Why do we read fiction? Most often it’s for pleasure or escape. It does us good to get caught up in someone else’s story. But fiction also has the power to shape our moral imaginations. It increases empathy and allows us to experience emotionally the outworking of choices we haven’t made or tragedies we haven’t suffered.
Some novels lean so heavily toward the purpose of molding reader sympathies that they forsake any pretense of giving pleasure. The Underground Railroad: A Novel by Colson Whitehead was this sort of book. I steeled myself for it the way I do before reading about the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church or the Rwandan genocide. Sometimes we must look with open eyes at the evil humans can perpetrate themselves or countenance in others.
The season of Advent brings with it pleasing rituals of happy anticipation. Open a door on the Advent calendar and find a piece of chocolate. Light a candle in the Advent wreath and know you are one week closer to Christmas. Make your lists and check them twice as you look forward to giving, receiving, and feasting.
The waiting that comes with Advent is fun because it’s finite. We know what’s coming at the end of our wait will be good, and we know exactly how many days we have left to wait for it.
But much of the waiting that occupies our lives is open-ended. We wait for love and marriage without knowing if it will come. We wait for children without knowing whether we will conceive. We wait for justice. We wait for healing.
The hardest thing about waiting is not knowing when it’s going to end, if it is going to end. Waiting brings questions without easy answers. If your life’s plans aren’t coming to fruition, should you change course or hold out for your heart’s desire? Are your unfulfilled yearnings indicators of sinful discontentment, or blessings God simply hasn’t yet fulfilled? Read the rest at Crossway’s blog.
Wedding invitations. Christmas card photos of smiling, intact families and lots of healthy grandchildren. Baby announcements. Shower invitations.
You may not think of opening your mail as a prime time for temptation, but it can be if your life has not panned out exactly the way you hoped it would. When confronted with all the evidence of others’ blessings, it can be hard to obey God’s command to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom. 12:15).
At face value, this should be an easy command to obey. Who doesn’t want to be happy for other people? But when year after year has brought disappointment after disappointment, bitterness is the natural reaction to another person’s joy. That’s why God gave us the command, because rejoicing in another person’s joy doesn’t always come to us naturally. It’s a step of obedience that must be taken by faith.
I feel for Elijah. It wasn’t easy being the prophet of Yahweh under the reign of Ahab. We’re told the king “did evil in the sight of the Lord, more than all who were before him” (1 Kings 16:30). Elijah starts his prophetic ministry by bringing the unwelcome news that Israel would suffer a drought, which would not be removed until Elijah said so (1 Kings 17). This puts the prophet in immediate danger. Far from holding himself and his evildoing responsible for the drought, Ahab considers Elijah the “troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17).
God protects Elijah by sending him to live by a brook east of the Jordan River. He provides food by sending Elijah ravens bearing bread and meat. It’s as if God is tangibly showing Elijah that although he had delivered a hard word and the king sought to take his life, Elijah is under the tender care of his God.
Then the brook dries up. The land is in drought, after all. God commands Elijah to leave the comfort of his brook and ravens and journey into Zarephath—pagan country—where a widow will feed him.
The widow he finds there has little to offer; she tells Elijah she has some flour and oil, enough to make one cake, but once that’s gone she expects she and her son will starve to death. Elijah audaciously asks her to make him a cake anyway. But he promises that her jug of oil and her flour in the jar won’t run out until Yahweh sends rain. The widow believes him, and God miraculously keeps Elijah’s promise. Elijah and the widow’s household survive for days on one jar of flour and one jug of oil.
Yet although the oil doesn’t run out, Elijah faces another test of faith when the widow’s son falls ill and dies. Why would God protect them from starvation only to allow the child to get sick and die? It’s too much, I say to myself, when I read this. God is asking too much of Elijah and the widow. Read the rest at The Gospel Coalition.
Lynn and her husband had been married for 12 years when she started to realize there was something really wrong with her marriage. She didn’t suspect an affair at first because she couldn’t believe her husband, a professing Christian, would violate his marriage vows. He was a doctor and often worked late, but one Christmas Eve, he didn’t come home at all.
