At our church gathering this weekend we were talking about judgment and mercy and the life of love we have been called to. We were remembering the story of Les Miserables - Jean Valjean being the quintessential misfit who is suddenly shown mercy and finds himself swirling in a sea of redemption. A convict on the run, Valjean finds himself at the home of a bishop who takes pity on him. In exchange for the bishop's compassion, Valjean takes off in the middle of the night with all the bishop's valuables only to be caught and dragged back. The bishop meets him, crying, "Here you are! How could you leave without the silver candlesticks I gave you?" Astonished by his mercy, Valjean is released.
The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice: --
"Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money to become an honest man...
Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God."
I love the imploring tone of hope in the bishop's words. The bishop was able to look deep beyond the physicality of a man's dishonesty to see a broken soul who needed but the faith and trust of another to reveal truth. He saw a man who was his brother and called him good. It was in this moment that the bishop traded the cynicism of the world for hope.
Artist and musician Derek Webb said something along these lines Sunday night at his show with wife and fellow musician Sandra McCracken. I am always amazed at their honesty and warmth. I walked away, reminded that it is the role of the artist to tell you what I see.
I've noticed there is this saddening resistance to hope - as if it is too trusting, too positive, and idealistic. People would rather hold on to their cynicism because it is easier, doesn't require so much faith. After a while, the world becomes wearisome, we become disenchanted with what is and doubt the dream of what could be. We identify each other by the things we hate, by what we are against.
Derek Webb reminds us of our hope, that "this too shall be made right."
So if cynicism is the enemy of hope, then I'm holding my breath, knowing that it is with this test of faith that we find perseverance, which must finish its work so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1).
We live in the in-between. Caught it in this beautiful, awful struggle between heaven and earth where all things are being redeemed but not yet made new. We walk around with are feet fixed to the ground and our eyes in the sky.
Did you ever notice that the sky is all the way to the ground?
There is this epic conclusion to David Crowder Band's record "A Collision or (3+4=7)" where Crowder is talking about this great crash of heaven and earth, where we dwell and the hope we can offer one another as we come closer to "not lacking anything."
"Did you ever notice that the sky is all the way to the ground? We're walking around in it. We're in the sky. There is sky and there is ground and we're somewhere in between. That is where we live. And sometimes some of us take wing and when they do, when their feet leave the ground, even for a second, they pull the rest of us with them. And then we rise, and then we rise, and then we notice that the sky has been around us all along . We have been walking into it. It has been this constant collision. Divinity and depravity. And we rise and we rise and we rise..." (The Lark Ascending)
"Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven", Scott Erickson, from Feedback, in collaboration with Derek Webb