My heart broke as I stood on the stage of the church with my fellow clergymen, watching friends and relatives make their way down the center aisle toward the casket to give their last respects to the teenager who had been shot and killed in my neighborhood. Sobs of pain overwhelmed the soft piano music playing in the background. I was there to assist with the memorial service in support of a family devastated by the tragic loss of a loved one. This young man was taken from the world too soon. In that moment, as I stood there on stage praying and reflecting on the circumstances, I was overwhelmed by the evil in this world. Why is there so much violence in my city? And what can I possibly do to make a difference in reducing violence and the pain that comes with it? Why does life have to be so hard?
This is the human condition. Teenagers die tragically, and young couples dream about sharing their lives together.
Just the evening before, I had an amazing experience beginning the journey of premarital counseling with an amazing young couple whose wedding I will be officiating next summer. My wife made an incredible dinner for us. The pleasant conversation and laughter often overtook the soft piano music playing in the background. This young couple opened up to me about their hopes and dreams for sharing their lives together and their desires for their marriage to have a biblical foundation in Christ. We had meaningful conversations about all of the ins and outs of marriage and the joys of taking the next steps into marriage. I was kind of overwhelmed by the opportunity to journey through life with these wide-eyed romantics. Why does God give human beings the ability to love so much, through relationships like marriage? Why is God’s creation so good? Life can be filled with laughter, beauty, creativity and love.
This is the human condition. Teenagers die tragically, and young couples dream about sharing their lives together. Tears serve as an expression of deep grief and also deep laughter and love. Life is filled with beauty and affliction, love and pain, thriving and brokenness, good and evil, justice and exploitation, righteousness and sin. The paradoxes in life seem to be too much sometimes. There are many different ways that people respond to all of the ups and downs of the short lives we are given by the Lord. Many people don’t handle the pressures of life very well and end up with a life defined by shallow living, petty thinking, trivial talking, thoughtless doing, useless regretting, hurtful resenting or faithless worrying. Many people respond to the challenges of life with passionate living, reflective thinking, meaningful actions, joyful perseverance and minimal anxiety.
Who Am I?
I believe that, to respond to the intricacies of life in healthy ways, people need to know the answer to the key existential question all human beings ask themselves: Who am I? The answer to that question means everything in terms of how we choose to live our lives. If we don’t know who we are, then we won’t know why we are here or what we are supposed to be doing with our lives. If we don’t know who we are, then we may spend our lives being defined by what we do, by what we have or by what other people think about us. All of these things may bring us some pleasure and purpose temporarily, but these things will never fully answer life’s deepest questions.
We don’t need to struggle with all of this as much as we do. God has already made it abundantly clear who we are. We are God’s beloved, sons and daughters of the Most High God. We are made in the image of God. Our identity is found in Christ. This passage of Scripture from the Apostle Paul provides an excellent overview of this concept:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. … I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 3:28-29, 4:1-7 ESV).
We are heirs to God’s promises. We can be in a right relationship with God because of what Christ Jesus did for us. When our identity is defined in the love of our Heavenly Father, we are truly free. We are not slaves to this world. We are free to live passionately. And, most importantly, our life’s purpose is discerned when we know that we are adopted sons and daughters in the kingdom of God. We get the great privilege of participating in God’s redemptive mission. He is on a mission to redeem every person, every place, every circumstance, every struggle, every painful relationship, every rejection, every failure, in short, every part of life that human beings experience. This is good news. We are loved. Deeply loved. And pursued. Relentlessly pursued by an Abba Father Who treasures us. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news.
Through it all
Through the tears at the memorial service for the teenager who was killed, I was able to partner with several other pastors to point the heartbroken people in the room toward the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, there is evil in this world, but evil does not define us. Yes, there is brokenness and pain in the streets of my city, but that brokenness and pain does not define us. We are beloved children of the Most High God. All life is valuable. We matter. We are loved.
Through the laughter, the stories, the fun, and the dreaming with the couple that was young, in love, and excited about marriage, I was able to point them toward the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God loved us so much that He gave His only Son for us, and that love is the model for how we are supposed to love each another. Their marriage will not be defined by the transactional standards the world has established for love and marriage, but by two fully alive, deeply loved, heirs of God’s promises bringing their mutual identities in Christ together for a potential lifetime. What a beautiful picture! Through both affliction and beauty, God’s love for us transcends all circumstances.