An untroubled heart

The first thing that comes to mind for me when Jesus says goodbye to his friends (John 14:1-14) is that I expected more from him. He knows he’ll soon be arrested and that he’ll be executed, probably in a few hours. The disciples probably know it, too, though they don’t want to admit it even to themselves. And in sharing this last supper with them, does he really say, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled”?

Doesn’t he appreciate that, of course, they’re troubled? Does he dismiss their anxiety so lightly? Even he is troubled, so troubled that he will soon plead with God for some way out (Luke 22:42), so troubled that before it’s over he will wonder why God has forsaken him (Matt. 27:46)? Doesn’t he know what’s at stake for his friends, that they, too, could be arrested and killed? Or does he know all that and something more as well?

I have to tell you I’m troubled. My wife is in the hospital with covid-19, and though I know her recovery is statistically probable, I also know it’s not certain. I know what it is to pray that this cup might pass us by, and I know how hard it is to pray that God’s will, not mine, be done. But I’m also getting some clues that Jesus may have known, after all, what he was talking about. “You trust God,” he said, “now trust me.” Trust that he knows what he’s talking about. And here is something I think he knows and I’m learning.

He knows everything that is, is of God. “I am the Lord,” God said, “and there is no other. I am the one who creates the light and makes the darkness. I am the one who sends good times and bad times. I, the Lord, do all these things” (Isa. 45:6b-7). We can parse the scriptures and develop elaborate theologies to reflect our meager understanding, but like Job, we cannot penetrate the mystery of good and bad, the mystery of life, the mystery of God; we can only confess that we’re talking about things we don’t understand (Job 42:3).

God made this wonderful creation in all its dimensions and aspects and called it good, called all of it good (Gen. 1:1-31). And in this good creation, there is a time for everything: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to harvest; a time to cry, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Eccles. 3:1-8). You know the list. “God has made everything suitable for its time” (v. 11).

The disciples were troubled; Jesus was troubled; I’m troubled; many of you are troubled. Jesus didn’t say, don’t be troubled; he said don’t let your hearts be troubled. Don’t let the foundation of life or your identity as a child of God be troubled. You live and move and exist in God (Acts 17:28). No part of your life is outside of God, and nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. “Death can’t, and life can’t,” Paul wrote. “The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away” (Rom. 8:36 NLT).

I don’t know exactly what all that means, but I’m confident of this: When I look beyond what troubles me; when I look beyond life’s pieces to see the whole of life; when I step back from the fragments to see the total of creation in all its integrity – light and dark, good and bad, gains and losses – and when I remember that nothing that happens to me happens outside of God’s love for me, then I’m a little closer to surrendering my will into God’s will, and I’m just a little closer to having an untroubled heart.

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