There’s a paradoxical hour each day when the definition and clarity of every object both animate and inanimate becomes muted and yet the color of the whole ether is intensified. There’s a dazzling warmth that permeates your field of vision and it seems almost as though the whole earth, after twelve-ish hours of daylight, is finally rounding into its true form. Photographers call it the golden hour—it’s that magical hour that immediately precedes the setting of the sun when contrast and hue are at their richest. Most days, if you’re out and about and pay it any heed, it’s a sacred time to be alive.
Now, the interesting thing about the golden hour is that like any good play, the climax is followed by the falling action. The sun sets. It gets dark. It’s the antithesis of that saying, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” Well, it’s also the most brilliant before the night.
If we use the golden hour as a metaphor for life (and you just knew I was going there, didn’t you?), we see that there are some people who’s perspective is that the golden hour is what’s really real, the ultimate tenor of the universe, while the darkness that supplants it is merely a respite from the good. For these folks, that singular golden hour is enough to sustain them through the darkness of night.
I’ve met others for whom the onset of darkness obviates the goodness of the golden hour. “See,” they sigh. “The whole thing was just a sham, a ploy to make you believe that the universe was under new management. It’s the same as it’s ever been—darkness.”
It’s a matter of seeing.
I knew a guy in college who had been through a lot. It’s his story to tell and not mine so I won’t go into detail but by the time he was eighteen, this guy had seen more hardship than some do in a lifetime. And yet he came to college with a vibrant Christian faith that only grew during his four years at Williams. This was a guy who I looked up to. Then, his senior year, when he was at the golden hour of his faith, just bursting with joy, a darkness began to set in. Again, it’s his story to tell but the last time I messaged him on facebook he wrote, “I haven’t had much of a relationship with Jesus, even tho I think about it/him everyday. It’s tough it’s hard to know how to come back and what I should do or if I even want to. I try not to think about it.”
I knew another guy in college who had been through just as much when he stepped foot on the Williams College campus. His posture toward Christianity was one of skepticism, if not antagonism. Looking back on it he writes, “All along I thought God was my enemy, perhaps even a competitor, in my struggle against these issues, despite having actually read the New Testament when I was younger… everything slipped past my conscience and my consciousness, and it was only by the grace of God upon reflecting on my own weaknesses and admitting complete loss and helplessness before the laws of god that I could see this foolish egocentrism for what it was.”
During his senior year of college, this friend’s wife passed away. Yet in and through the painful and lonely moments of reflection since then, he has chosen to put his faith in God, to seek relationship with Jesus.
These two men have powerful stories, stories that are best not reduced to anecdote. But the point I wish to make in all of this is that there are a thousand things that might dissuade us from a relationship with God. We may have lost our father or had an absentee father and not be able to identify with the idea of God as our heavenly father. We may have witnessed or experienced such horrific things in our lives that it is hard if not impossible to believe that God could be good. We could have gotten such a distorted picture of who Jesus is based on what Christians have said and done in His name so as to permanently dissuade us from wanting to follow Him. And all of these reasons would not be without merit. But the truth is, within the community of Christians you can find a person for whom all of these things have happened and more. This is not to delegitimize any one person’s past, anyone’s hurts, habits, or hang-ups. But it is to say that the resounding testimony of the combined voices of all Christians is that faith in this God is a faith that can overcome anything. Can a person be molested as a child and still believe that God exists and He is good? Yes, the life of R.A. Dickey bears that out. Can a person be addicted to every drug under the sun and still find forgiveness in the love of God? Yes, the life of Ryan Ries bears that out. Can a person be prideful, a people pleaser, with a sharp-tongue and divorced parents and still seek to love God with all His heart? Yes, and I hope my life bears that out.
