“But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.” -Psalm 41
I went for a walk with my brother on Thanksgiving Day. He was late getting to the family gathering because his 3-week-old daughter had been sick the night before. They ended up taking her into the hospital because she wasn’t breathing right. When I saw him, he was fine. His daughter wasn’t sick anymore and everything was going to be alright. These are the stories we like. These are the ones we want for ourselves. The resolution. The healing. The grace of God obviously at work in our lives.
But as we walked around the block that day my brother told me about something else, something hidden away in his heart. Years earlier my brother’s wife had two successive miscarriages. These had devastated him. He was elated at the possibility of fatherhood and crushed when he heard the doctor’s diagnosis. My brother had a flood of emotions – hatred, anger, frustration, sadness. He told me that day that he didn’t know how to understand God. Once he was certain that God’s love meant he could be dependent on a result. He knew he had favor from God because he was a Christian and he trusted God. But now he doesn’t know. Now he is marred with the loss of two children and unsure of whether he can trust in a God that doesn’t give him favorable results. Even today my brother can’t talk about these losses for more than 30 seconds without getting angry all over again.
Psalm 41 talks about enemies that hate us and best friends that betray us. By the end of the Psalm, though, it’s about triumphing over the enemy and being in God’s presence. How are these things compatible? How do we have both horrible defeat in our lives and triumph in God’s presence? I offer up two thoughts: 1. Evil springs from sin, Satan and free will. How can we blame God when bad things happen in our lives? We freely choose where we go, who we interact with, how much debt we get into buying Christmas presents. The results of these actions are on us, not God. Faithful living and integrity will get us a long way, but even that won’t lead to a perfect life. The enemy is at war with God so there will always be pain in this world. 2. Keep the long view in mind. This world is not the end. Our current pain is not the final story. Advent is such a beautiful season because we are reminded over and over again that Jesus will come again. When the Lord returns we will win! God doesn’t promise a perfect life with the results we want, but instead offers an eternity in the Lord’s presence. I will gladly bear the pain of this world for the promise of eternity. Will you do the same this advent season? Trust in the Lord. Live a life of integrity, devoted to God. Things may not always go your way, but you are guaranteed the final victory.
Enjoy the Advent season and Merry Christmas!
Brian Neville is an assistant pastor at First UMC in Toms River and a native of Buffalo who has been a speaker, counselor, teacher and team leader out at camp.