Everything is All right

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At first, this post is going to seem like a rebuttal to the Proprietor’s recent entry, “All is Not Well.” But things are not always as they seem, which is kind of what this post is about. It’s not so much a rebuttal as a companion piece to Andrew’s beautiful post.

For the Andrew Peterson Christmas Show at the Ryman each year, we regulars get to pick one song to perform for the sold-out crowd in attendance. What a wonderful problem. For me, the process of choosing the song for the Ryman show starts somewhere in March or April, and continues through the sweltering Nashville summer. In 2005, I still hadn’t decided what to sing when my wife Amy and I walked out onto the Ryman stage. I had recently written a song about The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe with Pierce Pettis, and I really wanted to play it, but I also had this new song called “Bluebird” that I thought would be cool. Halfway from the curtain to the microphone, I whispered to Amy, “Bluebird,” capo’d my Taylor and off we went. Turns out, you really want to give your wife more prep-time than that if you’re going to be singing at the Ryman. Live and learn, I hope.

In 2009, I picked my song about two weeks before the event. I had been trying to finish a song I’d worked on all year about Africa, but it wasn’t coming together right and my new song “With Jesus” had recently come together after months of waiting. The chorus of the song sings, “With Jesus, everything is alright.”

It’s harrowing to say and even more-so to sing, especially in the light of deep personal tragedy or global catastrophe like what we are witnessing in Haiti. I wouldn’t recommend it as a slogan for the local church plant, or even as advice to be parceled out to loved ones in times of trouble. But it is as true as “all shall be well”, and it deserves as much attention.

As I was writing the song, the chorus came first, which created a great challenge. I was singing the lyrics before I was sure if I even believed them. But this is how songs get you in trouble. They lead you down paths you’d never have taken and then leave you to find yourself out.

It is true that with Jesus, everything is alright because “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Everything is not happy, nor is everything simple or easy or understandable. But if Jesus is making all things new, and we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, we can call our hearts to rest in Him, for as all shall be well one day, so also is everything in his hands now.

This is important for me to remember because it reminds me that not only is God on the move, but he is here and he is up to something good. He is present and active in the middle of our desperate pain. I can rest because I cannot slip from his grasp, he cannot be distracted from his purpose and he can be trusted to see me through. If, in times of trial, I only ever resort to hoping in the future that heaven holds, I may miss out on the words and purposes God has for me through the present experience of my relationship with him. I may hope for heaven, but my hope is in Christ–and he’s right here.

If my daughter is reading a story and she runs to me, scared by a troubling scene, which statement is more true for me to say:

“Keep reading, sweetheart, it’s going to be OK,”

or

“It’s OK, sweetheart. Just keep reading.”

Is it going to be alright? Or is it alright now, in the middle of the sorrow and danger? Or is it both.

I know the end of the story, and it is powerful, beautiful, and true.

The lynchpin of the gospel is that Christ himself dwells within his people by His Spirit. His Spirit is called Counselor and Comforter, and those are things that happen in real time – not in the future to come, but right now. Part of the reason “Do not fear” resonates is, we have been given power beyond human comprehension to reflect and glorify the God of the universe today. He is with us, and he is making himself known so that Love will prevail both now and forever.

I wrote this as a companion piece to AP’s post because the Gospel assumes our participation in both perspectives, and I need more than the hope of what is to come to make sense of “give thanks in all circumstances.”

It would be loveless to preach this message via bumper sticker.  But in my life, Jesus has used this truth of God’s present grace as a powerful comfort in troubled times.


14 Comments

  1. Andrew

    I was telling a friend the other day that this paradox has me more and more puzzled. Our life experience is pretty painful and stretching, yet somehow the richness of Jesus and his holding of us is intensified through that very suffering. He does not necessarily make the aching go away (at least he hasn’t in our circumstances), but his beauty is much more tangible and more fully known here in the middle of deep struggle. At the same time I want out of the pain and love the richness. I don’t get it. My friend says that’s a good place to be. It’s pressing me deeper into Jesus for sure.

  2. Chris Slaten

    Amen. We often refer to it as the already not yet. I believe that it is just the type of holy tension that He wants us to live in. We try to quench it by running to one side or the other, but an honest response to life, the spirit and scripture puts us right in the middle where we can clearly hear him say, “Be still and grow.”

  3. Jud

    Randall, you need to write more here at the Rabbit Room. “With Jesus” has issued a powerful challenge to me, and I’m thankful for it.

    Plus it has one of my favorite single lines ever: “things were going just great / until they weren’t”. Seriously, could any single statement describe life any truer than that?