This is my tenth and final article for The Kairos Journal. It’s been such a pleasure to reflect on my life and my God over this past year and I appreciate you for taking the time to read. The goal of the Kairos from the beginning was to present our Christian faith to our friends and family in a way that was thought-provoking and interesting while not being confusing or overtly theological. I hope you’ve gotten some of that out of my writing. But as my time and word count draw to a close, I want to leave you with someone else’s words, words that are far wiser than my own. There is a wisdom, a faithfulness, a blessedness that can only come from living through hardship, and the woman whose words I am about to share has known a hardship I pray I will never have to know. She lost her six-year-old daughter to leukemia.
I’m including eight-hundred of her words here. Please, if you would, read them all. And after you have read them, I just humbly ask that you would take a few moments to reflect on what might enable a woman to write these words with death on her daughter’s doorstep. What kind of faith must this be? What kind of God must this be?
Thank you so much for reading.
“But the question that keeps slipping in is this, What is the measure of a life? By what standard do we proclaim with satisfaction, that a person lived a good life? Whether we ever say it out loud or think to intentionally articulate it or not, we have engrained in our 21st Century American hearts and minds that we are due 80 good years. Years that are marked by a happy childhood, great education, independence and self-sufficiency, a meaningful career and opportunities to explore the earth and delight in activities and accomplishments, to have a full family and at long last, to retire and spend our latter years in good health and leisure, and to eventually die surrounded by those we love and who have loved us and without pain or struggle. That all sounds entirely wonderful and who could not or would not desire such a life? We were created to long for life and life abundant with our whole beings, every fiber and cell intent on such vibrant life. And in our time in history and in our western world we have been able to achieve what most of humanity throughout time and place have never known and thus our expectation is solidified and our shock and angst at not getting what we want, what we expect, intensifies and we yell out – it’s all wrong! Six year old little girls should not die!
And the God of the Universe pounds His mighty fist in agreement and calls death the ultimate evil and promises a life to come wherein there will be no more death and there will be no more sickness or crying or pain. Every tear will be wiped away! Can you imagine? And we turn to Him and rage and rage, “Then why don’t you stop this?! Why withhold your arm that is supposedly so mighty to save? Where is your salvation now? Why do your turn your face away from this child? Do you not hear the agonizing cries of those that have loved her and cherished her? How could you possibly love this little girl if you are willing to strip away her life? How can you call Yourself good? And our hearts seethe and the acid of fury fills our veins and we declare with all our finite might – if you are any god at all then you are no god I want, and we throw up our hands and storm away.
And like a parent with a child, our Father calls to us, He beseeches that we return to Him, that we take His hand and walk with Him. That we trust. That we cast our gaze out upon that incomprehensible sweep of space, of billions and billions of galaxies, of stars more numerous than the grains of sand on the seashore, that we consider the grass and flower that spring up for a day and then wither, that we observe the birds clothed in brilliant luminescent blue, that we watch the storm cloud racing across the valley and rising up the canyon with great flurries of snow, that we consider the glacier capable of gouging out the sides of mountains yet made of mere individual snowflakes too light to be weighed on a scale. And He implores that we look within, into our own hearts, to the marrow of our lives, what dwells there? Is there not a longing for eternity? Is there not a deep grief for our brokenness, for our sin? The God of the Universe, the Ancient of Days, the first and the last, He is not deaf to our fury, our desperate sadness. He asks us to consider that perhaps like a child who cannot understand their parent’s reasoning, we sink deep into His love for us and rest, trust, to know that there are reasons beyond our understanding and that one day this pervading sorrow that fills the entirety of our view, will somehow be a distant memory, a minor pain as it sits alongside all the wonders of His fulfilled promises.
And it sounds audacious and we gawk at the thought that we should believe that. And I do. I do rest in the words of my Father because they have been far more than words. Words that once were mere black symbols on the page, mere groupings of sounds, I have tasted of the Lord. I have seen Him with my eyes. I have heard His voice. I have seen His hand in my life over and over and over. And I will keep lifting my eyes to Him and I will keep lifting my hands to Him and I will keep lifting my voice to Him and I will keep laying down my life before Him and I will call Him Holy! And one day I will see fully what is the measure of a life. I will get to see the magnitude and the grandeur and bounty of what God can bring about in the small span of six years.”