Writings by Cole Huffman

Don’t Skip to the End

Romans 8 was a quarantine study for our family, led by me at select dinner times. We kept things simple, not long or drawn out, just a few verses each time and a thought or two on each. Ten minutes tops unless questions ensued.

The passage contains some of the most cherished truths in the Bible. But for being as cherished as it is, it can also effect strong negative reaction if verse 28 is used to skip to the end, by which I mean trying to wave off a hard time for someone, bypass the emotions they’re feeling in it, turn their frown upside-down, dispel their confusion, or otherwise treat a trauma with dismissiveness by spinning Romans 8:28 into another way of saying everything’s going to be okay or everything happens for a reason.

In a book entitled Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved, Kate Bowler, a divinity school professor and cancer survivor, writes about what she calls “the trite cruelty in the logic of the perfectly certain.” She has in view Christians who feel the need to minimize a hard season or vend solutions, or those who are perfectly certain there is a good lesson to learn in every hard time. 

Some suggest COVID-19 came about because God wants to get our attention. He wants to shake us up. Everything can go back to normal, fine as before, if we’ll just learn the intended lesson God is trying to teach us. But God doesn’t try to teach. If He has a lesson to teach, He teaches it such that we get it. We don’t have to guess. And when and where He’s taught, things don’t usually go back to how they were before.

Skipping to the end seeks to draw straight linear lines from bad events to good outcomes in ways that will make sense to us all later on (when everything’s okay again, of course). But we cannot always know why this or that happens or doesn’t, and Christian hope is not everything’s going to be okay. Much in this world is not going to be okay for us and others, and yet God’s purposes for those who love Him are ultimately good. That is what Christian hope is built from, and that’s what it means to be “more than conquerors,” something Romans 8 establishes for us. 

To be more than conquerors means not just that God loves us generally, but that God loves us with a love that raises the dead, thereby we know He will do everything in and for us that He wants to accomplish. God will meet us in every hard time, not with lessons necessarily—maybe sometimes—but always with Himself. If we want to skip to the end we might miss Him for looking for lessons or something else.

I can’t fully explain how God meets us in hard times, but I know He does. I remember reading about Mt. St. Helen’s volcanic eruption in Washington State, back in 1980. The intense heat decimated thousands of acres of surrounding forests. It even melted the soil under thick layers of ash. 

The Forestry Service wondered how long it would take the forests to recover. But what that looked like took a form—literally—they weren’t expecting. They found small patches of green springing up first: new wildflowers, ferns, and grasses. Just patches scattered around a barren landscape. Upon closer inspection the patches were in the shape of elks and other animals. Where an elk’s body was buried by volcanic ash, that body became the organic material out of which lush new forest growth spread. 

That’s weird and wonderful at the same time. So is more than conquerors, from Romans 8:37. It means not only are we loved with a love that raises the dead, but also that hard things become the organic material out of which we get more of Jesus. This doesn’t make wrong things right or bad things good. It means everything that can be considered by us an enemy/deficit/source of suffering is a potential servant to give us more of Christ, to give us a meaning to life in Him that suffering cannot take away. That is good even though the thing itself is not. 

COVID-19 is not good, even if it bears unexpected gifts. That is happening in certain ways, and counted as blessings.

But don’t be always looking for lessons so we can skip to the end and get back to normal. Not that lessons are bad; doubtless some lessons need to be learned as a result of this time. But the people of God are distinguished not by our looking to accrue lessons learned, but by our looking for the Person of God in Jesus in everything. He doesn’t skip to the end with us, but walks with us through it all, sharing more of His resilience, His compassion, His grace, His truth with us, all along our way.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 1:08 PM
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