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The Role of Hardship

Written by Nate Irwin on

You might be surprised to learn that in my younger years Foreigner was one of my favorite bands. I even went to one of their concerts at Comiskey Park back in the day. For a missionary kid from Pakistan, that was a pretty edgy thing to do. Their song “Double Vision” was one among many that I grooved to the tune of, without really thinking about the lyrics. (Remember those days of “Mom, I’m not listening to the lyrics. It’s just the music that I like!”?) Don’t go and look them up (gasp!), but the idea is worth thinking about from a biblical perspective. (You just Googled the lyrics, didn’t you?!)

Ecclesiastes & Eternity

King Solomon can be pretty confusing in his musings in Ecclesiastes. For example, he says in 3:18, “As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals.” He goes on to say that humans and animals all have the same fate—we all die—so we have no advantage over the animals (3:19). That is why everything under the sun is meaningless.

But in 3:11, he had just said that God “has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” How can we be the same as animals if we have eternity set in our hearts?

Biblical Double Vision

Here’s where double vision comes in. If we have single vision, looking at things only from a life-on-earth perspective, we will ultimately be no different from the animals. We will live, work, do our best, then die and be buried, and be remembered no more.  Nothing will have mattered.

But there is something unique about us as humans—that he has set eternity in our hearts. He has given us the ability to think about another world, a better world than this one. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity, 181). 

That other world, the writer of Hebrews tells us, is the lasting city that is to come (13:14). It is a “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (12:28), a kingdom that was inaugurated when Jesus first came and will be revealed in its eternal fullness when he comes back.  It is only in seeing this kingdom and living in its light that we can begin to “fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Eccles. 3:11). We need to see both this world and the coming one at the same time. Or, better yet, to see the visible world in the light of the currently invisible one.

The Role of Hardship

This is one reason, among many, that God allows hardship (like the coronavirus) into our lives. Troubles get our attention. When our difficulties overwhelm us, when they become greater than our resources to deal with them, it creates an opportunity for us to think about the lasting city where there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain because the old things will have passed away and he will make everything new. What a day! Troubles remind us that we are just sojourners on earth (1 Pet. 2:11), here for a short period of time on our way to our forever, perfect home.

The Reason We Need Double Vision

Single vision can cause us to err in one of two directions: disillusionment or selfishness.  In the midst of hardship, we either think the world is so messed up there’s no hope, or we sink into the sofa of our own safety and comfort and ignore the hurting world out there.

Double vision will help us understand, as Jon Bloom says, that “creation’s anguish is a witness and reflection of the cataclysm it is for creatures to reject their Creator… The futility infecting creation is not ultimately futile. It points to a coming liberation. The harbinger of that liberation occurred when the Creator suddenly stepped into creation, groaned with and entered into its horrific suffering, and in the place of such rebels as us, bore the full brunt of the Father’s righteous judgment ‘to the point of death, even death on a cross’ (Phil. 2:8). And then rose from the dead; ‘the firstborn of all creation’ (Col. 1:15).” Redemption is coming because the Redeemer came, see?!

For those on the other end of the spectrum, let Andy McCullough help you see: “Crisislessness is a poor teacher. We assume routine is a right not a luxury, and we can get used to a degree of control over our lives that is globally and historically abnormal” (‘Global Humility’, p. 47).

John Piper echoes the same theme: “There is a mindset in the prosperous West that we deserve pain-free, trouble-free existence… The commitment to safety and comfort is an unquestioned absolute… This mind-set gives a trajectory to life that is almost universal—namely, away from stress and toward safety and comfort and relief… And it never occurs to anyone in such a community of believers that choosing discomfort, stress, and danger, might be the right thing—even the normal, biblical thing—to do.” (‘The Roots of Endurance’, p. 18)

Double vision will keep us hopeful in a time of despair and missional in a season of malaise and hardship. That’s the only way to understand God’s ways from beginning to end. What are you seeing?

Nate Irwin

Nate joined staff at College Park in 2002 as the Pastor of Global Outreach. He is also an elder for the North Suburbs Parish. Drawing on his own experience having grown up, and then serving as a missionary in, Pakistan, Nate works to challenge, prepare, and enable cross-cultural messengers of the gospel from College Park and to cast a vision for reaching unreached people groups through strategic partners. He is passionate about “finishing the task” of making disciples of all 17,000 nations in the world.

Prior to coming on staff, Nate served with TEAM as the principal of Zarephath Bible Institute in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Nate and his wife, Marty, have three adult children and two grandchildren. He enjoys spending time with his family, travel, and sports of all kinds.

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