(The thoughts and links in this post have probably made appearances before on my blog. However, I’ve been processing and arranging them again, so I figured that they could make another appearance.)
There is a tension that Christians encounter: the push and pull of what is and what will be. Or, to put it another way, there are things we would like to do and ways we would like to act; and we find that those are not consistent with what we actually do and how we actually act.
We encounter this tension in ourselves. I understand Paul completely when he says, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Or maybe I think about the letter of James where he writes that we demonstrate the reality of our faith by what we do. When I am judged by that standard, do I have any faith at all? As Peter Rollins answered when he was asked if he believes in God:
Do I believe in God? Well, while I am drawn to the idea that there is a Supreme Being I must confess that I don’t believe in God, at least most of the time.
But if you ask me whether I aspire to believing in God then, with all of my being I say yes, yes and again yes…
So here we are – struggling with sin, and yet adopted as God’s children; made holy by God, and yet longing for freedom from the weights that we still carry; the now, and the not yet.
This tension fascinates me. It is a thin place where sinfulness meets grace, where doubt meets faith, and where hurt and injury meet healing and hope. And I believe that God asks us to embrace this place, not just within ourselves, but also when (maybe even especially when!) we encounter it in others…
I’m recalling a number of times in the last year when friends have deeply grieved or injured other friends. I was never the one directly offended (which I count as a blessing) and usually I didn’t witness the offense – I only heard the pain from those who had been hurt. But I was left asking questions. How could my friends have acted in ways that hurt others? And I’m left holding two contradictory things. On one hand, an offense has been committed. On the other hand, the person that I know – the beloved child of God – wouldn’t act that way.
Increasingly, I’ve been trying to live with that tension – to allow the tension to be unresolved. Or maybe even to bring these opposing beliefs and convictions together, because ultimately what I desire to see is reconciliation. I haven’t found this to be easy, and frankly it might be impossible sometimes. It might be like trying to force magnets together when they really want to turn around and go the other way. So be it. I’ll just keep holding. I can be stubborn.
Parker Palmer talks about this in a beautiful essay entitled, “The Broken-Open Heart“. In it, he refers to this place of tension as the “tragic gap”, and he writes:
To live in this world, we must learn how to stand in the tragic gap with faith and hope. By “the tragic gap”, I mean the gap between what is and what could and should be; the gap between the reality of a given situation and an alternative reality we know to be possible because we have experienced it.
So – now we find ourselves in the Easter season. We are like Mary. Standing in the garden, we are met by Christ, and suddenly we know what is real and what is possible. Christ asks us to go to others – to speak into the “now”, to share the hope of what is “not yet”.