By: Jake Johnson
I sit on my porch, sipping a coffee at 2 in the afternoon with my journal and a pen in hand with no words on the page. It’s been weeks since I’ve undone the elastic band around the journal, or even thought about it for that matter. What was once a daily rhythm has become a chore, just like the pile of dishes sitting on the counter. My sip of coffee is interrupted by the humidity and pollen of Georgia, which are then interrupted by a blow of one of the four winds and the sight of a brown thrasher who is late for his lunch. My pessimism is met with a smile, and I am reminded of the Lord’s words that I am far more valuable than a bird. I look up from my coffee, and see the kids down the street playing in a sprinkler. A tear joins my smile, and I remember who Jesus says the Kingdom is for, and pray that I may one day be young enough to play in a sprinkler again.
Perhaps these moments are part of what Jesus means when he told the pharisees that “the Kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21). Perhaps, when Jesus said these words, he glanced over to the kids playing in the sprinkler.
I miss the summers of innocence. I miss the days when I could admire the beauty of a woman and not lust after her. I miss the days of nerf wars and popsicles, above-ground pools and bike rides. I miss the joy of child-like faith, when Jesus was my best friend and I gave and received love without fear. As Dan Allender puts it, “innocence is the ability to be in awe.” When the beauty of a woman, the color of the sunset, and the blow of the breeze no longer awaken awe within your heart, you have lost your innocence. God knows I have lost mine. I miss intimately knowing what Jesus meant when he said “the Kingdom of God is among you.” I miss Eden — afterall, it’s etched onto all of our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Or have we forgotten that Eden was once our home?
Somehow, this deep yearning within me to taste and feel the joy of the Lord and the Kingdom of God has been translated over the years as “a place in the clouds you go to when you die,” and it is no wonder countless people lose heart.
If it’s all about going off into the clouds somewhere, then it all seems quite boring. What about sex and romance, nature and adventure, friendship and food? What about hope, longing, joy, and restoration? What about life? What about front-yard sprinklers?
My sage, John Eldredge, once said, “I daresay we’ve heard a bit about original sin, but not nearly enough about original glory, which comes before sin and is deeper to our nature. We were crowned with glory and honor. Why does a woman long to be beautiful? Why does a man hope to be found brave? Because we remember, if only faintly, that we were once more than we are now.” John has a way of speaking to the heart with his poetic prose, and as I think about this quote in relation to the kids and the sprinkler, I believe that the kids were acting out of that original glory — the one that is deeper and truer to our nature than our sin and rebellion. They were playing out of innocence.
What I felt today on my porch was nothing short of a sudden beating in my heart for restoration, for the glory of the Lord to be restored in me. Recently, my head has become full of knowledge and my heart full of stones — but every now and again I am able to push through the religious fog of Churchianity and the cynicism of a secular world and have eyes to see and ears to hear. I just didn’t think the Kingdom would advance through a front-yard sprinkler.
But is this not the offer of Jesus? To restore us? To invite us to become citizens of the Kingdom, and then go out and co-labor alongside him, bringing God’s reign to the rest of the world? Jesus said that he came to heal the broken-hearted, and in case you haven’t realized it yet, we’re all broken-hearted. If we miss this, we miss everything. The saddest mistake of all is to miss Jesus for who he is — and to miss his mission. And so we fill our time with our drug of choice, whether it be alcohol or exercise or even church, to avoid the pain and ache of our hearts. To miss him for who he is and settle for the world as it is is to put to death the aching for eternity within us, that thumping and beating within our hearts for our true lives of intimacy and adventure, of abundant Goodness and joy. To once again quote my sage, “we abandon the most important journey of our lives when we abandon desire. We leave our hearts by the side of the road and head off in the direction of fitting in, getting by, being productive, what have you. Whatever we might gain – money, position, the approval of others, or just the absence of the discontent self – it’s not worth it.” There is a reason why video games and Netflix won’t satisfy, and why pornography and one-night stands always leave one feeling empty. There is a reason why the world is filled with many men with dead hearts and large 401ks, and why the stache of cheap romance novels never fills the void in the heart of the stay-at-home mom. It is because we were made for so much more than an alternative of what God has declared as good. Of course the video games won’t satisfy — we were made to swim the Caribbean and climb the Rockies. And the pornography, hook-ups, and cheap romance novels? We were made for a love that is as strong as death, not a lust that will suck the life out of you like a pack of Marlboros.
