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A 'Tale of Two Cities' and God's Plan for Our Problems


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Thus begins Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, one of the most famous novels in history. There has not been a time in my lifetime when his words were more appropriate than they are today.

Forbes headlines: “The Stock Market Just Had Its Best Quarter Since 1998.” Of course, this surge followed the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression

Goldman Sachs reports that a national mask mandate could save the US economy $1 trillion. But “America has an individualistic culture,” as one expert on mask law notes, making mask-wearing requirements controversial. 

Christians are expressing gratitude for the Supreme Court ruling that states cannot discriminate against religious schools. But a “blasphemous Hollywood film” in which Paris Jackson (Michael Jackson’s daughter) plays Jesus is sparking outrage. The group One Million Moms has started a petition to stop the film from reaching the public, saying it “mocks Christianity and ridicules people of faith.”

What C. S. Lewis didn’t say 

This quote by C. S. Lewis seems relevant: “The fact that our heart yearns for something Earth can’t supply is proof that Heaven must be our home.” However, in keeping with our “tale of two cities” theme, we should note that C. S. Lewis didn’t write these words. But he did write this: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” 

I like what he actually wrote better than what he supposedly wrote.

Like you, I yearn for a world which is not “two cities” but one. I yearn for joy with no sorrow, light with no dark, peace with no pain. 

This, of course, is not that world, showing that we were made for “another world.” But while we are here, we can join God in reframing our temporary challenges for the sake of our lasting character. 

This week, we have focused on the consequences of character and the fact that the Holy Spirit must make us what we cannot make ourselves. Today, let’s consider our side of the process. 

My visit to Colossae 

I still remember my visit to Colossae some twenty-five years ago. This ancient city (in the western part of modern-day Turkey) was destroyed by a major earthquake in the first century. It was rebuilt but abandoned centuries later and has never been excavated. I climbed to the top of the “tel” (the hill that has grown up over the ruins) and found pieces of marble just beneath the surface of the ground. 

The city’s demise demonstrates the wisdom of Paul’s exhortation to Colossae’s Christians: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2).

What does it mean to “set your minds on things that are above”? The apostle was specific: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. . . . you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (vv. 5, 8–10). 

“Put to death” is an active imperative in the Greek, an ongoing command. This is not a religious suggestion but a divine order. God demands that we “stop completely” (a literal translation) the sins Paul lists. Today, and again tomorrow. 

God would not ask us to do something we cannot do with his help. Paul explains God’s side of our sanctification: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts ... Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly ... Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (vv. 15–17).

“The Vale of Soul Making” 

When you and I seek to become godly and spend time in God’s word and worship, he will make us what we strive to be. Our desire to be obedient positions us to be empowered to be obedient. As we work, he works. And he redeems the challenges of our fallen world by using them to draw us to himself in dependent faith.

Oswald Chambers explained: “God is going to bring you out pure and spotless and undefiled; but he wants you to recognize the disposition you were showing—the disposition of your right to yourself. The moment you are willing that God should alter your disposition, his recreating forces will begin to work. The moment you realize God’s purpose, which is to get you rightly related to himself and then to your fellow men, he will tax the last limit of the universe to help you take the right road.” 

Let’s see the fallen city in which we live today as God’s preparation for the glorious city in which we will live one day. Let’s ask of every temptation, setback, problem, and fear we face: How can I use this to trust more deeply in Jesus and to be made more like him? 

John Keats was right: “Call the world, if you please, ‘the Vale of Soul Making.’ Then you will find out the use of the world.” 

To what use will you put the world today?

Publication date: July 2, 2020

Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com

Jim Denison, PhD, is a cultural theologian and the founder and CEO of Denison Ministries. Denison Ministries includes DenisonForum.org, First15.org, ChristianParenting.org, and FoundationsWithJanet.org. Jim speaks biblically into significant cultural issues at Denison Forum. He is the chief author of The Daily Article and has written more than 30 books, including The Coming Tsunamithe Biblical Insight to Tough Questions series, and The Fifth Great Awakening.

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of CrosswalkHeadlines.

For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.

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