Dear Lucy and Little Jo,
When I thought of writing letters to you here, I imagined telling you about how Daddy and I met, about the silly and wonderful things that only I see now in your very young days, and about your milestones as you grow older. I didn’t think of broaching harder subjects in these letters, or of writing you about the necessity to see straight as you grow up here.
The world is changing; in many ways it’s harder and more confused than it was even in Daddy’s and my childhood, and for the generations after you, it will be even more so. Though life is very full for us in this season, and I am filled with thankfulness by the day for the laughter that bubbles over in our house and for the food that fills your stomachs, I wanted you to have this post I wrote in recent days — because even now, our feet grow weary with heavy news sometimes, and our prayers fall forward to years when things might seem unbearable.
Daddy and I wish for you grand childhoods, full of sunlit play and freshly baked cookies and pillow forts of fantastic and dubious construction, but above all we want for you the richest bedrock for the core of your lives: a kingdom that cannot be shaken… this treasure we hold in jars of clay.
We love you so much; we could not wish for you any less.
When I saw this photo come across the feed, I thought it was a recirculated article about Egyptian Christians from February. It is not. Two groups of Ethiopian Christians have been executed by ISIS; CNN now reports confirmation from the Ethiopian government that 30 of its citizens were among the 2 groups.
The video, produced by ISIS, addresses “the nation of the Cross.”
“To the nation of the cross, we are back again… And we swear to Allah: the one who disgraced you by our hands, you will not have safety, even in your dreams, until you embrace Islam.”
This I write because I belong to the self-identifying people of the cross, and because the speaker seems not to know what such a thing means.
In college we used to sing a song that began,
I make a vow
My life will always honor Christ, whether I live or die
I belong to Him, He bore my sin
I owe this life to my saving King.
We had no wish to die young; few college students go looking for places to burn with random, and especially religious, zeal. Each of us came to believe in our own irreparable baseness, the existence and holiness of God, and our need for redemption in different ways, and turn about as we might, each of us came to know Christ as the only possible Savior for that problem. And each of us came to know that in order to accomplish this, He had to die.
What kind of people looking for salvation choose to follow a man who was crucified? If you want to be safe, you do not go dogging the footsteps of a man who tells you to follow him — and then goes to the grave. Above all, you do not put yourself at the mercy of a God who let his one faultless son be killed so that loveless and culpable people might live. For, having done that, what might He do to you?
We are not ignorant of these things. But God sent His Son because there is a problem of safety beyond that of keeping a heart beating and a pair of lungs inflated.
The people “of the cross” follow Christ because He went to the grave and then out of it. Death is not the greatest threat that can be put before them, because death is no longer final. It cannot undo the love that is so deep that an only son was sent by a Father, a Son who in turn was obedient to the point of death on a cross, for the sake of all who would accept that He died in their place.
When we approach Christ, we come because we know the depth of our forfeit, and — to be blunt — how busted we are. And His answer to us is not a meaningless “forgiveness,” but an acknowledgement of our sin, a pointing to the perfect and completely sufficient atonement for it, and a promise that we cannot be forsaken, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the sea. We are His forever, and this —
This is our safety.
And so we live and breathe and move in accordance with this foregone conclusion. We whisper words to unseen, sovereign ears about people close to our hearts, teach our children about eternity, and write posts of socially clueless length, because we have this surety. Done right, we seek to love the people around us like Christ, and when we fall short of that, you can be sure we’re aware we aren’t spending our lives the way we could be spending them.
For we can spend them. When a man can terminate your body without endangering the cornerstone of your security, then it changes… everything.
Corrie ten Boom stood naked with her older sister Betsie, watching a concentration camp matron beating a prisoner. “Oh, the poor woman,” Corrie cried. “Yes. May God forgive her,” Betsie replied. And, once again, Corrie realized it was for the souls of the brutal Nazi guards that her sister prayed.
– Back jacket, The Hiding Place, 1984.
Please understand: following the One who endured the cross and scorned its shame does not magically and instantaneously make me braver, or more noble, or less likely to cry over loss. Our God does purpose to make us more like Christ, but even then, like Him we are still fully human; we know what pain is, and grief, and we understand what is meant by a threat to strip us of safety. But the simple truth is,
We cannot be made to fear losing lives we have already given away.
Especially when they have been given into safekeeping.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish,
and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
– John 10:27-29
“I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul wrote.
“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” – Galatians 2:20