Every Saturday night at our Sabbath dinner, we have a round of catechism questions for the kids. The last question, the one I ask all of them together, is “Kids, what’s the point of the whole Bible?” The answer is “Kill the dragon, get the girl!” This was the point of the biblical story before the Fall, and it has remained the point of the narrative ever since. Before Adam ever sinned, he still had a dragon to fight. After he sinned, the task became much more arduous, and extended over centuries, and could only be fulfilled when the seed of the woman finally came, but that remained the mission. And for us now as Christians, this remains the point. This is why we are here. “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (Rom. 16:20, ESV). And here we have yet another glorious gospel juxtaposition. The God of peace does things. What does the God of peace do? The God of peace crushes.
For one particular application, allow me to share this from my daughter’s Facebook post about last Saturday’s protest of Planned Parenthood:
As our kids were getting ready to go (finding their “Product of Conception” shirts, grabbing water bottles, etc.) Shadrach realized he didn’t have a protest shirt. This is because I made him one that said #Anotherboy on it for the last protest, but threw it away afterwards because it was on an old undershirt. So I grabbed some Sharpies and said I would make him a new one on another old undershirt. He watched me as I wrote “Life is a Good Choice” on his shirt and we talked about what was going on. I told him there were people who thought it was ok to kill babies while they were in their mama’s tummy. I told him that we were going to say no. He asked me some insightful three year old questions. “There are people killing babies?!” “Is God there?!” “People are killing babies?!?!?” “They is KILLING babies?!”
Later, thinking he had gotten in the van already, I found him in the garage rummaging around. I asked him what he was up to and he said, “Mama. I need to find my sword.”
The real question for me, and it is quite a puzzler, is how we will have stories in the resurrection. When the Lord finally removes every grief, and puts absolutely everything to rights, will we be reduced to just telling stories? When we’ve been there ten thousand years, will be be tired of standing around? When every tear will have been dried, will this signal the end of all stories?
“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
I can’t imagine that this is so, but how God will do it is beyond my comprehension. “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” (The Last Battle, pp. 183-184).
The reason it is so hard to imagine is because conflict appears to us to be an essential ingredient in all story. Finding an antagonist in this fallen world is not that hard. All you need to do is try to live like a decent Christian for five or six days in a row and you will soon find yourself in the thick of it. But that is because there is truly something wrong with this world. Conflict, when it is most stark, is with those who are simply evil. But conflict can also arise as a result of misunderstandings between those who ought to be at peace with each other. In either case, it is the result real sin, real evil, real problems. In the resurrection, how will we have real stories without real problems? Beats me.
But what we are facing now is real preparation for what we will face then. Fighting now is preparation for whatever will be given to us then. Courage is necessary now, and it will be the foundation for whatever will be necessary then. But without adversaries, without danger, without conflict, why will we need this trans-courage? I will conclude this paragraph as I did the previous one. Beats me.
At the same time, we are taught that our labors, our conflicts, our sacrifices, are not futile. Everything connects, and what we learn before the resurrection connects to what we will have to do after it. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
We do not flee from our conflicts and sufferings to the refuge of the resurrection. Rather, we fight through them, using them as God’s appointed ladder to clamber up to the resurrection. They are all part of the same story. “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10–11, ESV).
And since real believers are all predestined to be conformed to the likeness of Christ in the resurrection, this means that real believers may rest in the fact that all things work together for good for those who love God and are the called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28-30). The reason we have to be reassured of this is that in the midst of the story we are easily distracted by things present, things to come, heights and depths, and anything else in all creation. Wherever we go in this world, stories erupt. Not the ineffable stories, for we are still in this world. I am not talking about the ones that do not yet appear, but rather our kind of story.
These are the stories that contain all the characters we find in Scripture, and all the elements that tempt us to think that God has somehow lost the thread. In our stories, we have friends who desert us, like Demas. We have coworkers who betray, like Judas. We have dear friends who collapse, like Peter. We have noble adversaries, as David had with Abner. We have skunks who are on our side, as David had with Joab. We have friends dear to us who fall out with each other, like Euodia and Syntyche. We have false brothers, who sneevel their way into presbytery in order to spy out our liberty. We have relatives who try to rip us off, like Laban. We have protectors who turn on us, like Saul. We have church growth, church plants, church splits, and church splants. So as we stand back and look at the inglorious mess, we should thank God for His predestining grace, glance at our watch, and murmur that we must be right on schedule.
This is how I put it a few years ago:
“So this means that I am willing to fight fellow Christians when the analogia Scripturae demands it. I am unwilling to fight faithful Baptists, Methodists, charismatics, and so on, even though we have marked differences (e.g. David and Jonathan). I am more than willing to fight with Bishop Spong, with Bishop Robinson, et al (e.g. Elijah and Ahab). I don’t fight with them because they are not in the covenant; I fight with them because they are. And last, I am reluctantly willing to fight (defensively) with conservative believers who have taken it into their heads to launch an unnecessary attack on us (e.g. David and Saul). The world is a messy place, and so we do the best we can to sort it out.”
So we should take the lead in standing against the evils of our generation — like our depraved understanding of life and marriage, which will bring us into conflict with multitudes outside the church, and with many within the church.
But surely if pastors are involved in such conflict, they should know what the point is, right? Yesterday I answered a sincere question about what we think we are accomplishing with this kind of cultural engagement. Why are we protesting abortion? Why are we fighting the Obergefell decision? Do I believe that we will have accomplished anything for the kingdom if we succeed in passing some righteous legislation? Or perhaps, in what is more likely, legislation that is perhaps less unrighteous?
Not at all. The point is always and everywhere the gospel. America will not be saved by legislation, no matter how pro-life or pro-marriage the legislation might be. If the people are not given a spirit of repentance, such legislation will be simply rejected, or if we are clever enough to impose such legislation on an unrepentant people, they will simply vomit it all up at the first opportunity. Josiah was a good king, but his reformation was not exactly a lasting one.
So what is the point? Proclamations of the gospel in Scripture overwhelmingly come in this format — repent and believe the gospel. Repent and believe. Law and grace.
Repent of what? Sin. What sin? The sins being committed. Believe in what? The fact that Jesus is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, the one who rose from the dead, and who as a consequence was given universal authority over all the nations of men. Jesus was crucified in accordance with Scripture (Ps. 2:1-3). He was raised from the dead, as the first begotten from the grave in accordance with Scripture (Ps. 2:7). As a direct result of that vindication that we call Easter, He was invited to make a request, which He did in fact make. “Ask of me, And I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, And the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession” (Ps. 2:8).
There are Christians who say that we ought not protest abortion, but rather preach the gospel. We ought not to oppose the official degradation of marriage, but rather preach the gospel. That is like training lifeguards to rescue people without any references to water. That is like watching millions of people drowning in the same ocean, and holding pep rallies on the beach.
And this brings us back to the point about story. The old stories train us to recognize scribes who speak with no authority, lifeguards who never swim out to anybody, cancer surgeons who are scared of scalpels, firemen who never jump on a truck, jet pilots who never scramble, guardians who will not guard, and gospel preachers who keep muttering peace, peace, when there is no peace.
Anyone who can look at the current state of American cultural life — abortion, same sex mirage, hook-ups, no fault divorce, porn everywhere, mammon-chasing, and more — and not see a straight lead-in to a repent-and-believe gospel message is someone who is not qualified to preach the gospel. How can you preach something when you don’t know what it is even for?