Tom Gilson

What Christ Does For Us, Part 10: Resurrection, Again

Christians often pray, “God, let us see you work in power.” We may not understand what it is we ask. God does His best work following a death.

I approach this topic very cautiously, for though there is something important to say here, there is a danger of trivializing it. I just spent several hours with a very good friend whose mother passed away a few weeks ago. Her passing was very difficult. The pain of my own mother’s death, almost a year and a half ago, is still very real, though not as fresh and strong as my friend’s grief is today. Death is not what God originally intended. It means something is wrong with the world. It is an enemy. In Christ’s resurrection, death was dealt a mortal blow; but it still kicks in its final throes. It is the last enemy yet to be defeated, at the end of the age.

Imagine being one of Christ’s followers in the day when He was taken to trial, to torture, and then to execution. He had told them often in advance that this had to happen. They did not understand; they fought the idea. Nothing, not even His frequent warnings, could prepare them for the loss, the injustice, the massive dashing of their hopes and dreams. Peter denied Him, others deserted Him. The women, more than the men, stayed with Him to the end; yet even for them, what a horrific end it seemed to be. This man had brought them unparalleled hope, healing, and love. He was the one who had words of eternal life. He had proved his supernatural power through repeated miracles. Then He was gone. I don’t know if any other death in history could have produced so much shock and grief.

We experience the grief of loved ones dying. We each face our own end. Further, we all experience loss and disappointment: being turned down by someone we love, being rejected by family members, losing jobs or opportunities, suffering injury or disease. These are lesser deaths.

Yet just as Christ’s death brought unparalleled pain, surely His rising brought His followers unparalleled joy! What could compare to Mary’s elation when she saw Him alive that Sunday morning, or the other disciples’ relief and happiness when He appeared among them? How often and with what unrestrainable smiles do you suppose they spoke of that among themselves, the rest of their lives? What could have been a happier moment than seeing Him alive? And what could have been a greater display of God’s power?

We pray for God to work in power, not always remembering that this is when we see Him most at work: when we most need Him. God does His best work following a death, even if it’s of a death of the lesser, figurative sort.

In 2001 my wife and I realized we ought to leave our positions at the headquarters of Campus Crusade for Christ. I was getting what I call “headquarters disease.” I was a Human Resources director, with national responsibilities, but I was getting disconnected from the field and from the reason I was doing what I was doing. When someone called me on the phone, it felt like an interruption, a bother to me. That was obviously wrong, and we decided the cure had to include leaving headquarters and going back to front-line ministry work.

We ended up in southeast Virginia–and it didn’t turn out to be what we had expected. We experienced some very deep disappointments, unfulfilled expectations, and very difficult conflict (this was with persons who are not now part of the ministry). I was certainly part of the problem; some real changes were needed in my own heart.

For a while it was, well, really awful. We had uprooted our family from one city, and now we were seriously wondering whether we were going to stay in this new one for long. We were living in an apartment we had rented as a base for living while we hunted for a home to buy. It would have been easy, in one sense, just to leave. It would have been terribly wrenching in another sense.

My wife was feeling it as badly as I was. One day she went for a drive down a street that we had visited more than once before, that we thought would be a particularly nice place to live. There were only a few houses on the cul-de-sac at the end of the street. None of them, unfortunately, were for sale. She prayed that day in a kind of desperation for answers and for hope “God, we don’t know if we’re supposed to be here. If you want us to stay, would you please, please, please open up a house on this cul-de-sac suitable for us to live in!”

Two days later I was with several co-workers driving north toward a conference in Gettysburg. We hadn’t even crossed the county line when my cell phone rang. My wife said, “The real estate agent has a house for us to look at.” I said, “Come on, you know I can’t look at any houses until after the conference!” She said, “It’s on the street we want, Tom.” I said, “Oh!” (Brilliant, no?) “I guess you’d better go look at it!”

She checked it out that same morning. It was listed for well below market price, and it fit our desired description almost exactly. The seller accepted our bid with a contingency clause, such that we could pull out of it if I disagreed when I came home. That house is where we’re living now. God was starting to do some of his best work, giving us hope and direction in the midst of what seemed like a deathly situation.

Relationships at work did not improve just then; in fact, for a while the situation continued to get worse. It became clear that I was not going to thrive in that position, and that we would have to make a change. We had no clue what that could mean. We had bought the house, we were not interested in moving (nor did we believe God wanted us to move), and yet there was no other position on the horizon for us locally. Around that time we also took a very severe financial loss, and my father-in-law died a very difficult death. Things were not getting easier.

And then another job with our organization opened up, virtually out of nowhere right near home. It was going to be what I would have considered to be my dream job, working with some of my favorite people in the organization. (And the office was walking distance from Starbucks!) It started out looking great, but even that dream died, too, when for reasons too complicated to explain, there just wasn’t a lot of work to do. The income was there, but the projects weren’t. Another dream seemed to have been spiked.

