“…once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This … indicates the removal of things that are shaken… in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. - Hebrews 12:26-29
On multiple occasions the authors of scripture tell us to rejoice in suffering. When we find ourselves in situations outside our control, the notion of joy can seem absurd. Who among us, while bailing their son out of jail or burying their mom or being laid off of work, pauses to say, “What a joy! It is for these moments that I was born!”
But how many of us, reflecting from the other side of suffering, have said: I grew closer to God in the middle of that than at any other time I can remember.
Hard times can teach us that maybe the language we’ve inherited to describe our dependency on God (need, rely, lean, believe, trust) can’t really capture the reality of our relationship with any accuracy. The words feel flattened-out, two-dimensional in light of the truth: God is elemental, like earth or air: firmament, oxygen, atmosphere. He is the author & underwriter of Life. We don’t need him to make it to the other side of a problem: we need him if we hope to continue to be.
And this idea, I think, might be what the authors of Scripture are getting at with all the “rejoice in suffering” talk. Sometimes when everything feels like its shaking to pieces we notice the Unshakeable in our midst. And we witness a truth: We are grasped by what we cannot grasp. (Rilke)
We can’t claim agency over the Unshakeable - God & his kingdom are too vast, too brilliant for that. But we catch glimpses of it, sometimes, at the start of a new day as morning light streams in the bedroom window. Or when someone says, “I’ll be praying for you” and they mean it, and the significance of it settles in someplace deep. Or when your wife tells you she forgives you and you know that forgiveness is the last thing you deserve. Or when all your thrashing and warring around God has left you exhausted and you realize that God is still there. He is still with you. His love isn’t extinguished or revoked.
And when we’re smart, we receive it.
This is the kingdom we are inheriting: the Unshakeable in the shaking: an ecosystem of life growing up in decay, the way that dead leaves and mushrooms and remains create the life-giving humus on the forest floor.
Jesus says: Invest in that. Put your life and your love and your hope in me. Wait. See the decay, yes, don’t be blind. Breathe. See also the seed of resurrection, of the life and more life that waits on the other side of the falling apart. Trust. Look for me when everything else is shaking. I am there.