Not Bravado, But Ease

Fall is coming.

It is my favorite season, a season of heart-blessing.  I start announcing its arrival roughly a month and a half before it meteorologically arrives, but I can sense when it’s here: a shift in the scent in the air, a change in the light that feels sudden, a different cast to the gold of the sun.

I cherish this time.

As I walking tonight, and thinking of the fall and enjoying the dusk-light and the new tilt of the evening, the lengthening shadows and glimmers of gold on glass doors and windows, I felt at ease.  It’s not that everything in life is perfect—it isn’t.  And it won’t be.  Harder times will come, I know.  And yet every now and again, as I did tonight, I sense the strange, almost unsettling divine recognition that everything is going to be better than fine.

What a curious thing in our modern age to consider death and think of it as a mere passing-over, walking-through.  What an audacious comfort, to look all the ills of human experience—death and sickness, suffering and sorrow—in the face and say, “Yes, they are here and will be here—but then, because of Him, one day they won’t be ever again and the hurt of them will be healed away.”

The thought begets rest in me. I feel comfortable, even when my circumstances are not.

In this our era of the pandemic, I have noticed a lot of people loudly—loudly—expressing their boldness in the face of death.  A certain subset of believers in my local area, who refuse to wear masks outdoors and otherwise treat the coronavirus as though it is imaginary, appear with regularity on the news to announce, “I’m not afraid of a virus.  If God wants me to die then I’ll just die.  You know, come get me, death—I’m not afraid of you!”

All of that reckless hollering-at-mortality, the defiance of it, reminds me of a friend I used to know in college who was always bent on doing wildly unsafe things to prove that God would save him and, thus, demonstrate His sovereignty and glory.   Once he turned to me on a hike, very seriously, and said, “You know—the problem is we don’t believe enough.”  Pointing at the sheer drop of a ridge edge, he announced, “I guarantee you, if I throw myself over that edge and believe God will save me, He will.  I’m not afraid to prove it.”

I always marvel at that attitude, which comes across to me as the most profound sort of bravado.  I can’t judge how genuine it is, of course, nor would I—though I shy away from it myself as I do not believe God likes to be tested for the sake of being tested, and because I always fear that those wild-eyed declarations bring more attention to my desire to display faith than to God Himself. 

Regardless, it’s also not my experience.  Being confident in God’s promises feels almost always to me like a resting, rather than a rousing-up; like an exhale, rather than a shout.  On a night like tonight the air simply feels clear, when I can recognize all the hurts and struggles and problems of being human, but also feel deep gratitude that God allows us a path beyond them to something that is, frankly, unimaginably good.

There is a Robert Frost poem I always think about this time of year:

Nature’s first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leaf’s a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

In a poem, that is the best summary of the human condition I know: that all beautiful things in the world pass.  That there exists always fallenness.  And that knowledge begets not bravado in me but solemnity, because even with God’s great grace I should sorrow with Him, shouldn’t I, that it needn’t have been so?  That it shouldn’t have been so?

And yet, even in that knowledge—even in the recognition of that autumnal briefness, the passing of joy—comes the paired truth that everything good and rich and lovely will return again.  That God’s sacrifice made it so and that my starting-point is from a position of absolute grace and calm: I can look past what will pass to what will return again, and be made new.

That truth, on nights like tonight, sinks into my bones and settles me.  Leaves me with a grateful sigh of contented understanding.

I hope your autumn is also replete with the peace of that understanding.


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