What do you see?
I see the CaringBridge app on my phone and reflect on the two who have died in the past few weeks, one a child just days from his 10th birthday.
Amid the sorrows of these deaths, my wife Stephanie and I drove to Dallas to be with a good friend during the funeral for his mom. Compounding my friend’s grief, his dad was diagnosed with ALS days before his mom died.
I see the post from a friend and colleague whose wife has been diagnosed with cancer. We talk on the phone and I’m struck that she’s already Stage 4, which is the same number of young children they have.
Why so much grief? Why waves upon waves upon waves of sorrows? If the Lord desired to deprive atheists and agnostics of ammunition for their powerful theodicy argument we would welcome the cessation of pain. Even for those of us committed to the Lord’s sovereignty have existential reasons to doubt when the miseries pile up.
The goodness of the Lord? Assured. But how can such goodness, coupled with sovereign rule, yield the fruit of searing heartache?
The author of Hebrews writes:
Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere, "What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection under his feet." Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. (Hebrews 2:5-8b)
Everything in subjection? However, the author is not satisfied to express the affirmative even in absolute terms (everything). He doubles down, stating the negative, “he left nothing outside his control.”
What do you see? I see Kara Tippetts, a wife who loved her husband and four little children richly, wisely, and well. How could “nothing outside of his control” mean the early death of this beautiful soul and the thousand aches that her children and husband will inhabit in days to come?
What do you see? This morning I sat next to a brother in our men’s small group who fought back tears as he described being let go from his job yesterday and having to tell his wife and three young children.
I see a report of 147 Christians at Garissa University College in Kenya slaughtered by extremists of the Shabab, a Somali Islamist organization. This atrocity comes two months after ISIS beheaded 21 Coptic Christians from Egypt who were working in Libya.
When these are what I see -- persecution, job loss, sickness and death from disease – it makes me wonder about the One to whom “everything is subjected.”
It must have made the readers of Hebrews wonder, too, because the author writes to encourage them and warn them as they face trials.
Again, the author writes, “‘…putting everything in subjection under his feet.’ Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control...” (Heb. 2:8). But he finishes, “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.” Everything has been put in subjection to Christ, but we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
We see death, heartache, sickness, sin, brutality, evil, lust, ruin, betrayal. In seeing this in others and ourselves we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.
The author of Hebrews does not intend to let us gaze on realities that incline us to wonder about “everything in subjection” and “nothing outside his control.” He disrupts our vision with a conjunction. “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (2:9).
For Hebrews' readers then and now the landscape of miseries summons doubt about everything being in subjection to the Lord. So the author redirects our gaze to Jesus. “But we see him.” Who do we see? The jewel of heaven, the Son of God, who for a little was made a little lower than the angels. It’s what Jesus did during that “for a little while” that matters.
Jesus entered into, willingly, the suffering of death that was the inescapable human destiny since the Fall. How the immortal took upon himself mortality is a mystery for another time, but Jesus who is eternally God and Man suffered death. In this passage and in Philippians 2:7-11 we see that upon obeying unto death Jesus received the crown of glory and honor. Jesus experienced death, and he defeated it, and by God’s grace Jesus experience of and victory over death is applied to all who become one with Christ.
The CaringBridge report of cancer murdering a nine year-old boy we’ve prayed for still hurts. We grieve. The massacre of Christians in Kenya . . . we grieve. However, because of who we see we are able to lean into the horrors and pray and work and forgive and love and praise. When what we see threatens to overwhelm, the who we see rescues.
But we see him.
But we see him.