Hope, Grit, and Faith

I have a melancholy temperament. I am keenly aware of everything wrong with life. I can be overcome by fear, despair, suspicion, and bitterness. Life is not easy, and people are not essentially good. What good guys there are don’t always win, and the bad guys frequently don’t lose. Not in this life. There are horrible things that happen to people, some of them acts of nature, some of them the malicious actions of fellow human beings. We don’t live in a happy-go-lucky world. It’s dark out here. I’ve plumbed some deep depths of depression, what is terrifying is the knowledge that plenty of people go through far worse.

But when I’m at my lowest, when I think I’ve failed at everything I care about, when everyone seems to be against me, when it seems that the only people who care are thousands of miles away, when I’m at most cynical and I’ve given up on my dreams–at those darkest moments, something happens. I take a look at life and say, “Screw it. I’m going to keep going. I’m going to be happy.”

I am of the conviction that this world is ruled by a sovereign God who loves me, and who works all things together for the good of those who love him. I believe the world is bigger and more complicated than I can began to comprehend, and I believe God is a heck of a lot smarter than I am.

When life is hard, he’s shaping me. He’s building me up in his image–to be a man worth being, and to live a life worth living. No matter how bad things get, they’re getting that bad in order to make me someone capable of handling something better. And it’s not just me. God is in the process of redeeming this world. Every tragedy, every unjust act, every hardship, it all means something. It’s leading to something better. The world ends in a heavenly city, in feasting and bright sunshine, in tears being wiped from every eye and every nation’s wounds being healed.

So hardship is a nuisance, a trial, an enemy to be defeated. It’s something getting between me and where God wants me to be. God has better plans for me than this. So I refuse to be defeated. I will not be. I cannot be. I already know how the story ends. What right does life have to think it can keep me down?

Depression, for me, ends in pissedness, in stubborn refusal to let doubt, loss, sadness, and worry win. It’s not long after I reach that point that I begin to feel 1) thankful, and 2) bulletproof. I thank God for loving me and promising me eventual victory. And I feel bulletproof because I know that no matter how bad it gets, it will never get so bad that things won’t change direction and get better.

Hope is not fluffy and warm, made of sweet dreams and naivete. It is built out of stubbornness and grit. It is built out of refusal to believe in ultimate failure, despite all evidence to the contrary. But it is not built on *my* grit, on *my* strength. It comes from resting on another’s strength. It comes from a complete and utter trust, a reckless commitment, an almost blind faith in a holy, all-loving Almighty.

People ask me what my testimony is. I was in church for most of my conscious life. I was raised in Christian schools reading Christian literature and soaked deep in Scripture. I do not remember a time when I could have been called pagan. But if you ask what the foundation of my life is, and how I keep on going, this is it. Stubborn hope, built on faith in an invisible, all-loving, Almighty God. That is my testimony.

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Duck

Recently, Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson got interviewed at GQ. Mr. Robertson is a Bible-thumping evangelical, a former partier, tail-chaser, and law-breaker that came to Christ and experienced a major course-correction back onto the straight and narrow. You can find his testimony, and more, at I Am Second. Lately, he’s been starring in an A&E TV show, along with his family. I’ve heard good things about the show, and about the godly way these north Louisiana rednecks conduct themselves on it. I wish I could give you a firsthand account, but I don’t have cable up here in the great white north.

Now Duck Dynasty has an appeal to a certain kind of person. A hunting and fishing sort of person. A unashamedly born-again Evangelical sort of person. The kind of person who’s fine with being considered a Bible-Belt hick. It’s a very specific sort of person that is not half as common in my circles, or in America at large, as it used to be.

The Christian Church is divided up along a lot of lines. Fundamentalists believe the Bible and couldn’t care less what anybody thinks. Hipsters are embarrassed by the fundamentalists, and try their darnedest to disown them. Theology wonks sit above the simplicity of the modern fray. Those committed to the causes of the Christian right are frustrated with both their more chill evangelical brethren, and the Christian left. And the libertarians are frustrated with everybody.

These are all folks I find in my own circles, before we even touch on actual denominational differences, or on racial divides. It’s shameful. Everybody thinks they know what the Church needs, and they’re willing to beat their brethren over the head until they see it too. There’s nothing wrong with being right, of course, but some wise men I know have a habit of saying “there’s a deeper right than being right.” Love the brethren.

So when Phil Robertson got on GQ and listed homosexuality with a half-dozen other perversions, and quoted the Apostle Paul saying such people would not inherit the kingdom of God, the reaction of the Church at large was nothing short of shocking to me.

At first, it was just Duck Dynasty fans posting articles on Facebook about the event. Of course they would, these were their kind of Bible-thumpers. But then the more trendy moderates joined in. Then the political pundits began to sound off, both the libertarians and more traditional conservatives. Even the theology wonks got into it. People I’d watched taking pot-shots at one another for years were lining up together behind Phil Robertson and St. Paul, all of them shouting a hearty “Amen!”

My friends are not exclusively conservative on issues of gay rights. There’s a lot of sympathy and moderate leanings, some libertarian-style neutrality, and people who couldn’t care less what the gays are doing while babies are still legally butchered. But everyone agreed on this: Phil had the right to say what he did, what he said was Scripture, and shame on A&E for suspending him over it.

When I woke up yesterday, the Church was a squabbling mess, a crowded mass of people who all needed Jesus very badly. When I woke up this morning, they were united. They were united behind the Bible, they were united behind an unpopular opinion, and they were united behind a redneck from the backwoods of north Louisiana.

Are all our problems solved? No. Do we still have a long ways to go before the Bride of Christ stands pure and unblemished? Yes. But when the Church stands together, however briefly, the Spirit is doing something. And when the Spirit moves, I have only one piece of advice for the world.

Duck.