Giving Up My Best Life Now
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Confused by his imprisonment, John the Baptist wanted to know if Jesus was really the promised rescuer of God’s people. If John did not have interactions with Jesus growing up personally, he surely would have heard through his parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, that he was meant to prepare the way for Jesus. As a baby in the womb, John had leapt when Mary visited his parents. John was the “prophet of the Most High” who had already heard a voice from heaven declare of Jesus: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”(1)
And yet John asks if Jesus is the one who is to come. Prison will do that to you. But so will everyday life.
When I first became a Christian, I pictured myself standing on top of a mountain dressed like the “Man in Black,” Johnny Cash, high above the unrighteousness below. There are so many problems with this image and what I thought being a Christian was going to be. I thought that life would subjectively feel better and happier and that I would not stumble or struggle or sin anymore.
There are a few points in my life after that where I could have asked Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come?” This is a legitimate question. Sometimes it is an academic question, but most of the time it is an emotional one (not that the two are mutually exclusive). Emotionally, for me, the easy life that was promised (or so I thought) did not come. I did everything right, didn’t I? I went to seminary. I married a Christian girl. I had been delivered from generalized anxiety disorder and I gave God the credit for it. I am doing this right… I am one of the good ones. A few years later, after a divorce and in the midst of a severe mental health crisis, I stood screaming to God in an apartment I couldn’t afford: “Why aren’t you helping me!”
A debate raged inside. Are you the one? Is it time to look for another? But where else shall I go, for only Christ has the words of eternal life.
Like many of my fellow melancholics, I love the transcendent God, but I long for the immanent one. Grand aesthetic statements and acknowledgement of the God infinitely more wise, more good, and more powerful gives me much hope, but I need the one who wipes my tears and heals my wounds and holds me so close that I can’t tell if the pulse I feel is mine or his. And in truth, I need them to be the same pulse because mine is too tired, frail, and skittish to support itself. It is the pulse of a radar signal in space, just hoping that someone somewhere out there in the infinite void is listening.
I learned from Martin Luther that I was probably looking for God in all the wrong places. I was looking for a warrior king in the sky and missing the long-sufferer crying next to me. I wanted God to make me new, now. I wanted God to take away all pain, now. I wanted God to smite my enemies, so that I might show them mercy (and gain praise) now. Ultimately, I wanted an easy life of comfort. I gave Christ my life—didn’t he owe me?
We are in the throes of Lent within a cultural moment in which much has been given up and there is great need for comfort. But it was a reflection on Christmas that showed me the way out. I had been trying to stand on that mountain, not realizing that God had called me to witness the Savior in a manger. I had stumbled into a prison of the mind, locked into an exhausting cycle of hyper self-awareness and a grief that felt like hopeless fear. All I could see was my suffering and all I could hear was God’s deafening silence. In a Christmas letter to a fiancé he would never have the chance to marry, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from his own literal prison cell:
Be brave for my sake, dearest Maria, even if this letter is your only token of my love this Christmas-tide. We shall both experience a few dark hours—why should we disguise that from each other? We shall ponder the incomprehensibility of our lot and be assailed by the question of why, over and above the darkness already enshrouding humanity, we should be subjected to the bitter anguish of a separation whose purpose we fail to understand...
And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.(2)
Jesus did respond to John the Baptist, by the way. He said to John’s messengers: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Theologians point out that the words of Jesus here are allusions back to passages from Isaiah in which God rescues his people.(3) It is a declaration of who Jesus is (God) and what he is doing (inaugurating the Kingdom). It is a glimpse of the reality to come. And it is a comfort to John and to us: The God who seems like pure transcendence from our cell is close in his loving immanence. We may not notice it, but “our eyes are at fault, that is all.”
For Lent, we typically give up some comfort or worldly pleasure for 40 days. This year, many of us are inadvertently giving up more than we ever imagined. Let us also relinquish something that stopped giving comfort a long time ago: Pretense. Old eyes. Old ideas. The false idea that our lives here are about maximizing happiness and that a lack of that happiness must correspond to a lack of either God’s love, goodness, or existence. Jesus did not just go without food for 40 days in the wilderness. He also put to death the devil’s temptations of a painless, exalted life. Our treasures are not here; they are with our Father.
Derek Caldwell is a writer for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Matthew 3:17.
(2) Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 5.
(3) See especially Isaiah 35:4-6 and 61:1-3. Robert M. Bowman, Jr. & J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2007), 203.
"A Slice of Infinity" is aimed at reaching into the culture with words of challenge, truth, and hope. By stirring the imagination and engaging the mind, we want to share the beauty and truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Subscribe to Slice of Infinity for free and get our weekly article emails.