A blogger I'm following, Lisa McKay, said a startling thing: she has a love-hate relationship with Paul's promise that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
How dare she say that? What's wrong with her? And yet, in a fallen world where we are all still groaning, with the rest of creation for our full redemption, maybe she's right. How can you not struggle with the promises of God if you are not either ignoring what the promises really say, or ignoring what is really going on in your world?
Lisa has had three medical crises this year, any one of which would be a significant challenge. First, her one year old son broke his leg and was in a cast for over a month. Now, she has a broken foot and her husband needs major back surgery. And that brings up Paul's promise in Romans. What is the good in this?
“Oh yeah?" her rebellious self wants to ask, "What about drunk driving and cancer and war? What about kids dying in Syria and Sudan and movie theaters in Colorado? Huh? Just try to talk to me about good in all of that."
"And yet," she writes, "Great hope lies in those words, doesn’t it? Even when I’m feeling confused and resentful I can still often draw solace from that promise. I can’t believe that statement blindly, without doubt or questions, but I guess you could say I believe it enough to draw strength from it – to trust that dark clouds will be gilded with silver. Somehow. Eventually."
This paradox is what I wanted to describe in Covenant of Hope. In the messy situation of a church splitting in two, Jim and Sophie can't figure out how this is happening. Jim was tempted to think there must be a quick fix, if he just had the right kind of faith, but that didn't work either. Yet Jim, Sophie and the others learned to have hope in God's promises, even in their mess.
Lisa wrote a novel about hope in messy circumstances -- actually "messy" is an understatement. In her My Hands Came Away Red, a young woman goes on a short term mission trip hoping to find solace for the confusion she feels about her personal life, but instead she sees people being killed for their religion. The short-termers have to flee into the jungle for their own safety. Some days later they safely return to the capital city and fly out back to their North American homes, but the heroine is shaken by the experience and weeks later has not got over it. The story ends with her still knowing she's not over what happened, yet she has hope someday she will be over it.
I think this kind of story is quite realistic, and unfortunately rather rare in contemporary evangelical fiction. We have many stories where whatever difficulties arise are resolved by the end. Scripture does have stories where a problem is suddenly resolved by God's power. But it also has stories of thousands of years of waiting, of people believing in promises yet not receiving what they had hoped for, because the fruition comes much later. Do we prepare ourselves to have that kind of faith?
Jeremiah wrote one of the most pessimistic assessments of the human heart: “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9) But Jeremiah also records how committed God is to renewing our hearts. “I will give them a heart to know I am the Lord … they shall return to me with their whole heart.” Jer 24:7. The promise of the New Covenant (Jeremiah, 31:31-35) is that God will write his law on our hearts.
A surprising contrast. But I think the take-away is we can trust our hearts to God and we need to trust our hearts to God. We can ask him for his help to cure the deceit, and guide our hearts to the place God wants. We can cry out to God with what is in our hearts, because he knows our hearts yet does not reject them.