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Finding the "Yes" When Life Screams "No"
Amidst life's seemingly intractable problems, where can we find hope and confidence?
We all can name things in life we wish were different. We try to change them, but they scream “no” in response.
From recent headlines, here is a representative list of things most of us would like to change—but can’t:
The war in Ukraine
The suffering of migrants
Divisions regarding sexuality and gender
The rapidly increasing wealth gap
The epidemic of opioids and fentanyl
Good Lord! Amidst all the “nos” of these seemingly intractable problems, there must be a “yes” out there somewhere!
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Generally, God’s promises and life’s positives seem very far away. I understand why some people think Christ-followers are just wish-dreamers, hoping in a divine being who 1) doesn’t exist or 2) is incapable of healing the ills of the world and stopping the evil humanity perpetrates on itself.
Yet—hope is real. Jesus followers hope in the promises of God that were made manifest in Christ, who is the yes of God.
Paul’s Intractable Problem
For a couple of weeks, I have been thinking about a rather obscure text in one of Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth:
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.
2 Corinthians 1:20
Every text must be understood in and through its context. In the case of 2 Corinthians 1:18-22, the intractable problem is that Paul has promised to visit the church in Corinth, and life has not cooperated. Perceiving the frustration of the Corinthian congregation—and even feeling their mistrust of him—Paul encourages followers of Jesus with the truth that God is always faithful (v.18). For Paul, grasping God’s faithfulness is not a mental exercise. It is not irrational religious dogma. Paul’s intention for us is down-to-earth: Knowing that God is faithful, we stand firm in Christ (v.21). Paul says there are good reasons for hope and confidence. Why? Because we know that God has anointed us, and set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (v.21, 22).
With that context in mind, what is this Yes of God, and how does it help us with life’s intractable nos?
Paul roots honest, practical hope in the long story of God, and in the fact that Jesus fulfills the promises the patriarchs received and the prophets preached. Jesus’ connection to and fulfillment of the great story of redemption is that to which we say amen—which means yes! or so be it! Saying amen is shorthand for saying that we add our faith, worship, spiritual practices, and sense of calling to Jesus and the story from which he lived, taught, and did deeds of power.
Every time we say amen is an opportunity to refresh ourselves in the truth that we are caught up in, and bound to, the saving act of God, inaugurated in Jesus and his kingdom message. This story will come to its fulfillment in fully orbed, comprehensive salvation. Amen! Yes!
God’s promises are fulfilled in Jesus—and then, crucially, through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit in those who comprise the body of Christ. We participate in all this to the glory of God. That is, we center God in all things, setting all hope in him and giving him all credit for the good in our lives.
Living in the Yes of God
We’re invited to regulate our life by the yes of God. Tom Wright says in his book, Paul for Everyone, “Paul is anxious that [we] should learn to think of…everything in the light of God’s great Yes in the gospel and in the spirit.”
According to one scholar (The Anchor Bible Commentary), Paul is saying, “Trust God—his promises have been fulfilled in Christ!” This is not a religious platitude. Paul is conveying the reality that God is a firm place to stand. God is faithful and dependable. We see this preeminently in Jesus but also in the Church when the fruit and gifts of the Spirit are manifest. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s plans, purposes and faithfulness. Jesus is alive and working. This is the basis for trust while we struggle with life’s intractable problems.
For Paul, Christian spirituality had most to do with being “in Christ”, who is the pinnacle and fullness of God’s self-revelation. This connection is made real by a second Pauline emphasis: being “in the Spirit” who keeps us connected to Jesus, which in turn allows the Yes of God in Christ to be meaningful and at work in us today.
The amen Paul mentions means saying yes to God. Doing so both recognizes God’s glory and attributes glory to him. This positions us to be People of the Yes and Amen—which in turn empowers the Church to be agents of healing and justice for the sake of those stuck in dehumanizing nos.
Amen! Yes! Come, Lord Jesus!