Most people are thinking about beginnings this week, but I’m behind the eight ball and still thinking about endings. I submit as evidence the fact that my “2014 in Review” is here post-calendar-turn instead of pre-.
So: endings. And Revelation 22, the chapter at the Bible’s ending. Earlier this week, I was stopped by verse 7 of the passage: “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
Keep the words. When we encounter a phrase like this in Scripture, often we take it to mean “obey or else.” That’s because often our knee-jerk reaction in matters of Scripture is to treat it like a rulebook and a list of consequences for broken rules. We assume God’s ultimate word to us is about a hammer dropping. We fear that if we fail to toe the line, he’ll pulverize us.
But if we pay attention to the Bible’s redemption story, we see that ultimately this thing is not about getting crushed. It’s about getting, in the poetic sense at least, wings.
Some days, some years—boy, do we feel the need for those wings.
2014 was a doozy for me. Easily my hardest year yet. It began with my husband in the gearing-up stages for a short-notice military deployment and me in the late stages of a pregnancy. Eight days after he went overseas, I gave birth to our second child. For the next seven months I was essentially a single mom to two children under three, and my marriage was in most tangible ways nonexistent.
Deployments have unique ways of exposing weaknesses. What this one exposed in us was that we had assembled our local support system abysmally. We’d committed ourselves to several care giving and leadership roles, but had failed to develop a proportionate number of relationships for receiving care and being led. In other words, when things fell apart—as a rule during deployments, everything falls apart at least twice weekly—in many of my relational spheres I flailed for support more than I found it.
Complicating things further, among the people who (valiantly and wonderfully) sought to help our family, most—nearly every person—were hit by staggering crises and challenges of their own. Deep depression. Loss and grief. Family betrayal. Legal hurdles. Health struggles. Medical emergencies with long recoveries. We were all doing our best to keep afloat and help bail out, but the hulls were filling fast.
I was lonely. I was bone-tired. I was starting to get bitter about it.
Then, the worst low, I hurt some people I love. I lashed out without even realizing that’s what I was doing. Later, when I saw how ugly it had been, I felt wretched about it.
“I do not understand my own actions,” is how Paul expressed the sentiment. “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15.) I can’t manage to order my life in a way that works. I can’t even manage to be kind when I’m trying to be.
Last year I was quite often sinking in exhaustion and isolation. When I thought I was making right turns, I turned up lost. Plenty of it stemmed from my own faults and failures. Blaming the deployment would be ridiculous. Most of the time, the biggest weight on me is me.
But—but!—thankfully there is rescue and relief. The promise of Revelation is that through Christ, the ending I’ll get won’t be the one I deserve. No, that horrific ending was already endured, when God’s Son wore my sin to a cross and died under it. In exchange, he dressed me in the righteousness his life had earned, so I could fly.
This is why “keep” is the perfect way to respond to Revelation’s prophecy. In the original Greek, it’s built on the same root that forms the word “guard,” as in, one who stands watch over something precious.
If we had to depend on our own ability and choices, we would never face heavenward, much less get there. The gift of Christ’s righteousness is a marvel. The hope it opens is an astonishment, too precious to let out of sight.
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