The Goodness of Heaven (5)
Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, “Come and see.” And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. Revelation 6.1, 2
Out of control?
To many people, the world can seem to be out of control. Things happen – whether natural, as in disasters, or human, as in wars and terror attacks – that make no sense. Nothing can be done about them but to endure or resist them, often at great cost. These efforts, too, can seem senseless and unfruitful, like Sisyphus, pushing his stone interminably up the mountain, only to have it roll back on him time after time (Camus).
People work hard all their lives, then watch their retirement funds evaporate in a collapse of the market. Folks lose jobs, health, or loved ones, and end up looking to heaven and asking, “Why?”
People succumb to bad habits; suffer the consequences of poor choices or hasty decisions; and end up in situations over which they have no control, and which threaten their wellbeing in a variety of ways.
The world seems out of control, and as the process continues, wickedness, evil, fear, uncertainty, apathy, and sadness increase, while good people, who might be able to do something about this, are nowhere to be found.
At some point in every generation, people have expressed this feeling of a loss of order, direction, meaning, and purpose to life. William Butler Yeats captured the futility and fear of those who see the world this way in his 1919 poem, “The Second Coming”. Here is the opening stanza:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
But is it so? Is the world out of control? Or is what we’re seeing merely the tangled underside of a tapestry of beauty and order?
As in heaven
The book of Revelation was given to the apostle John to assure the people of God that, as messy, horrible, scary, and ugly a place as the world can be, the events of history do not happen in random, disorderly ways, and to call them to faithfulness in following King Jesus.
Through a series of visions, John was shown the unfolding of historical events from his day to the return of Christ as if he were looking at the various facets of a single jewel.
Yes, the picture isn’t pretty: Wars and famines. Earthquakes and immorality. Power-grabs and oppression. Strange natural and supernatural events that trouble the world. The history of the human race and the whole of creation expresses the spiritual infection of sin which pervades and corrupts everything – rivers and seas, fish and fowl, kings and paupers, commerce and community.
Human beings aren’t entirely to blame. Spiritual forces of wickedness, defeated and scattered by the work of Jesus Christ, yet retain power within the cosmos, and they are determined to use that power to wreck the divine order and, hopefully, force Jesus from His glorious throne.
But as these events unfold, in everygenerationas they unfold, God wants His people to know that all of this is occurring in line with and according to the eternal decrees of God. And these events, as troubling as they can seem, are being administered from God’s right hand by the Lamb of God, Who was slain from before the foundation of the world.
The unity, holiness, and harmony of the heavenly court command the events of history and the cosmos. Seals are unlocked, trumpets sound, and bowls of incense are poured out to show that there is order, divine order, to the madness of our temporal experience – an order which will be clear to all who look with the eye of faith. A beautiful and decipherable tapestry of grace upon grace is unfolding through the ages of time, and we must not mistake the knotted and tangled underneath for the real narrative.
Eyes on heaven, eyes on the prize
As we think about our existence amid this things-falling-apart generation, we must not despair, and we must not give in to the spiritual, moral, and cultural entropy we see on every hand. By setting our minds on the things that are above, where Christ is seated in heavenly places, we can discern His order for the ages – an order of surprising and comprehensive goodness – and we can continue in our daily lives and spheres of being and influence to pursue that novus ordo seclorum which is the Kingdom of God.
And as we do – eyes on the skies of heaven and the prize of Christ’s ultimate victory – we will be used of God to carve out communities of order in the midst of the chaos of the time, where righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit display the true tapestry of divine goodness over and above the confusion and disorder of the world.
1. Why does the world often seem to be out of control? How does feeling this way affect people?
2. Do you think most Christians are looking at the tapestry or the underside? How does this affect their calling to bring the goodness of God to light in the land of the living?
3. How can we keep our eyes on the skies and the prize more consistently? How can we help one another in this? What kind of order should we expect this to bring to our lives?
Next steps – Transformation: What will you do, beginning today, to focus more on the skies and the prize?
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.