But God was doing some of his best work still. I was starting to recognize what I had learned from the rough relationships I had just been in–some extremely important personal leadership and character lessons. I can’t go into them here without sharing more openly than I should about the whole situation. Suffice it to say that I couldn’t be doing what I am now without having been through all of that. I am stronger than I was; and I am unreservedly grateful to God for it all.

Now let me back up a moment to another dream. I had always wanted to write–I just never had a clue how to get published. Now I was in a situation that afforded me time to think, study, and write–and now, too, there was blogging. That was the beginning of this whole adventure; and the dream has borne fruit in being published several times beyond the blog (see “Clips” above). I can’t imagine how this door would have opened without being in a situation that seemed like a dream that died.

And since then, the job projects and opportunities have opened up as well, just as I had thought and hoped they would two years earlier. (The story on that transition is as amazing as others I’ve told here, but to go into it all would make this long post really long.) I believe this new set of responsibilities and opportunities was in the plan all along–but that God also had a plan to fulfill a lifelong dream and vision (writing) along the way.

This has been bought the short version of a long story. I could tell much more about this and other things like it, and so could any follower of Christ. The Bible is full of such tales–Joseph, Moses, and many more. We all have dreams, hopes, plans, relationships; and some of those dreams, hopes, plans, and relationships die.

I look back over the past few years and I see both deaths and resurrections. The resurrections are where God’s hand is most clearly visible. They are where God has been most glorified. They wouldn’t have happened–couldn’t have happened–without the deaths. These experiences are miniatures of his final work yet to come, when both death and resurrection (for His followers) are not metaphorical but very real. Christ was first. He opened the door, so that any who are willing to follow may walk through after Him.

For a follower of Christ, no death, whether figurative or literal, is final. It’s God’s preparation for His best work.

Part of a Series: What Christ Does For Us

Related: How To Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions. This post elicited a short question, to which I’m writing a very long answer in the form of this series.

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11 thoughts on “What Christ Does For Us, Part 10: Resurrection, Again

  1. A few years ago, I was looking for a new home. I shopped around locally and couldn’t find anything that was affordable, or that would make me happy.

    I looked further afield, and found some really great, spacious homes that were inexpensive, and new construction. But due to the distance, it was not going to work for my family. I tried to find a way to make the commute a practical one, but I could not do it. When the realization hit, I felt pretty awful. It felt like my dreams of living in a really nice home were dashed.

    But then I found a small new subdivision that was local and in a perfect location. When I went into the sales office, I was stunned to find the best home still available. It was such an incredible find that I joked that the home must have been built on an old native American burial ground, and we were the only ones who didn’t know it. We bought the home, and lived happily ever after.

    The only difference between this story and yours is that I didn’t pray to God to find the home, and I didn’t subsequently believe that God put the ad in the paper, and I didn’t believe that God allowed me to be the first to put the down-payment on the home, etc.

    Humans built the home I bought, they advertised it, I happened to be looking, and I happened to be first, the builders made a profit, and I got the home I was looking for. No god was needed for this transaction. What was needed? A buyer and a seller, desires, and chance.

    What you are describing is superstition. I know you don’t like the term superstition because you think it equates your entire belief system with tarot or something. That’s not what I’m saying because Christianity is not reliant upon (nor always a case of) superstition.

    But what you are doing here is engaging in a scheme that admits confirmation, but never falsification. Tarot works in the same way as your type of prayer. You assign the good events to the bin for the obviously good works of God, and assign the bad events to the obscure or not obviously good works of God.

    So, I don’t think God made you a writer, Tom. I think you made you a good writer.

  2. doctor(logic)

    I didn’t mention it again this time, but a couple of times before this in this series I said this is not about proving points, but rather about explaining what Christianity is. This post was not intended to prove Christianity or miracles, but to illustrate how the resurrection principle applied at one point in my life. If I were trying to prove to a skeptic that this was God at work, I would have written it differently, but that was not my purpose this time.

    Thanks, though, for the encouragement about the writing.

  3. Humans built the home I bought, they advertised it, I happened to be looking, and I happened to be first, the builders made a profit, and I got the home I was looking for. No god was needed for this transaction. What was needed? A buyer and a seller, desires, and chance.

    If I ever have a son, I’m gonna name him Chance. He’ll be able to accomplish anything without even trying.

  4. Tom, I understand that your point in writing this series is to explain your beliefs. However, I really have to protest that what you seem to be saying in this post is presumptuous in the worst possible way. Bad things–really, really bad things–happen to people, and the good things that sometimes happen afterwards in no way make up for those bad things. Tell a parent who’s just lost a child that “God’s plan is exactly what you’d want for yourself if you knew what it was.”

  5. os,

    You raise a significant issue. Yes, bad things happen, and the Bible still says that death is an enemy, not a good in itself.

