Originally created 09/01/01

Enduring hardships is a sign of grace

Some days we have to wonder if we are being punished or blessed by God.

AN OLDER AND WISER man was trying to console his son whose child had just been nearly killed in an accident. The older gentleman began to philosophize about the positive side of tragic events, such as how they build character and make you stronger. After a long pause, he turned to his son and said, "Bud, I don't know about you, but I have had about all the character building that I can stand for a long, long time."

LIVING A LIFE as described in the Beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount is no piece of cake. We are told to rejoice when we are hungry, poor, weeping or cursed by our enemies. We are to feel blessed when people hate us, exclude us, revile us and defame us. We know there will be a better day, but right now we have to endure.

IS CHRISTIANITY A RELIGION of pie in the sky by and by? The old spirituals certainly emphasize that life is going to be rough but that we will celebrate victory over everything that intimidates, scares, oppresses, victimizes or dehumanizes - and all the other intolerable aspects of life.

Little wonder that there arose a strong emphasis upon the Second Coming of the Lord. To paraphrase from Revelation 21-22, Lord, come quickly! Deliver us from this hell on Earth. O, come take us to the heaven above, where there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more killings, no more hate.

THE BIBLE IS ALWAYS its own best interpreter, and there are many passages that support the idea that we can experience a glimpse of heaven here and now. Even as we all admit that we have experienced hell on Earth, so can we admit to experiencing heaven on Earth, too.

Perhaps all the goodwill at Christmas is God's reminder that although the best is yet to be, there are wonderful ways we can enjoy our status as God's holy people during our lifetime on Earth and help others to experience the same.

Jesus didn't mean to say in the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount that life is going to always be tough. These are words of hope for difficult times.

God is never so near as when we feel he is far, far away. There will be a day of reckoning; for God has promised it. And he always keeps his promises.

WHAT ABOUT THE SEEMINGLY unrealistic expectations of Jesus when he talked about loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us and praying for those who abuse us?

First, Jesus is suggesting a new approach in dealing with adversaries. After all, love conquers all.

Second, Jesus is offering an ideal way of life we can all strive to achieve by God's grace and our hard work. God wants to prepare us for living in the Kingdom of Heaven by living this way in the Kingdom on Earth.

Dr. Gene Norris is a Presbyterian pastor who serves as a marriage and family therapist.


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