Imprints


We are to believe, because belief is the act of heart that renews (Romans 10:10). None of us gets to have hard material proof of the truths that are larger than the realm of hard material proof. Nevertheless, the resurrection of Jesus was not just a spiritual event but also a historical one, and as such, it left its imprint in history. Here are some of the clues that captivate me:

-- The original deniers of the resurrection are interesting for what they did not say. They didn’t argue that Jesus went to his grave and stayed there like any other Roman execution victim. Rather, they advanced alternative explanations for why the tomb was found empty (Matthew 28:13, for example). In other words, the empty tomb was apparently a well-known and established fact that couldn’t be disputed.

-- The Bible cites the various witnesses who saw the resurrected Jesus. It says that a crowd of at least 500 saw him as well. These claims were published and circulated while many of those witnesses, if not the majority of them, were still alive. If the resurrection was a hoax, then it would have been easy to disprove these assertions, and it would have been ludicrous for the hoaxers to include them.

-- The hoaxers also went to a lot of trouble just to give themselves pain. If Jesus’ followers were corrupt enough that they would advance such a hoax, then why weren’t they corrupt enough to prop up their own power? They could have written the hoax to set themselves up with special privileges. Instead, the gospels unflinchingly portray Jesus’ inner circle as being often faithless and foolish. The gospels also make it clear that apostles are humble servants instead of rulers, and that no one needs an apostle or anyone else in order to come before God. Nevertheless, the apostles were so convinced of the truth of what had happened—that Jesus rose from the grave, showing definitively that there is something bigger than the material world going on—that they were willing to suffer poverty, torture, and execution within this world for the sake of what they now knew.

-- The world has changed. The idea that every human being is inherently valuable certainly is not practiced perfectly, but this idea came into the world at large and remained here, disrupting it. New institutions appeared. Jesus’ work during his days on earth, as described in Matthew 4:23, was teaching, preaching, and healing. He said we would continue his work and do even greater works than him (John 14:12), and indeed, colleges, publishing, and hospitals are all institutions that originated with those who follow him. This point is just a small facet of a fact so large as to be nearly invisible—that we live within a transformed world. Good ideas were articulated all through history and philosophies have been abundantly taught, but somehow this one man’s teaching was coupled with an impact of such magnitude that it altered history’s trajectory.

Those Two Impostors


Rudyard Kipling has these lines in his poem, “If”:

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

In place of “Triumph” and “Disaster,” you could also put “Failure” and “Success.” Both of these are impostors as well. We make them impostors when we give our outcomes these names.

My artist friend Cary gave me a set of design concepts for the cover of my next book, coming out soon. Four of the designs were similar, or so it seemed to me, because they all elaborated a theme that I didn’t like at its core. But the remaining design was great, in my view, because it hit upon something close to the feel of what I think the book conveys. This was the idea to develop and refine.

Does that mean the four rejected designs were “failures”? Depends on what you mean by the word. The unsatisfying designs provided opportunities to explore why they were unsatisfying. I could point to specific elements that didn’t fit, seeking to articulate as best I could why these elements didn’t convey the right impression. Thus, these so-called failures are even now contributing toward success. They let me explain the book in better detail to Cary (and to myself).

In other words, the one best design, if that was all I had, would not have provided nearly as much worth or information as having the rejected designs along with it.

Apply this to the way we think about our efforts and aspirations in this life. Being overly rigid about declaring an outcome to be a failure or a success cheapens that outcome by misrepresenting it.

Recall that Joseph never understood the fullness of his calling until he was able to look back on his apparent triumphs and disasters—his seeming successes and failures—as steps within a single, continuous, long walk.

The real danger of the overly harsh declaration of failure in our efforts is that we will see the declaration as a rebuke, and in the rebuke, we will feel scolded into doing nothing. This includes succumbing to the state of unfocused busy-ness we use to conceal from ourselves the fact that we are doing nothing. Do something instead. That is, take the next brave or hopeful step out into the possibility of success or failure—either one of which is merely the sound of the next breath within the calling you are uncovering by walking it out.

