“What’s the worst that could happen?” Dr Pepper asked us repeatedly—since I don’t like it, I always assumed that drinking it was punishment enough.
They also printed this under the ingredients which is wonderfully self-aware marketing, if a little dark. Though, I read that this was not their slogan outside of the UK, so perhaps you have no idea what I’m talking about.
My wife has spent her working life in healthcare. Our humour tends to the dark. “Nobody died” means “it was fine.” It could be worse, after all. Someone could have died. It wouldn’t be the first time.
I don’t think it’s a bad question though: what’s the worst that could happen? We say it jokingly often enough, but to actually pause and consider the actual worst-case scenario can be instructive. What is the worst that could happen if you follow that cause of action?
However unlikely it might be the absolute worst thing that can happen is death. There is no fate worse than death. Death is final, irrevocable, evil—a cold and merciless reaper of the guilty and the innocent alike. No respecter of persons, death comes for us all. The final inevitability, snuffed out like a wick and ended, cast into the unfeeling void.
And death is swallowed up in victory (1 Corinthians 15).
We were talking about this a few weeks back around our table with a bunch of friends from our church. I don’t recall how we got onto the topic, but I said a potted version of the above and one of them, struck, said:
in the long view the absolute worst thing that could happen is unmitigated victory
What’s the worst thing that could happen? Everything will be placed under the feet of the holy King of all Kings, the Prince of Peace will win his war without battles, evil will be cast into the outer darkness and justice and light will reign as far as the curse is found.
What’s the worst thing that could happen? Everything sad comes untrue. Death dies. The Lamb wins. We don’t lift a finger and yet find we’ve won.
No one on the earth has ever won a truly unmitigated victory. Nothing is ever total, even if we score it that way. And yet, with the long view, the absolute worst possibility for our future is Jesus’ total victory over the forces of darkness.
How then do we live as though that were true? For many of us the idea of taking the long view sounds impossible. The challenges, sometimes brutally awful, of the day-to-day are far too much for us to lift our heads and look at the long view.
I understand. I really do. I’ve had my face ground into the ashy dust enough to empathise.
And I don’t have a plan for you. There’s no set of steps that will get you from focusing on the near pain to seeing the future victory. Except, what I can tell you is this: there comes a point when you’re too bruised to face the day anymore, when you’re too soul sick to endure the small hopes for tomorrow and the idea of getting out of bed in the morning sounds like the end of all things. I know that there comes that point.
How do you move on? I have no plan, but there is only one way to take another step. Lift up your head and see the long view. Resurrection is coming, dear friends. Death dies. It’s the only thing that keeps me going on my worst days, but it is more than enough hope for every person that has ever lived. So come and share it with me.
Lift up your head, dear heart, enough if the strain feels like it will break you. And if your spiritual muscles will not bear it, if the weight of a thousand quiet dreary days of pain weighs your shoulders down, if a thousand previous attempts to hope that ended with you flat on your face rear up like a legion to snare and stymy you, then with the breath you have pray this: would you lift up my head, Jesus. Even if the prayer sounds like a sob of sorrow or a scream of anguish instead of carefully formed words. Those are prayers too.
And look. Look beyond the foothills of tragedy and the great mountains of loss. Look beyond the ashy plains and the swirling dustbowls. Look beyond the deserts wreathed in bleached bones, where dreams go to die. Look up and see the future. This is all passing away. Life is coming. The Lord will reign forevermore, heaven will marry earth, Christ will marry the Church, and everything that is wrong and evil and sorrowful and grows on the thorny trees of Hell will be cast into the fire to never trouble us again.
We live in the Between, the time between the times. The Lord has come and we await his coming. We have much work to do, but some days it is impressive that we get up at all, let alone feel the slivers of joy we encounter or the frisson of the hope that waits over the horizon. It helps to know when we live, so as we work fix your eyes on the horizon, for he comes like the Sun in its rising.
There is a prayer that King Jehosophat prayed, beautiful in its simplicity, “we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20). For him it led to a battleplan that didn’t require any fighting and a victory for a hard-pressed kingdom of Judah. For us? Even if it’s a plea for help to lift our eyes? We might just see what’s coming.
If we take the long view.
Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah
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