    Could I say to grieving parents that God’s plan is just what they would want for themselves if they knew what it was? There is a difference between philosophical theology and pastoral theology. They both understand and agree on the same truths, but they hae different purposes.

    Philosophical theology would affirm that God is always good, but that situations and experiences are not. It would insist on the reality of loss, pain, and evil. It would not affirm that everything has a good outcome for every person. It would, however, affirm that for those who love God and are called according to his purpose, God works all things together for good. That passage goes on to explain God’s goodness in every circumstance. It reminds us that His own Son was brutally murdered. God has something powerfully in common with every grieving parent.

    Even this passage, though, does not affirm that everything is good. Rather, it says that God can and does work everything to the good of those who love and follow Him. This is God’s awesome redemptive work, best exemplified in Christ’s resurrection.

    That’s the philosophical theology side. The pastoral theology side affirms exactly the same truths, but it would not likely do what you said:

    Tell a parent who’s just lost a child that “God’s plan is exactly what you’d want for yourself if you knew what it was.”

    If I were in the position of ministering to a grieving parent I would first listen, support, and cry with them. If they asked “why?” I would say, “I don’t know. I know that God is good, but I don’t know why this happened.” I would try to tune in to where they were in the grief process, what their needs were, and what they were ready to hear. At some point, perhaps early but probably later, I would help them look for God’s redemptive purposes. I would expect it to be a slow process taking perhaps years, and I would expect it to be their process of discovery, guided by truths from God’s word, and not my process of making pronouncements for them.

    This is not just theoretical. I have not lost a child, thank God, and I would never, ever hope to go through that pain. My experiences of loss do not measure that high. I have friends who have been through that, though, and they still strongly–very strongly–affirm God’s goodness.

    Two authors have written very eloquently about the loss of their wives, and how God worked good in them in spite of the loss. I recommend to you A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis and A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken.

  6. Tom writes,

    [Philosophical theology] would not affirm that everything has a good outcome for every person. It would, however, affirm that for those who love God and are called according to his purpose, God works all things together for good. (italics added)

    and

    God can and does work everything to the good of those who love and follow Him.(italics added)

    What kind of loving God is this, Tom, who only acts for the benefit of Christians who believe exactly as you do? This is a God I can’t believe in, a God I want nothing to do with.

  7. Then having nothing to do with God is your decision, if that is what you choose. But I’m glad you’re asking the questions you are, because they are important ones, and and I would rather you pursue the questions than make a decision against God based on anything I’ve left out of what I’m trying to explain.

    The first good, the fundamental good, is God; and the first good for humans is to know and to love Him.

    It’s not that God does no good for those who do not love Him. He gave His life for His enemies! But those who will not accept the fundamental good will not experience the other goods that He offers. The first step toward this fundamental good is to recognize that He exists, that He is good, and that we need Him. Rejecting that, one rejects everything else God may offer.

  8. I seem to have a life like anyone else’s life, rejecting what God offers. The believers and non-believers I know experience the good, the bad, and the ugly in life pretty similarly.

  9. OS

    I seem to have a life like anyone else’s life, rejecting what God offers. The believers and non-believers I know experience the good, the bad, and the ugly in life pretty similarly.

    If this life was all there is to existence itself then I might be convinced to join you in rejecting what God offers, because it seems as if I don’t need it. There’s a lot of philosophy in that one sentence, and a lot of historical knowledge/experience that suggests it isn’t correct. That historical knowledge/experience comes from many sources, not just Christianity.

    It’s almost game time, so time to log off and go prepare the food.

  10. In the Christian life we often forget the necessity of death to experience resurrection.

    Christ had to be rejected and killed before he was resurrected and glorified.

    Similarly we must reject elements of our life and die to them, to experience spiritual growth.

    Sometimes dreams must die because they are unhealthy. Sometimes dreams must die because we are called to a different task.

  11. Dear Tom- I stumbled onto your website through a link at “The Point.” Your series on “what Jesus does for us” looks very interesting. Having only read #10 (resurrection), I wanted to share some thoughts which I’ve been working on lately. Your meditation moves in a different direction from what I had expected from the outset (about physical deaths). This Sunday I’m preaching from Phil. 1:12ff. I’m doing so in a congregation which is hurting over the worsening condition of a 57-year old member who has ALS. Unless the Lord intervenes in a miraculous way, Mick will die, and it will not be pretty. This passage in which Paul announces that “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” has come alive in a new way in our situation. I hear Paul acknowledging that he may rejoin his beloved Philippian believers – or he may not. But whatever the outcome, he wants them to put the gospel first (v.27). Why? His death cannot prevent the gospel from going forth. And the lesson for us is, we cannnot afford to fear when and where death will strike; we cannnot afford to fear whom death might take from us. No, the pain and grief of loss will never lessen. But we can face the threat of death with Paul’s reminder: “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
    Best wishes,
    Brad Hansen
    Mediapolis, IA

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