The Bible is full of strange things—oil cruets and flour containers that never become empty and young bodies that are restored to life at a word from Jesus. Are we supposed to believe that these things happened? Maybe the ancient peoples did, but we moderns suffer under the curse of Bultmann’s lightbulb: we know why the light switches on. We are cursed by rationalities that prevent us from seeing the Bible as one overarching story in which our own lives play a key role.
When I tell other pastors that I hate weddings and love funerals, they smile knowingly. Of course, the dark humor rings true with them—every pastor I know can tell a “wedding from hell” story, and all pastors can think of a few funerals at which they’d love to preside.
Not far from where I live is a geological oddity. Stone Mountain is a bald and rounded mass of granite a mile and a half long and nearly a thousand feet high. Eons ago, molten rock pushed up from the earth’s core to the surface, then bubbled out and hardened into a monolith. Given the flat landscape around it, what one notices first about Stone Mountain is how unexpected it is. This isolated mass of stone stands all alone, sticking out like a blister on a thumb. It is as if an unneeded chunk of the Rockies was carelessly tossed over the shoulder of the Creator and landed improbably in a Georgia pasture.
My wife is afraid of heights. She didn’t like flying out west, and she didn’t want to peer down into the Grand Canyon. I wonder how she would feel at the end of time, “caught up together with the saints in the air to meet the Lord.” I know she’d prefer that this reunion happen down here on solid, flat ground.
When I take a long road trip, the route I choose depends on whether I am driving my car or riding my motorcycle. If I have a tight time line, I drive my car. I prefer to travel on interstate highways if possible. My priority is to get to my destination quickly; I map out a route, set the cruise control, turn on the radio, fly through the countryside and stop only when absolutely necessary.
When my parents bought their home in Marshall, Texas, in 1984, there were 96 mature trees on their one-acre lot, many of them towering pines that rise 75 feet or more from the ground, covering their house with a peaceful green canopy. These giant pines are beautiful but deadly.
Mundane events can mirror the mysteries at the heart of faith
Jan 11, 2005
Red Sox fan George Sumner was on his deathbed last October, and things didn’t look too good for the Red Sox either. They were about to be eliminated from the playoffs by the hated Yankees, thereby adding another year of heartbreak to the previous 86 in which Boston’s beloved Sox had managed, sometimes in jaw-dropping fashion, to fall short of winning the World Series.
Give yourself a treat and put Jürgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope under your Christmas tree. Moltmann published the book in German 40 years ago. After it was translated into English three years later (1967), he became an instant theological celebrity in the U.S. The book even made it to the front page of the New York Times.
Paul’s daunting promise to the Romans haunts me: “Suffering produces endurance,” he assures the Romans and us, “and endurance produces character and character produces hope.” Recently I stood in the pulpit of my church and looked over the top of a white, 32-inch-long casket at a young couple from my congregation. Their six-month-old son, who had been happy and healthy just days before, had died in his sleep. The unfathomable suffering of the family was shadowed by a church filled with mourners for whom the scene enacted their most dreaded fears.
"A virus breached the campus computer network last week and the entire system crashed. Repair has been difficult, but I bring a word of hope.” The director of information technology at the college where I was about to lecture on eschatology added, “This has been frustrating for everyone. Files have been corrupted and programs do not run properly. Please be patient. Some files have been restored. . . . Any day now we will be back to full operation.”