When my two daughters were in school, they would share with me some of the difficulties they faced. Things like little tiffs between friends or facing a deadline for a paper or project. They were frustrated or harried or worried. Usually I was attentive and understanding. However, occasionally they would complain about such things when I was facing deadlines for newsletter articles, finishing an order of worship for the bulletin, trying to complete charge conference forms, along with preparing for Bible studies, appointments and meetings. At such times, I was prone to reply, “Welcome to the real world.”
When my oldest daughter got her first job managing an office, she sometimes would call and ask advice about what she was facing. It might have been someone who was upset with the schedule or two office mates feuding or just the frustration of balancing work and family. On my least pastoral, let alone fatherly moments, I would say something akin to, “Welcome to the real world of work.” (For the record, I did have better “dad” moments.)
Of course, in all these examples, I was implying that the real world was the world of work and worry. The real world was the world with a lack of time and deadlines, of pressure, stress and worry. I was saying to my daughters, the world of childhood wasn’t real. The world of school wasn’t real. A world without the pressures of adulthood wasn’t real.
In the midst of a pandemic, physical distancing and negotiating the least risky way to be with others, we live in the “real world” of tension and anxiety. With an upcoming election, we live in the “real world” of partisanship, conflicting world views, and strong opinions. It’s tough living in the “real world.”
Certainly the author of Revelation lived in the “real world.” John had been banished to the island of Patmos because of his faith. He was exiled because he believed that Jesus was the Christ, the author of salvation, and the Lord of all creation. John’s punishment was emblematic of many Christians in Asia Minor. For them, the “real world” appeared to be the world of Roman dominance and religious persecution. They experienced harassment because of their faith. They struggled to remain true to Jesus and continue to be his faithful disciples. It seemed that Rome had the upper hand and its dominance would triumph over the truth of the Gospel.
But then God offered John a gift of grace, a glimpse of heaven. There John saw the triumphant Christ. Rome might have crucified Jesus, but they did not kill him. Jesus is shown reigning supreme as Sovereign of the Universe. Later in the book of Revelation, John is allowed to view other scenes in heaven. In these, he sees that those who have been martyred for their faith are fully alive, clothed in glory, and basking in the joy of God’s presence. Moving beyond the often bizarre images John describes, the truth that is shared with him is that beyond this “real world,” there is a really-real world – the world of God’s presence and power.
We are in a season of extreme uncertainty, anxiety and unease. At times, the worries of the day, or hour, or minute can captivate our thoughts and constrict our vision. I pray that in the midst of turmoil, you will remember that beyond the “real world” of our worries, is the really-real world of God’s kingdom. May God guide you to this truth and the hope that it brings.
Note, the following reflection arose out of rereading Adam Hamilton’s Study, Christianity’s Family Tree. Specifically the trajectory of thought in this devotion comes from Chapter One, where he describes Orthodox worship as “a mystical reality designed to help worshipers ‘see’ divine reality.”
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