I miss the dreams we had as kids. When I was 12, all my friends and I wanted to change the world. At 20, often my greatest desire is for a drink. Or 12. But who wouldn’t want to down a couple of six-packs every week if the promise of Jesus is for a pew with our name on it up in the clouds?
Maybe the reason why so many of us have a hard time believing that Jesus came to restore is because it requires too much faith to believe. I mean to really believe it, down to the core of who we are. Down to our nephesh— our soul. Which, for those who like Hebrew, always refers to someone’s entire being. The very essence of an individual. We’ve been hurt too much, bruised and battered by the enemy and by a world that so often looks like hell. And we’ve contributed to this bruising and battering, choosing Death over Life time and time again and then picking up the shovel time and time again in search of healing. But we reap what we sow, and our constant search of healing in the painful and hurtful things of this world wound us even more. As God told Cain, our khata (sin) is crouching at our door, waiting to destroy us (Genesis 4:7). And so, we lose heart. We accept the world as it is, offering a cynical laugh at all those bright-eyed kids who actually think they can make a difference. We find battle in Fortnite, adventure in Netflix, and romance in screen-clicks. And for awhile, it may seem like we are winning. Afterall, in this world, the guy who wins is the one with the dead heart and a pocket full of Bens. But it is a good reminder to know that it is white, middle-class men who have one of the highest rates of suicide and depression in the United States. As Eldredge says, to lose heart is to lose everything.
Simon Weil said that the two things that pierce the human heart are beauty and affliction. I think we are all familiar with affliction, but I am probably not the only one who more often than not refuses to allow beauty to pierce my heart. But if I am to believe that Jesus was right in saying that the Kingdom is among us, that he has overcome this world, and that it will one day be fully renewed, then I must open my eyes to the beauty all around me that is prophesying the return of Eden. The innocent laugh of a child, the song of a bird, the patch of grass poking through a concrete slab — all of these are signposts pointing to the renewal of all things, beckoning us to once again believe in fairy tales and worship the One who death bows to. Maybe the reason why Jesus said for us to be like children is not because they are ignorant of the pain of this world, but because they allow the beauty and wonder of this world to pierce their hearts more than the pain. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, it was in a Garden where hell rebelled against heaven, and it was in another Garden where heaven rebelled against hell. Christianity, then, is the ongoing rebellion on the side of heaven against hell, co-laboring with Christ to advance the work and power of the Kingdom of God. And in case you haven’t noticed it, most kids rebel against the cynicism and pessimism of this world. We would do well to be like them.
I truly believe that within every heart is a desire for eternity. I believe, despite how much a heart has become stone, that deep within every man, woman, and child is an overwhelming desire for restoration. They may not know what to call it, but they do know, regardless of how small or faint it may be, that there is an itch within them for something more. As a counseling student, I have talked to too many people for this not to be the case. And the beauty of the Gospel is that this longing for restoration is exactly what Jesus is calling us to. It is to redeem the glory of Genesis 1 and 2, leading us back to become the humans we were made to be and to live the lives we were made to live. He became sin and defeated it, disarming and shaming the spiritual authorities and powers that have held us captive (2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:15). He has inaugurated his Kingdom, and by doing so has turned the world upside down, beginning a process of restoring and reconciling the entire cosmos back to what it was meant to be. We’ve come along way from Eden, and it’s gonna take more than a cake walk to get us back. Maybe a good place to start is by dusting off the sprinkler.
I miss the summers of innocence, and I pray that you do, too. Your move, Chief.
Posted by Jake Johnson