  4. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Randall,

    Dan Stone, in his book The Rest of the Gospel (When the Partial Gospel Has Worn You Out), calls that tension (between what we see and what God says already is) “The Swing.” He gives the picture of a swing; at the top, where it is attached to limb or structure, the swing is stable. It does not move; it is at rest. This is the “above the line reality,” as he calls it. This is where Christ dwells in us, in our spirit.

    At the bottom, though, where the seat is, it swings back and forth between what we perceive as “good” and “evil.” “Good” being what is pleasant, comfortable, what makes me feel good; these things can even be “God’s tangible presence” or “God working through me.” This is soul. Soul is variable, changeable, responsive to environment and circumstance. Dan says that what we try to do is nail that swing up on the side of “Good.” We try to stabilize the soul (psuche) so that we feel “good.” We try to read more, pray more, give more, do more devotional time, trying to maintain good “God-feelings.”

    But that swing always comes down, because it isn’t meant to be nailed to one side. We are meant to swing back and forth. Sometimes things are going well in our lives. Sometimes they are not. Sometimes we feel God’s presence; sometimes we don’t. Screwtape called this “The Law of Undulation.” This is meant by God to be what it is. We are meant to swing this way. It is this swing, especially in the low times, that gives us the opportunity to choose. Am I going to believe the Gospel, that Christ died for my sins, that I died in Him, that God accepts me and loves me, that Christ in the power of His resurrection has resurrected me? Am I going to believe that I am truly alive in Christ, even in the face of low feelings, dashed hopes?

    It is this choosing, this faith-act of the will, that God is concerned with.

    What we have to do, regardless of where the swing is at any given moment, is know, and I mean learn to know experientially, that at the top of the swing all is well. The Anchor holds within the veil. All is well, if we could see what God sees – for He sees the end of all things, and He sees His infinite love-purposes being worked out here and now.

    All is not always well here, from our perspective on the swing. “This, too, shall pass” is just a way to say that the swing will soon enough swing to the “good” side for awhile. But to grasp what is happening at the top of the swing, where there is no movement, only stability, rest, strength, power – that is where we really can be still, in our spirits, and know that He is God, even though soul and circumstance go on swinging back and forth.

  5. whipple

    I wouldn’t accept this truth from most people. I think if I hadn’t met you, Randall, and spoken with you, if I hadn’t heard songs like “Sylvester” or lines like, “I think I’d rather just go to Hell,” I would be less inclined to give ear. When I chance to turn the radio dial past the local Christian music station, perhaps the most frustrating part of the lyrical content is that it smacks of a pasted-on smile. It feels like a man “singing songs to a heavy heart.” There’s a difference between the constant smile and the easy face of peace.

    I suppose that community is part of that experience. Just like it’s inappropriate except in clearly Spirit-led circumstances to give moral correction to a perfect stranger, telling the stranger that everything will be okay can be like surgery where only balm is needed. It takes a degree of trust to accept reassurance. Honestly, with me it’s probably part community and a hefty dose of cynicism that brings me to this. But knowing that someone has gone through the crucible gives credit to their joy. Only after we read of “the valley of the shadow of death,” of “dashing infants’ heads on the rocks” and “all my bones are out of joint” do we get to the end of the Psalms, where every song begins and ends with Hallelujah.

  6. Chris R

    I love the tension and the fact that The Rabbit Room is a place that can address both sides of the tension with grace and truth. Neither feels insincere, in fact both feel authentic… real. Thanks for being that place (I guess that thanks is directed at the impersonal existence of The Rabbit Room)… thanks for being those writers, AP and Randy.

  7. Christopher Dilworth

    Nice reminder to check myself–am I called according to His purpose or am I in a constant state of serving myself– And can I ever finish Oliver Twist or Screwtape letters!?
    Thanks guys.

  8. Amber Leffel

    Wow, wow, really good. Profound. RB, really liking that swing metaphor. Yes, and Randall Goodgame was the one whom I once knew only through song lyrics, and reading this, I felt a little more enlightened to the “man behind the songs,” the character, the heart behind those solid, sweet lyrics.

    “This is important for me to remember because it reminds me that not only is God on the move, but he is here and he is up to something good. He is present and active in the middle of our desperate pain. I can rest because I cannot slip from his grasp, he cannot be distracted from his purpose and he can be trusted to see me through. If, in times of trial, I only ever resort to hoping in the future that heaven holds, I may miss out on the words and purposes God has for me through the present experience of my relationship with him. I may hope for heaven, but my hope is in Christ–and he’s right here.” — A lot of the Christian world seems to emphasize “hoping for Heaven” — I like that you reminded us Who Heaven truly is. He cannot be distracted. He is on the move. He is good.

    Great post!

  9. becky

    Been wondering where you were, Randall. Thanks for this really great post. And Ron, thanks for passing on the swing illustration.

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