believe that, at first glance, might seem to contradict each other. But in reality it’s not a contradiction, it’s a tension. It’s like two people holding onto a rope and leaning backwards away from each other. If one lets go, the other falls down. Two things that seem to be opposites are true at the same time, and if you let go of either one, you lose something important.
Some examples: God is one being AND God is three distinct persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). God is sovereign (in control of everything) AND people make real choices for which they are responsible. Jesus is fully God AND Jesus is fully human. While it’s hard for our little minds to understand how each of these things can be true at the same time, if you let go of either one, you no longer have a biblical Christian faith. We hold them in tension, and the tension is actually important. It is what keeps us balanced.
The tension I have been thinking a lot about lately is the one between heaven and earth. Since we just finished the book of Revelation here at Community Church, we have all been thinking a lot about the fact that this world is not our home, we shouldn’t be placing our hope in this life, our reward is in heaven, etc. I have said it often, and firmly believe it: eternity is what matters most.
On the other hand, this life matters too. If we’re too heavenly-minded, the saying goes, we’ll be no earthly good. I’m sure there are people like that, although I feel like I often see the opposite: people who are so earthly-minded they contribute very little to the kingdom of God. We hold these things in tension: we live for eternal life and eternal reward, but we also want to be good parents and good neighbors. When our loved ones get sick, we worry. When they pass on, we grieve, even if we know they have gone to be with Jesus in paradise. If this life didn’t matter, why would God bother with it?
I’ve been thinking about this because after weeks of preaching about the New Heavens and the New Earth from the last chapters of Revelation, I walked out the door one morning last week and the skies were blue, and it took my breath away. I gasped in joy and relief. I was caught off guard by how much it affected me. After two months of smoke and ash, my heart didn’t need another reminder that heaven is my true home and earthly suffering is temporary. It needed blue skies. On that morning, our whole community took a deep breath and said “Thank you, God.” Our hearts had been heavy, oppressed by the fear and the stress and the frustration of the Dixie fire, and the solution wasn’t a sermon, it was an answer to our prayers that we could see and feel.
God knows that we can only take so much. “For he knows how we are formed; he remembers that we are dust”—Psalm 103:14. God sent His Son to redeem us from sin and dwell within us by His Spirit and give us a glorious eternal life in His presence, but He never forgets that He made us out of dirt. We can never completely detach ourselves from physical things, and it wouldn’t be good if we could. God made us as physical/spiritual beings, and both parts are important (tension again). Because He knows this about us, in His perfect timing He always gives us what we need. Sometimes it’s a reminder of a timeless truth from His Word, and sometimes it’s an unexpected check in the mail. Sometimes it’s rain. Redemption matters most, but rain matters too.
King David, who was a highly spiritual person, wrote Psalm 27 at a low point, when life was hard and he was feeling like the world was against him. I have always loved how he ended this Psalm:
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.—Psalm 27:13,14
David didn’t say, “I know everything will be all right because I will be in heaven someday.” He believed that, and it was his ultimate hope, as it is ours. But he also believed that he would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, that right here and now, in this life, God would come through and show His power and His love for His children. Because His children are made of dust, and every once in a while we need His goodness to take the form of things we can feel in our hands and breathe into our lungs. We need that person we are praying for to get healthier, not sicker. We need to get that job. We need to see that marriage healed and that person delivered from addiction. We know these things won’t happen every time. But if they never happen, we lose heart, so God sends blue skies in place of smoke, and then rain in place of the blue sky, to remind us that He cares, not just about our eternal souls, but about every part of us.
…Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.—Psalm 126:4-6