Roadside Assistance


We listen on our feet. I’ve been writing about how we listen to God, how we receive the next increment of understanding he would have us obtain. Sometimes—perhaps most of the time—the way to do this is by taking a step. God made us these beings within these lives. He is actively creating the sphere of experience around each of us. So: Take the next step out into that sphere. What comes of this step might be failure or it might be success. Either outcome is information. Either outcome is, if not a message from God, then a clue in his expression—a further nod or disclosure from the one who has promised to always accompany us. In short, to listen, keep walking.

The problem with this is dejection. Actual failure does not overwhelm us as much as its emotional stand-in. During times of fear or weariness arising out of defeat or loss, we are subject to declaring failure too soon. We are subject to seeing total failure even while the seeds of success are taking root. How do we know which way to go during those times when dejection overtakes hope?

In the last chapter of Luke’s gospel is the story of two dejected men who were heading the wrong way. They had just experienced the apparent colossal failure of the hope to which they had given their hearts. That is, they had believed in Jesus as the savior and Messiah, only to see that belief easily trampled. Jesus was convicted and killed. For these men, hope died too.

As Luke’s gospel tells the story, there were already some glimmers these men had seen. They knew other followers of Jesus in Jerusalem had found the tomb empty and had seen a vision that he was alive (Luke 24:22-23). The final verdict of failure had not come. But these men were listening to failure’s emotional stand-in. Deriving no hope from the glimmers, they were leaving Jerusalem for a different town (24:13).

As Luke’s gospel also tells it, a stranger joined them on the road. He asked why they were dispirited. They told him what had happened. And this stranger responded by explaining scripture to them—explaining all of the ways that these events had been foretold and were proceeding as they should. The men’s hearts were “ablaze” as they heard and understood this explanation (24:32), and later, while the stranger was breaking bread, the men at last recognized that this was Jesus himself visiting them in his new and risen form (24:31).

One of the beautiful aspects of this story is the way it ratifies a variety of means by which people might personally encounter God. As these men did, we experience him in our feelings and we come to know him through scripture. We also meet him in the moments when he blesses us by providing for us, just as these men recognized Jesus when the stranger handed them bread.

As the hyperlinks in the previous paragraph suggest, I have been writing about these various aspects of how we might listen to God. I am going to stop that now, at least on this blog. Blog posts are not the best vehicle for exploring the subject of how we listen, because the different ideas within this topic are interwoven by too many different threads that don’t deserve to be cut for the sake of a truncated blog post. I am going to take up this topic again in a different vehicle and in a different way.

But I want to leave this topic on the subject of walking, because I am convinced of the truth of the first sentence of this post: We listen on our feet. That is, we commune with God by proceeding, by walking out into the life he has given us, by continuing to employ the freedom he gives us by freely choosing positive steps. Jesus promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20), and I think part of the reason is that he wants to see what we will do and where we will go.

But what if we go the wrong way? That is the obvious danger. We take the route that our darkened feelings tell us is the best way to go from here, only to advance in a fruitless direction. What happens then?

The story of these travelers from Luke’s gospel gives the answer. We almost certainly will head in the wrong direction from time to time, even in a dark direction. But we can turn around. These men who were headed to the wrong town turned around, returning to Jerusalem to rejoin the other believers there (Luke 24:32), meaning that these men were in the right place after all to continue to see the events of the Resurrection unfold.

We who seek to walk out a life of faith have the assurance of this same kind of roadside assistance. If you go the wrong way, Christ will come guide you.

No, scratch that—this story has no reference to Jesus “coming” to these men, no mention of his arriving at their location. There simply comes a point in the story when it says that he “drew near” (24:15).

Where you walk, the Lord is with you. And particularly on the darker paths, the moment might come when you recognize him.