Living Signposts

I think I'm finally beginning to understand at least one way in which good can come from pain and suffering.

It's one of the many paradoxes in Christianity - that complex, hard, real faith that is so full of paradoxes. Just like life is. As a follower of Jesus I've accepted many of the Bible's paradoxes (things that seem to contradict one another at first but actually don't on closer inspection). But understanding them is a much slower process than accepting them.

In the past week or so I've been mulling over the books of Job and John. Job... a book that tells us that Who is a more important, more real, more substantive answer than the ethereal, hollow phantom of why. And the Gospel of John, where the words of Jesus repeatedly urge us to stop trying to make the good life happen here and now, but to look to God as the true source of the life we yearn to experience. These books of the Bible are signposts pointing us to home.

But so are people.

Tony Snow made that point recently. Snow, the well known Fox News political commentator and more recently President Bush's Press Secretary, remembers sitting by a friend's bedside while the friend was wasting away from cancer. "If I don't [beat cancer]," the friend told Tony, "I'll see you on the other side." A few months later, his friend died. Snow could never think of his friend without those words coming back to him, and in this way his friend was a signpost for Tony, pointing him to the reality of the real life which is beyond this one. A few years ago Snow himself was diagnosed with colon cancer. In the midst of surgeries and chemo regimens Snow recalled his friend, and with grace and equanimity he relished the fact that the role of signpost was now his, pointing the rest of us to the source of true life.

Tony Snow died last Saturday. He is now reunited with his friend and his God. I will never be able to think of Tony Snow without thinking about heaven - he's a signpost for me.

"Do not work for food that spoils [the best this life has to offer, which doesn't last] but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you..." John 6:27

And there are other signposts, closer to me personally. My mother (pictured left with my nephew & my kids) is one . She has battled her own cancer for many years now and yet has made her journey a doxology (a praise of God) in darkness. I know the real difficulties and discouragements she faces consistently. But as she faces her own mortality and reaches for her own perspective on the true source of life, she's not the only one who benefits. We all do. A few years ago she was talking to me about how bad she felt that her death would cause the rest of us to grieve. I told her that if she dies, one of the good things God would bring out of that is that those of us left behind would want to be in heaven then more than we do now. And that's what God wants from us:

"they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on the earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own... they were longing for a better country -- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." Hebrews 11:13-14, 16

My most consistent signpost is my bride. As Amy walks through life with her chronic condition and all the limitations that brings with it, she's made it a point to seek God's perspective. In the process she's not only finding it, but she's helping me and our kids find it too. Without necessarily trying she has become a walking message, pointing to the fact that real life comes only from God through Jesus Christ. Because of how her condition affects our lives, and how she strives to respond, I can't look at her without thinking about where life really comes from. She's a living signpost, pointing my fickle attention elsewhere, toward eternity. Where it belongs.

When difficulty and pain come calling, the human heart it seems has two fundamentally different orientations to choose between. One is why focused, the other is Who focused. The former sees the circumstances of mortal life, which constantly shift and change. The latter allows pain to do its waking work: to open our eyes to see the truth that life comes not from temporal good, but from the Eternal Source. The former perspective struggles through suffering. The latter perspective struggles through suffering too, and catches glimpses of something more solid, more reliable behind and beyond it. Amy is a "latter" kind of person.

Of course the choice isn't nearly so clean or simple as that. It's part of the curse of decaying human mortality that our hearts default to the former orientation. In fact we're never really completely free from it. At least not until we join Tony Snow and his friend. And the millions of other faithful Jesus-followers who have finally crossed the finish line before us and passed into the real world, realizing in a thunderous moment of utter clarity that what they just crossed was actually the starting line.

And that's exactly why signposts are so important in the meantime. These markers, both the Biblical ones and the human ones, point us toward reality - toward life - and urge us not to become preoccupied with this phantom world which promises so much and yields so little - what C.S. Lewis called "the shadowlands."

Today I find myself thankful to God for the book of Job and the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John - not to mention hundreds of similar statements throughout the 66 books of the Bible. And I am doubly thankful to him for providing human signposts along the way too - people who's lives and sufferings make it more difficult for me to miss the point of his divine words. And when I realize that they're pointing to him, words like "thankful," "praise," and "worship" seem too thin and soft to express my gratitude.

Who are your signposts?


Tim KC6QLV said...

I find in Romans 5:3-5
"Not only so,but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perserverance; Perserverance character; and character hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy SPirit, he has given us."


Romans 8:28
" And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

God Bless The Guerino Family!!


Amy Guerino said...

Thank you, my darling husband, for the encouragement to keep seeking His perspective. It is humbling to know that my struggle can be a benefit to those who live with me. I don't do it perfectly but you are gracious to me when I speak "words to the wind" (Job 6:26)~ those things said in utter despair or pain that are not theologically sound. Much later I find the feeling of regret and shame but you are there understanding those words were not what I truly believe and know. Thank you for being a better companion than Job had in his "friends." I love you!

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

Your mother has been one for me. Closer to home are my friends Maxine and Marilyn who passed away earlier this year. I was able to be with both women on the eve of their resurrection morning. I remember in particular, Maxine clasping my hands in hers and in a faint whisper say...

He's still on the throne, elaine. He's still on the throne.

What a privilege conversation. Was an incredible sign post for me.

Thanks for your poignant and raw reflecting on the truth that says...

This world is but a stopping point on our way to our next.


Ken said...

I would have to say my wife is one of my signposts as well.

She has been through so much in life. From the verbal and emotional abuse both of her parents subjected her to, to having to turn around and essentially take care of her mother since she was in High School, to her own debilitating illnesses, she is always looking for the bright side. While she is not a particularly religious person, her strength is a source of strength for me as well.

Tim KC6QLV said...

For me it was My Beloved Grandmother Eichlin (my mother's side.) Unfornately She passed on in her sleep while watching an Oakland A's Game on a Sunday afternoon in her appartment. (Jan 15, 1985.) MY WORLD WAS Turned upside down the following day when the RECTOR of The High School told me. SHE WAS AN INSPIRATION TO ALL HER LOVED HER. " Share and Share alike" is what she taught us grand kids. CHRIST LIKE Teaching

She did not die alone, A catholic Priest was with her. For him It was a conversation, The question went unanswered, She went limp on the couch, Naturally He administered the last rites. SAD SAD :( I was a Senior in High School and my grandmother saw me graduate from grand stands in heaven!!

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