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Christian Realism in this Vale of Tears

Christian Realism in this Vale of Tears

The key to living well in this fallen world is Christian realism. I could just say, “realism,” because the real world, as it has been revealed by God and believed by Christians is the only world we have. The fact that atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, or secularists do not believe in it does not make it any less real. It’s like gravity. Deny it all you want on whatever grounds you want but when you step off a ten-story building your anti-gravity convictions will not save you from reality.

The reality to which I refer is described in the Bible, beginning (but hardly ending) in Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So, this world was created by God and for God. Everything that exists, exists by Him and for Him. Reality consists of Creator and creation; God and not-God; or what Peter Jones calls, “twoism.”

Just as your eyesight allows you to access the beauty of a sunset so your faith allows you to access the power of the resurrection.

Coupled with this, and extending from it, is what the rest of Scripture teaches about “the things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:18). These are the realities that Paul said kept him from losing heart as he focused on them. What are the unseen realities? They include divine promises like the assurance that God works all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28-30) and that having once begun a good work in His children, He will most certainly bring that work to completion (Philippians 1:6). Add to this, teachings such as God’s meticulous providence that governs our lives (as taught in Matthew 10:29-31 and Ephesians 1:11), the resurrection of the dead (which Jesus’ historically validated resurrection guarantees, 1 Corinthians 15:3-23), and the future new heavens and earth when Christ will return to make all things new (Revelation 21:1-8).

These and many other unseen things are just as real as rain, trees, cancer, death, deceit, sin, and betrayal. Seen realities can be accessed by our senses and experience. Unseen realities can only be accessed by faith. That does not mean that faith creates them. It means that faith accesses them. Just as your eyesight allows you to access the beauty of a sunset or the wickedness of a crime so your faith allows you to access the power of the resurrection, the comfort of the risen Christ’s unending presence with His people, or the assurance of God’s sovereign, meticulous, personal, and loving rule over the details of your life.

Faith does not create those realities. It accesses them. In that way faith is like a radio tuner. The tuner allows you to listen to music through the airwaves. The radio doesn’t create the music. The music is already there. The radio lets you access it. 

In a similar way Christians are believers. We live by faith. That is, by taking God at His Word we are enabled to order our lives according to unseen realities. We are not relegated to having our thoughts, affections, or aspirations governed only by the material world. Yes, we live in the seen world as full participants in it, subject to all the joys and sorrows that go with life east of Eden. But we also know about and have access to the unseen world with all its promises, blessings, and assurances. 

By taking God at His Word we are enabled to order our lives according to unseen realities.

Because of this Christians can let the realities of both the seen and unseen worlds shape our attitudes, choices, hopes, and emotions. This is particularly helpful when dealing the trials, sorrows, and loss that inevitably come in this fallen world. Christians do not have to deny the painful realities of the seen world. We have no need to pretend or to downplay the grief that tribulations bring. We are creatures of like nature with other people (Acts 14:15). We know what it is to lament, to weep, and to suffer. It would be a denial of reality—the things which are seen—not to let oneself respond with normal human emotion when going through trials. But, we need not be cast into hopeless despair, either.

Why? Because there is more to reality than what can be measured by our senses. Unseen realities—those things that have been revealed to us and that can be genuinely accessed by faith—must also be factored into our thinking and emotions. 

Are you suffering sickness, death of a loved one, or some other kind of painful loss? As you face your trial honestly—realistically—do not forget the unseen, eternal realities that are also true. As a child of God, you are eternally loved by Him. Your life is in His hands. He is orchestrating even painful events in ways that will result in what He deems best for you. Though you have not chosen this path of sorrow, you can know for certain, just as assuredly as you know the pain you cannot deny, that your loving Heavenly Father has ordained it for you and has done so for your eternal welfare.

Where this all comes together in sharp focus is the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. The seen realities were obvious. He was betrayed, hated, ridiculed, mocked, beaten, treated unjustly, and executed on a Roman cross. But the unseen realities cannot be denied. In that murderous event, the greatest miscarriage of human justice in history, God was doing His deepest work of redemption. Though not apparent to the senses God was reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). He was making a full atonement for the sins of His people (Hebrews 10:10-25). He was securing justification for all who trust Jesus as Lord (Romans 3:20-25).

Though you have not chosen this path of sorrow, you can know for certain, that your loving Heavenly Father has ordained it for you and has done so for your eternal welfare.

There was more going on than met the eye. The same is true in all our trials. That unseen “more,” which we know by faith, is an essential part of reality. 

For Christians who are determined to live in reality, there is only one path forward. We must learn with Paul to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Sorrowful when we suffer loss and our hopes and plans have been overturned, yet rejoicing because Christ lives. He rules. He loves us and cares for us and is working to make certain that no promise given to us will fail.

This is undoubtedly the hardest emotional path, but it is the best one. It is also the right one. Far easier to calibrate your emotions by only one set of realities to the exclusion of the other. You can deny the pain of what your senses assure you is true and often feel spiritual in the process because you allow only unseen realities be felt. Or you can let what you see and experience overwhelm you to the point of despair as if that there are no unseen realities to be taken into account. In other words, you can respond to trials with either sorrow or rejoicing exclusively. But both of those paths consider only part of reality. To let yourself be both “sorrowful” and “rejoicing” is the path that takes into consideration all reality—both seen and unseen. As such it enables Christians to display genuine faith in our crucified, risen Savior as we continue our walk through this vale of tears.


Follow Tom Ascol:

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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