Finding God in the Middle
We all have become well acquainted with loss, grief, and difficult news over last year a half: the spread of the virus, the world shutting down in 2020, a still uncertain future midway through 2021, expressions of systemic racism and systemic inequalities, economic instability and financial hardships, the Delta Variant, positive test results, and other severe health issues. It’s really been a heck of a last 18 months for all of us.
But we’ve also seen miracles: multiple vaccines created in record time, the self-sacrifice of our healthcare workers, teachers, and other essential workers, slow but real progress in the ongoing fight for civil rights for marginalized communities, and the US government taking huge steps to meet the needs of millions of Americans.
Although we have gone through so much over the last 18 months – as individuals and families, as communities, as a nation, and worldwide – we presently find ourselves in a kind of middle: heartbreak and pain and uncertainty commingled with hope and perseverance; a seeming pathway out of this pandemic but still many more steps until we reach any kind of finish line; a faith-filled “now” but a very real “not yet.”
It’s this kind of “middle” that my faith tradition knows really well. The Christian Scriptures tell of a Wilderness in between Israel’s slavery in Egypt and their arrival in the Promised Land; of 3 days of despair for Jesus’ followers after His death before the first news and then proof of His resurrection; of the groaning of Creation currently while we live in the midst of all things being made new in Christ (Romans 8:20-23).
We’re in the middle, the midst, the in between, the here but not yet.
But I believe it is here, in this present “middle,” that God is at His most intimately present. The Lord’s Prayer speaks precisely to the reality of a kind of “middle”: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’” (Matthew 6:9-10 NIV). God is in Heaven and is ever present with us, holy and perfect, and He has a Plan from eternity past where His kingdom comes to earth: first through the Jews, then through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and finally through the rest of human history where imperfect beings become perfected by being caught up in His perfect Will and extravagant Love. It’s with an infinity of brush strokes that all of Creation is being repainted, reborn, and renewed – made whole and complete, as it is in Heaven.
The reality is that the Artist is painting the Canvas every moment of every day, but the Masterpiece is not done yet. We’re in the middle. The midst. The in between. The here but not yet.
That’s why Jesus continues the Lord’s Prayer the way He does: “‘Give us today our daily bread’” (Matthew 6:11). We’re in the in between, the here but not yet, so we need His Provision daily to stay hopeful and faithful and determined and loving and kind and good. We need His Spirit to keep the candles burning through this long, dark night – this middle, this midst. And we need grace for ourselves and each other (v. 12) because the Wilderness is hard. Jesus crucified and in the tomb is hard. The groaning of our Spirits and of Creation is hard.
Right before Jesus is arrested and ultimately crucified, He tells his followers this: “‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world’” (John 16:33). We Christians know the middle, the here but not yet, the in between. But we have, in Jesus, the Overcomer, the Peace-giver, the Author and Perfecter of faith, the Resurrection and the Life, the One who brings Heaven to earth. Here in the in between, we can take heart. And we can pray the way Jesus taught humanity to pray – so that we don’t forget the Hope we have here in the “middle.”
The Artist is painting. It’s been an eternity past of brush strokes so far, and He has an eternity future to get His Masterpiece perfected. But the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that He is at work, today, here in the middle – in every single moment. We can take heart because He is making earth as it is in Heaven. He’s here with us in the middle, so very intimately with us. And that is good news in this present season; a bright light amidst our current night.