Back in May, I went to the opening night of U2’s 30th Anniversary Joshua Tree Tour. I have, consequently, been listening to what I think is one of the greatest albums ever made (although maybe only U2’s second best) off and on ever since. I listen to it in the car on the way to work, in the headphones while I’m writing, and while sitting with friends on the patio on warm late spring evenings. It’s crazy how an album I’ve been listening to off and on for thirty years doesn’t seem to get old.
A few nights ago, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” came through the little Bluetooth speaker on the patio table. As the song approached its lyrical and musical climax, the familiar words soared through the spring air:
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
“That’s gotta be my favourite line in the whole album,” my friend said. I agreed. And then later, as is my habit, I got around to wondering just why that might be.
Is this just a bland affirmation of a squishy liberal universalism where everyone gets to join the party regardless of the things we have done or believed? A rather limp cosmic hug that fails to acknowledge meaningful difference, that ignores justice and truth? A sloppy and incoherent grace that casually paints over all that we have done and all that we have left undone? Is this the hope of the Kingdom Come? One undifferentiated blob of warm fuzzy humanity. Maybe.
Or, perhaps, the lyric points to a future where we cling less tightly to our colours. Where we no longer weaponize our identities against one another. Where we finally learn that our colours are always penultimate (at best), never ultimate. Where we resist the temptation to fashion idols out of the things that God has made. Maybe it has less to with the colours themselves than with how we hold them. Maybe.
Or, maybe it’s neither of the above. Perhaps it’s just bad grammar dressed up in rock star idealism.
I don’t know how best to interpret the line. But I know that I still love it, mostly because I believe in the Kingdom Come. I really do. And I believe that when it comes, the King will know what to do with all the colours and our attachments to them. Because we, rather obviously, don’t.
A few days ago, my son went to an after school discussion group at the Catholic High School he attends. Because Father’s Day is looming on the immediate horizon, he said that they talked about what makes a good father. Having something of a vested interest in my son’s views on the matter, I pressed him to elaborate.
“Well, a good father should be about justice and discipline.”
A rather incredulous cough escaped from my mouth as I recalled a few moments in the last few weeks where my son’s interest in justice and discipline seemed rather more muted.
“Really?” I said, smiling, eyebrows raised. He saw where this train was heading and rapidly altered course.
“Yeah, but a good father should also be about grace and mercy and forgiveness. We talked about how God is the perfect combination of of all these.”
I could hardly disagree.
What a tricky combination, though, particularly for we fathers who are not perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. Justice, discipline, grace, mercy, forgiveness—it’s hard to know just how to calibrate these in our relationships (parental or otherwise). They’re all necessary, but when one category grows bloated and the others atrophy, things go off the rails pretty quickly.
For me, the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery is a paradigmatic case study in how good fathers (or anyone else) ought to deal with issues of mercy and justice.
(There was, presumably, also a man involved in said adultery, but then, as now, men and women were “caught” unequally.)
Jesus covers both of the broad categories necessary for human flourishing:
- Grace/Mercy: Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you.
- Truth/Justice: Go now and leave your life of sin.
But unlike many of us not-always-very-good fathers, Jesus gets the order right.
Apparently Eugene Peterson has a new book out. This morning, I came across a quote where Peterson reflects upon Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”) through the lens of Christian maturity (as opposed to, say, the lens of “Jesus wants me to achieve all of my dreams”). Seems I will need to be adding another Peterson book to my shelf:
In our vernacular, Paul has been around the block a few times. He has been up and he has been down. He is a veteran. He is solidly mature. There are surprises that neither adversity nor success could deal him. He has visited the extremes. And what he knows is that what God has done within him is far more important and lasting and real than anything that could be done to him from the outside by weather or government or persons
Immaturity is that in-between innocence and experience, when we think that by changing what we have or whom we are with or where we are, we can change ourselves. Maturity arrives in a way of life that has form and substance developed from our insides and that knows the significant acts are our responses. Christian maturity experiences that responsiveness when shaped and renewed by faith in Christ.
Mature Christians are able to do all things because they know they don’t have to do everything. They acquire strength to live because they don’t have to be anxious and constantly attentive to trivia, and they don’t have to take responsibility for the whole world on their shoulders.
There are a great many things we can do little or nothing about. The weather is out of our hands. Other people’s emotions are out of our hands. The economy is out of our hands. Mostly we have to live with what families or our bodies or our government hands to us. But there is one enormous difference that is in our hands: we can offer up the center of our lives to the great revealed action of God’s love for us. We can discover that each of us is an absolutely unique individual. We can cultivate the vitality and centering of life that develops out of risking our lives in a relationship with God.
When we do that, we find Paul’s statement neither extravagant nor fanciful: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”