Hopeful Sojourns or Uncertain Journeys

Posted by I'Ching Thomas on January 22, 2012

Three years ago, I traveled to Malaysia for work with our friends Josie and Alan. I was pregnant at the time, and Josie, a warm and generous person, was offering us all kinds of advice, as she herself had recently become a mother to Evan. Less than a week later, we received news that Josie had been diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia. I remember Alan weeping as he broke the news to us. Overnight the life and future of this young family had taken a tragic turn. Soon afterwards, Alan lost his wife, and Evan his mom, to cancer.

This is not an isolated incident. It is not an exaggeration to say that none of us knows what life will bring us. Regardless of who we are, whom we know, what worldview we hold, or how rich or powerful we are, we are not privy to the next second of our lives. We all have gasped at the unexpected outcomes of the lives of people we know, and we ourselves have also not been spared the unexpected turns of life—both for better and for worse.

The uncertainties of life can naturally leave us feeling anxious and insecure. When life serves us suffering, is there an anchor? And how certain is this hope, if we hold any at all?

A story is told of a widow who had lost her only son. First she lost her husband and then her child. How devastating it must have been for her. In a society where male relatives offered the only stability and status a woman could have, her son would have been her only source of support, hope, and strength. Being the only son, she probably invested all of herself into him. He was quite literally her hope and her future.

Now that he was dead, her only hope was gone. She faced an uncertain future. As she followed his body to its place of burial, she was no doubt weeping and overwhelmed with grief and pain. Life held nothing for her anymore, she likely thought. We are told that when Jesus saw her, his heart went out to her. Unlike many situations in the gospels, this widow did not ask or request for help. Yet Jesus reached out to her. “Do not weep,” he said in an attempt to comfort, seeing her pain, her situation, and feeling along with her. “Don’t cry.”

He then did something that no right-minded Jew would do. He touched the casket and said to the dead man, “Arise.” He risked being ritually unclean according to Jewish law by touching the casket and his unfathomable words to a dead man no doubt seemed insane to those around him. But the young man immediately got up and spoke. Nothing was recorded about the mother’s reaction, but we can imagine that she was both shocked and overjoyed. One moment she was completely hopeless, and the next, her entire world was returned to her.

What an ending to a sorrowful story. Perhaps her life circumstance somehow reflects the situation you are in. Is there someone in your life, a relationship, a situation in which you have given up hope? Have you wondered if life can be a hopeful journey or if it is simply a collection of uncertain events?

In this story, Jesus touched death and reversed it; bringing life out of what was dead, making pure what was impure. He did this throughout his ministry again and again, touching those who were dead to touch—whether corpses or lepers or women without voice or means—and bringing healing and new meaning into life. He not only offered hope, but embodied that hope for lives in need of knowing what is real.

In encountering the uncertainties of life and death, Jesus’s promise can remain comforting today, though perhaps not always with the result we desire or expect. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” This is both a personal and real promise—that Christ is somehow present as we journey through life. And many have come to know this as a hope unlike any other. For the widow, his presence in the midst of her pain was the first spark of life.

Knowing that Jesus is with me in the struggles and darkness of life keeps me from surrendering completely to my fears and insecurities when uncertainty or tragedy is near. The hope that a Christian clings to is a promise that is affirmed by the God who came near: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” God may not revive our deceased loved ones like he did for the widow, but we are assured that despite all life serves us we will not walk through any earthly sojourn alone.

I’Ching Thomas is associate director of training at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Singapore.