That Christmas was the start of years of unfaithfulness, separations, and attempts at reconciliation. Lynn’s husband would lie about his affairs, making it nearly impossible to tell when, if ever, his repentance was real. Lynn vividly recalls sitting with him at a coffee shop where he asked her to forgive him for his infidelity, all the while knowing his plan after leaving was to go and sleep with another woman.
Lynn prayed for her husband to repent. They went through hundreds of hours of counseling sessions. She could have divorced him early on, but her heart’s desire was for their relationship to be restored and their family made whole. She didn’t just want him to stop having affairs and start living an upright life. She longed to know his heart. Bt he didn’t want to be known. Instead, he betrayed her again and again.
One of my favorite Bible stories is God’s provision of bread in the wilderness. The Israelites grumbled because they had no food, so God gave them manna from heaven. The flaky food would appear on the ground in the morning. They could gather as much as they liked, but it didn’t do any good to store it up. With the exception of the Sabbath eve when they were allowed to gather the next day’s portion, if they kept manna overnight it became full of worms with a terrible smell. I’m sure they didn’t make that mistake more than a couple of times.
It may have taken a while for the children of Israel to trust that the manna would be there the next morning. They had to adjust to going to bed with full stomachs but empty cupboards. You might have thought that once they learned the lesson, God would have started feeding them some other way, but Exodus 16:35 says: “The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.”
One Day at a Time
It’s a great feeling when you can stock up on food and paper products at a wholesale store and know you won’t have to go back for months. But God doesn’t allow us to stock up on his grace. He gives it to us one day at a time, just as he gave his people manna. And just as they waited for daily bread for 40 years, we wait on daily grace for a lifetime.
You see, once you start walking in daily dependence on God, you have to keep walking in it. God’s desire is to be in fellowship with us, and one way he draws us into that fellowship is by meeting our needs one day at a time. He doesn’t just give us what we need; he wants to give us himself. He gives us himself through his Word. The trials that make us crave the life-giving sustenance of the daily nourishment of Scripture are like the hunger pains that drive us to the daily food our bodies need to survive.
Your needs for today may not be all that daunting, but the thought of what it will take to persevere for a lifetime can be overwhelming. Maybe singleness isn’t so bad today, but can you bear it for the rest of your life? Maybe you have peace in the face of your cancer diagnosis, but where will you get the strength to cope with seemingly endless cycles of chemotherapy?
G. K. Chesterton said that “men are homesick in their homes.” While most of us have more than adequate shelter, many of us still live with a craving for home. You may long for home because you’ve moved around so much that you don’t really know where home is. You may live far away from your family and long to live near them. You may long for family you would want to live near. Some people live with a longing for a home in which they feel safe and loved.
Sometimes life can feel like one long transition. I heard one single woman describe her longing for home as the desire to live somewhere for ten years. She lived from year to year with different roommates in different places. She longed for a home she could nest in, knowing she wouldn’t have to pack up when the year’s lease ran out. Her longing wasn’t really for a house, but for permanence and roots.
It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23:54–56)
It was the saddest of days. The Word who became flesh and dwelt among us lay cold in a tomb. What do you do when the one who raised the dead is dead himself?
The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem to Golgotha to the tomb felt not only grief but confusion. The man they had thought was the deliverer was dead. Had they been wrong all along?
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8). They did not have the answers to their questions, but they had the command of God. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God (Exodus 20:9–10). And so, the faithful women did what their mothers and fathers and Israelites since the time of Moses had done. They kept the Sabbath.
Harper Lee, who died today at 89, understood the things of earth. In her classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird, the descriptions of waxy camellias, droopy houses, and shoes crunching on gravel painted a small-town world that we recognized. We recognized the people in her world, too. There were oppressors and oppressed, hypocrites and cynics, and one quiet man with a conscience.
I was a child of the ’80s. My Christian parents took me to pro-life marches, and we had a bumper sticker that said “Abortion stops a beating heart.” But then things quieted down. In spite of all the activism and rallies, not much changed. One Christian woman of my parents’ generation told me, “I think after the ’80s and ’90s passed with no change in laws, my generation got complacent and threw our hands up.”