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“I refuse to accept that the ‘isness’ of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal ‘oughtness’ that forever confronts him.” Martin Luther King Jr.
How do people interpret life? When our world doesn’t seem to make sense, what gives us clarity? What do we use to understand our circumstances, especially when things get rough? A few years ago, I discovered a template (conceived by Michael Metzger) that attempts to put into words what seems to be true of us all.
The basic premise is that everyone on the planet shares a kind of behavioral DNA, a pattern for how we view life: that we all imagine life the way it ought to be, the way it is, the way it can be, and the way it will be. We see this pattern in everyday life and in movies, novels, songs, and other forms of art. But this pattern is also found in Scripture.
We imagine the way life ought to be because of Creation. We were designed for a perfect relationship with God and other people. We recognize the way it is as not quite right because of Corruption: we live in a fallen, broken world. Our current reality doesn’t line up with God’s original intent. When we think about the way life can be, it’s because of Redemption. Deep down we long for renewal, for freedom. Through Jesus, God offers a solution for our fallen condition. And finally, we dream about the way life will be because of what the Bible calls Restoration. One day, God will restore everything in creation to its original intent. He will make all things new. So ought, is, can, and will is simply a way of using secular language to talk about Creation, Corruption, Redemption, and Restoration.
About a month ago, my friend Tami Lewis (44 years old and mom to five boys) went to the hospital with a persistent cough. While there, she was diagnosed with cancer in her lungs, liver, and colon. When thinking about her situation, I was reminded of this template, which God used to help me interpret these awful circumstances:
Tami ought to be at home right now, making lunch for her boys, reading to them, playing with them, cuddling with them. Instead, she’s in a hospital bed, her body full of cancer. The way it is — reality — is not the way it ought to be. Now, what can happen? God can heal her. I don’t know if he will, but he can. We can pray for her healing. We can listen. We can weep with those who weep. We can provide support and encouragement for her family. And where does our hope come from? Well, we know that no matter what happens in the next few weeks, one day she will have a perfect body. She will be in perfect relationship with God, her family, and her friends. There will be no more pain, or disease, or sorrow.
This framework, which is the gospel in its essence, not only helps us make sense of the world, but it also helps foster spiritual conversations and allows us to share the hope that is in us. I'm currently developing a booklet that explains these concepts and attempts to share the gospel in a way that resonates with people’s hearts. I’ll keep you posted.
P.S. — Tami passed away not long after her diagnosis. And while it’s difficult to comprehend why this happened, we can take comfort from the fact that she knew Jesus: the Creator, Redeemer, and Restorer. And that one day, He will make all things new.
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