Summary: When we face hardship we need to realize we’re in the middle of a story authored by God
"Living in the Middle"
I try to take some time from my professional reading to relax with a good novel. I love to read and to talk about books. When I was a hospital chaplain I found it interesting to see what patients were reading on the wards. I figured if they had a James Mitchener novel, they were in for a long stay! One day I was passing through the Cardiac ward and saw a patient reading a book entitled Dead By Morning! I told her, “What a book to be reading in the hospital!” But she assured me it was a terrific murder-mystery. I said, “I hope you’re still reading it in the morning!”
There’s something comforting about a book—you know there’s going to be a final chapter. A few years ago I attempted to read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and though I understand it has a final chapter, I never made it to the end! I later tried another Russian novel, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and though I thought it would never end, I somehow managed to finish it.
Well-written books are often unpredictable. Popular authors churn out formulaic novels because their readers don’t want any surprises. Take a look at the current best-seller list, and you know what to expect from most of the top 20. Good authors, on the other hand, take risks; some say that even they aren’t sure how their stories will turn out. In the course of the action, the plot may take unexpected turns, keeping the reader in suspense. You can’t tell where things are headed, but you expect that when you reach the final chapter there will be a satisfying conclusion that will explain the twists and turns of the plot, and clarify any questions raised.
I have to confess that I’ve often been tempted to read ahead and sneak a peek at the last few pages! Life doesn’t present that option, but in a sense that’s exactly what we’ve done this morning. We’ve looked at the conclusion of the last book to see God’s final word. The Revelation (which means an “unveiling”) contains the answers to the paradoxes of life’s plot, God the Son is “the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
I realize that some authors leave the reader hanging…and some people come to the end of their lives with unanswered questions, unfinished business, and unresolved conflict. But death is not the final chapter.
The final book of the Bible is unlike the fiction we read for pleasure. God announces in chapter 1, vs. 3 (the prologue), that there is a special blessing for those who “read the words of this prophecy…and take to heart what is written in it”. You won’t find such a promise in the New York Times bestseller list.
If you keep a journal (women keep diaries; men keep journals), you can chart the progress of your life. I kept one during Desert Storm so I could have a record of what I experienced. Our lives are like a historical novel. And in this story we find ourselves living in the middle. Our lives may take some unexpected turns. We turn a page and encounter a nasty surprise—sickness, discrimination, a move, a financial setback. The paradoxes and absurdities of life test our faith, and we discover how strong we are. While in the middle, we believe that God is good and that He loves us…yet life often hurts.
The Lord Jesus Christ is called the “Alpha and Omega” (the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet). He is eternal, the beginning and the end. I saw a poster in a Christian bookstore that said, “Lord, I’m troubled about the future” and then came Jesus’ answer: “Don’t worry—I’ve already been there.” Our problem is that we’re in chapter 4 and we’re worried about what will happen in chapter 6.
We know that “in the beginning,” the opening of the book of Genesis, God declared things were very good. We agree that the end of time will be good—God will “wipe away every tear” from our eyes. With such a good beginning and ending, it comes as a surprise that the middle contains sorrow, disappointments, despair, tragedy, and pain.
Our problem is that we expect uninterrupted good times, but life in the middle of the story can take some nasty turns. If our lives are to have purpose, we need to see that we are living in the middle of a story that was begun and will be concluded by God. My life did not begin with me; it began with God. The search for meaning in life begins above, not within. In novels, “accidents” happen to the characters, but they’re not really accidents; the author planned them. In life there are no accidents that escape the plan of God.