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  • Jason Andersen

Tension and Hope

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

Romans 7:15

In a conversation this week other person mentioned someone who was happy to live with two things in tension. In that situation, it wasn’t a good thing: it was letting sin fully persist without a fight and claiming to be a Christian. As I’ve been thinking about this a little, living a life in tension is something that at times we cannot permit (if it simply allows sin to flourish in our lives) and something that we must live with (since often tension between two things promotes growth). Let’s think of nature for a minute. A tree grows up, but it lives with tension, and it is a good thing for the tree. The wind blows it back and forth, and it actually serves to strengthen the tree. Strong sunlight directs it up, gravity keeps it grounded. The tree generally grows in glorious tension throughout its life to be fruitful and cast shade on the land. Of course, an extreme wind might just be too much and topple the tree over. But the principle stands: without the burning sunlight, a plant will be weak. I’ve many times burnt my seedlings transplanting them outside because they weren’t accustomed to the sun. Without the wind blowing regularly, a tree won’t be able to withstand a storm. Now we could multiply this example many times over. Things we build are made to live in tension. A bridge has expansion joints, a skyscraper is expected to sway, and we build these things better when the materials we use combine the qualities of strength, flexibility, and weight.

Now let’s consider the human life. We live lives of tension. Maybe we should define it: tension is when there are two things that pull you in two or more directions. So for instance, sin and being a Christian. Being a citizen of the USA and being a citizen of heaven. Being hungry and wanting to maintain good health.

Now the areas I’d like to focus on are spiritual and relational. We live in an already but not yet sort of world. We live lives of tension between our confession (we believe in Christ who died and rose again for us and so we have put off the old man and put on the new man) and the fact that we still struggle with our lingering sin nature. Here’s my initial point then: we live lives in tension. Some tensions are for our benefit and some are harmful.

So first: there are tensions in our life that we must seek to cultivate in a healthy direction. In relation to sin, as we mature as Christians, we must fight our sin more and more regularly. When I was a child and young Christian, I was more ignorant. So I both sinned ignorantly (whether being selfish with my siblings or coveting all the things in the Fleet Farm Toy Catalog), or I sinned knowingly. But by God’s grace, I have fought my sin, and I attempt to take every thought captive and put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit, etc. So I live with the tension that I still sin, but it is one that God graciously allows not to control my whole being. I live with this tension knowing one day I will be finally sanctified and in perfect union with God which will make my sin flee forever away.

There are other tensions I am convinced we would be wise to live with more fully. As a young person, I decided I wouldn’t exactly stake a claim on major doctrines (like Calvinism or Arminianism). I figured as I matured I’d grow into a wise position since young people can often be a little belligerent without wisdom in these things (I’ve heard it recently by a few guys called ‘cage-stage’ where they’re just wild animals). So when you don’t know something, I’d suggest not parroting your favorite teaching but instead marinate on the truth taught in God’s word and taught by good teachers (both dead and alive), and be patient in the tension of it. I know there are some issues that pierce the heart more to which we feel even more compelled to find an answer. Perhaps this has to do with your pain and suffering or perhaps this has to do with how you’re not a puppet in God’s hand (you’re not by the way, read a book Excusing Sinners and Blaming God if you’re curious). Again, I’d challenge you to have patience. A doctrine you must know I think as you patiently wait in this tension is that God is sovereign over all and we are pervasively depraved and sinful which results in more suffering than we’d ever wish.

We’ve got to patient and realize we can’t fully answer it all. Job in his suffering wished he knew why he was suffering, but God’s answer wasn’t the answer Job was asking for (which was, ‘Can’t you just tell me why I’m suffering, God?’ The readers know the answer, but Job never came to know). God’s answer was this: Job must live in tension, but he can hope in the salvation of God.

And really, another way to talk about tension in life is that it is a precursor of hope. When we are in this in between, we are passengers on the way to somewhere, we are travelers in hope of our heavenly country when sin will be resolved and dead, and we will be in perfect fellowship with God. Yet I do think that we will still live with a heavenly tension. We will still be creatures, limited but growing. And so I think that we will be growing ever more into the likeness of Christ. In other words, we’ll still have a tension between what we don’t have but are moving toward. But our hope will be fulfilled. And that will be the day.

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