October 21, 2013

Cliff's Edge

Recently I ran into someone I hadn’t seen, or even thought about, for 35 years. She’d been married three times, divorced twice, and, from the hints in her voice and body language, I wouldn’t be surprised if those numbers would soon be tied.  She also had four kids who sounded as troubled by life as she was.

I remembered her three and one half decades ago, and have no doubt that at the time, as a young woman dreaming about her future, about whom she would marry, and about what her life would be like, three husbands and a few drug-addicted kids (including one vampire transsexual) weren’t part of the package.

Life’s full of surprises, isn’t it? Our narratives usually get written, not in lyric poetry but in prose—stark, gritty prose sprinkled with adverbs and adjectives that we wouldn’t have appended to the nouns and verbs of our life were we given the choice. When I, now heading toward the decrepit age of 58, think about many in my generation, I can hardly imagine how vast the gap must be between what they had hoped for and what they’ve got.

Bad marriages (sometimes more than one per person), shaky finances, poor health, sick kids, unexpected deaths, bitter disappointments, failed friendships, addictions. No doubt, these are not parts of the plots we’d have scripted for ourselves.

Of course, Adam and Eve would not have scripted, as they held their newborns in their arms, that one would kill the other. Zipporah, when she married Moses, certainly didn’t have the future that she envisioned. And you think Leah’s married life was what she, as a very young girl, had dreamed about? And youthful Jeremiah—whatever his hopes and ambitions, they surely didn’t include being railed against, castigated, and deemed a traitor by his own nation. And wouldn’t David and Bathsheba have preferred a different narrative than the one that ultimately unfolded? No doubt Uriah would have. I doubt Job’s life was what he, as a young man, had anticipated and hoped for. And though John the Baptist had a hard calling, and perhaps knew from a young age that his lot wouldn’t be easy, it’s not rocket science to imagine that whatever his dreams, they didn’t include being locked in a filthy jail for who knows how long and, ultimately, on someone’s depraved whim, getting his head chopped off.

I doubt that Saul of Tarsus, the ambitious Pharisee, had hoped as a young man that his life would include the following: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:24-28).

What about Jesus? Of course, Jesus came to earth to die; that was the whole point. But from His human side, the side born out of the same clay as us, the side that cried out in Gethsemane, “My Father, if it be possible, may this cup be taken from me” (Matt. 26:39)—getting beaten, scorned, mocked, and crucified at 33 surely wasn’t what anyone would have hoped for.

No question, life can, and does, do us dirty. But that shouldn’t be surprising, should it? You expected what in a fallen sinful world, Paradise? Eden’s long gone, folks. But it will be back. And when it is, the gap between what our lives are now and what they will be like then will be infinitely greater than the gap between what we had hoped for when young but got instead.