Why I Believe It's Both/And
Most of us can't live in a world of either/or.
Please understand this is not a post about absolute truth or morality or anything like that, per se. This is a thought about what happens when people in a real world live with broken decision making and experience the inter-participatory relationship (thank you Richard Foster) with God in real time.
In that setting, with God in the middle of bedlam, we can't live in the world of either/or.
Sometimes I find texts in Scripture that just stick with me. They aren't the well-traveled passages, and I'm not trying to glorify myself but simply making an observation that I don't see passages like this used as tattoos or on people's vanity plates.
Ezra is a book that has a bewitching (can I say that about Scripture?) effect on me.
In Ezra, a foreign king (Cyrus of Persia) has commissioned and funded the Southern Kingdom - called Judah most often - to return from Babylon to Jerusalem and rebuild what was taken from them.
The city. The temple. The covenant dream.
The two tribes of the tiny Kingdom come back to the city, and they lay the foundation for the Temple. This is a big step - the temple is where God lives with His people. In exile, to a first temple Jew, God became homeless.
And then...my favorite weird passage:
And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. (3:11-13, NIV)
Grieving and joy, melded together into one great cry. The grieving of what was and has now passed, the celebrating of what is new and yet to come.
Not either/or. It's both/and.
The older priests and Levites saw Solomon's original temple. Beauty. Tradition. Goodness. They smelled the smells and walked the stones of the original article. Then it was lost. Grief.
The others hadn't seen it. They didn't know it. Maybe they were a generation removed, maybe they weren't as close as the priests or Levites. All they knew was that the foundation had been laid and it was full speed ahead. Joy.
This is our life in the grit of our incarnation, our "already but not yet" situation where we are seeing God in simple ways and grieving the places where we are blinded by reality and grieving for losses and pains beyond comprehension.
This is how it must be. It can't be either/or. It must be both/and.
To have the future, sometimes we grieve the past. The joy of a new marriage bears the grief of the failures and foibles of the first. The joy of a new job bears the grief of the "farewell conversations" to those we have worked alongside and have grown to love.
To even have prayers answered, often we must grieve something and leave it behind to have the joy of what we're designed for and desire to move towards.
The place of greatest spiritual health, the place where we are formed into Christlikeness is where we stand in the middle of the grief and the joy. To die, to weep, to cry out but also to celebrate, imbibe, and share hope of the future. We grow in that tension. We grow through that tension. This is the tension of Jesus. This is our tension. Both/and.
Today, think on these two questions:
1. What is God calling you to grieve today? Something good you must leave behind? Something long strapped to your shoulders that needs to be released?
2. What is God calling you to rejoice in today? A promise, a possibility, a simple treasure of the everyday that shows you that God is not far but instead is near?
When you find yourself living in a place where you are holding these two opposing strands at the same time, do not be surprised if you get an unfiltered and unedited view of the great goodness of the God who brings exiles back home, who rebuilds temples, and who is audience to BOTH our grieving AND our joy.
God is a God of both/and. Not either/or. That is His Kingdom.