We’re designed to be together.
Suffering and hardship are inevitable in this life. There are two constants in life, as the saying goes…death and taxes. Both bring suffering and hardship! This is a reality Jesus spoke of when he promised, “In this world you will have trouble…” hardship’s inevitable. BUT, when life gets hard, God gives us each other. We’re designed to be together.
The Apostle Paul, who knew suffering and hardship more than anybody—it was actually the calling Jesus placed on His life—said in Romans 5:3-4, “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame…” Now, the context of this passage can easily be overlooked. Paul is not writing to an individual, but he is writing to a group of Christians living in Rome. This letter was meant to be read aloud, together.
Think about if you read this passage through an individualistic lens. Say you just got an F in a class you worked really hard in. “YES! HOORAY! I failed this and have to retake it!” That’s crazy, right?! Or suppose you rear-end someone and have to pay tons of money and your car is totalled. “AWESOME! I rejoice!!! My savings account is depleted and I have no way to drive myself to work to pay for my mistake!! I REJOICE!” That’s insane! Literally.
Paul says we can “rejoice” in our pain, but nobody throws a party when they fail a test, get their hearts broken, or make a big mistake. Now, the more you trust God (who is trustworthy), the easier it is to trust Him in your sufferings, but you and I both know it’s still hard to rejoice in our sufferings. But, Paul’s words were not written to an individual. They were written to a community.
Later in the same letter, in Romans 12:9-21, Paul says again, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation…” He says this, though, in the middle of advice on how we can love each other better. He says things like, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality…live in harmony with one another…If your enemy is hungry, feed him…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” We are to show the love of Christ to one another and to our enemies…while we “rejoice in hope” and are “patient in tribulation.” When life gets hard, God gives us each other.
When something hurtful is done to us, God gives us each other. When we suffer a tragedy or loss, God gives us each other. When we make a huge mistake, God gives us each other. When we are quarantined to our house because of a global pandemic, God gives us each other.
There are over 50 “one another” passages in the New Testament. Of the four things Acts 2 shows that the early church was devoted to, fellowship and breaking of bread are two of them. The outcome was incredible. Daily there were those who were being saved. We were designed for togetherness. The church is a purposeful creation by a good God. It is a mystery that has been in the mind of God for all time but just revealed in the last 2,000 years. God has created us to need one another.
In this time of being alone, of being separated, may we seek more and different ways to be the church, to be together. Not just in person, but in passion and purpose, striving towards the same goals, building one another up and serving those who are in need. It is now more than ever that the world needs to see the “one anotherness” of the church. It’s now more than ever that people need to see the church come alongside them in their hurts and fears and loneliness and even sickness.
To conclude these thoughts, think on this: If you’ve ever played on a sports team, you know that victory is sweet when it’s celebrated together. When you’ve gone through hardships together. When you’ve experienced blood, sweat, and tears together. When that victory comes, all the pain that led to that moment fades into obscurity, and the celebration of that moment is all the greater because you are crossing that finish line with someone you’ve run the race with, played the game with, struggled with.
My son and I just finished C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicales of Narnia series on Sunday night. We’ve been reading them each night throughout the year. Each book has a whole host of people, some good and some bad. There’s always hardship that has to be overcome in these books. There’s always heartache and loss. We finished The Last Battle and we couldn’t help but be overwhelmed. They had made it to Aslan’s Country, which is synonymous with heaven. And all of these characters, who have fought and struggled and loved, and suffered, and hoped together, are all there, together. They fought the good fight together and get to experience the victory together. And the eternal victory is all the sweeter because they are together.
Hear this excerpt from the end of the last book and, as you hear names you may or may not know, picture people you do know. People you’ve struggled through life with towards the goal of Jesus.
“Everyone you had ever heard of (if you knew the history of these countries) seemed to be there. There was Glimfeather the Owl and Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, and King Rilian the Disenchanted, and his mother the Star’s daughter and his great father Caspian himself. And close behind him were the Lord Drinian and the Lord Berne and Trumpkin the Dwarf and Truffle-hunter the good Badger with Glenstorm the Centaur and a hundred other heroes of the great War of Deliverance. And then from another side came Cor the King of Archenland with King Lune his father and his wife Queen Aravis and the brave prince Corin Thunder-Fist, his brother, and Bree the Horse and Hwin the Mare. And then—which was a wonder beyond all wonders to Tirian—there came from further away in the past, the two good Beavers and Tumnus the Faun. And there was greeting and kissing and hand-shaking and old jokes revived, (you’ve no idea how good an old joke sounds when you take it out again after a rest of five or six hundred years)…”
And Aslan said to Lucy to conclude the last book, “The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.” And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
That is what God has for us. That is what God wants for us. But far too many of us are missing out on the joy of the struggle together. This time of quarantine I think is good for us. It has made us reevaluate our priorities. We realize, wow, I actually need those people. We get a glimpse of community through a livestream church service and realize it’s a pale comparison to an in-person church service with our community that we have taken for granted. Then we realize, just like Narnia, that even our gatherings here are but pale comparisons to the community that we will experience in the heaven that God has prepared for us to enjoy together forever.
Let’s be a people who experience some of heaven on earth. God has given us each other.
Read Revelation 21:1-4.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”