Made popular by Frank Sinatra, one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, The Best Is Yet To Come has been a favorite poppy song since the 60’s. Carried by the jazzy notes of the saxophone and trumpet, accompanied by the rhythmic percussion and subtle piano sounds, the song, with catchy lyrics, is a timeless masterpiece still captivating hearts and commanding smiles. Unfortunately, this feel-good motif of “life always seemingly gets better” has crept into the heart of the modern gospel message. Many churchgoers have adopted this adage into their understanding of God, of life, and of themselves. Although God promises an Earth-bound Heaven where creation is restored and humankind is reconciled, the problem with this “Sinatra-esque thinking” is that it reflects an antithetical and incomplete gospel.
I want to smilingly enjoy Michael Bublé’s rendition and remind myself that the essence of the gospel is that “All gets better all the time.” Again, certainly the hope of Christianity lies in the beauty of continuous and future redemption of humanity, and all creation. In a grander sense though, life may not get better. I’m persuaded that life, and more importantly faith, do not seem to work in a way of linear growth, where failures and setbacks are reserved for the vicious past while accomplishments and triumphs are promises for the brighter future. Life is intertwined with an unfixed and seamlessly uncertain future. Therefore, the unpredictability of life demands creation to authentically engage in the fullness of experience: entering into its adventure with full faith of heart, mind, and soul, joyfully tethering ourselves to God, and partaking in emotions of the heart, thoughts of the mind, and senses of the body.
Life, and more importantly faith, do not seem to work in a way of linear growth.
As journeyers, there will be a time for rejoicing, and a time for mourning, and there will be a time to repeat. The continuum of our lives exist in cyclical circuits where time is experienced through a mixture of happiness and sadness, celebration and grief, gratitude and petition. God pioneers us into a bewildering journey that never promises an easier tomorrow, blessings of success or triumph, or avoidance of pain and suffering. However, God does promise an ever-present Creator always enduring with humanity. This, I believe, is the essence of the true, promised Gospel: Immanuel, the splendorous and good God with us.
I’m reminded of my Christ-devoted grandparents. My dear grandma, widowed at a younger age than most, has lived under the poverty line for many years. Her late husband, a WWI veteran who fought against severe OCD amongst other health issues, was self-constrained to a bed for the last 13 years of his life until he was called home in his mid-60’s. Plagued by poverty and haunted by mental illness in the midst of raising a family and a small farm, my grandparents had their fair share of difficulties. Not many things came easy nor remained easy. Yet their engaging faith endured as they share the testimony of the goodness of God and the precious gift of life throughout uncertainty.
A good friend also comes to mind. The most emotionally intelligent and empathetic person I know, he was born with a physical handicap, and is currently battling his second round of cancer. In his present fight with cancer, he commonly wakes up feverishly sick at night, and drives himself to the nearby hospital, a common second home, where a proper diagnosis does not yet exist for his ongoing condition.
These individuals, considered by many, are not reflections of the best to come: neither are living in richness; neither have extravagant purchases, monumental incomes, or huge social media followings, neither have the best that this world can offer. However, both walk in the splendor and goodness of the Creator. Their testimonies speak to God’s meekness, their lives speak of God’s faithfulness, and their experiences speak of God’s glory. They, like all of us, are everlasting recipients of God’s true best.
Frankly, I am tired of the overused and theologically-inept Christianese phrases that emphasize an overflow of blessing, inspiring an uplift of self-propelled optimism. Hello? We’re in a pandemic! Jobs are being lost, homes are being evicted from, and families are being torn apart. Without coming from a cynical or sadistic point of view, these blessings-are-coming-your-way theological gestures provide no significant weight to reality because God never outright promises the best to come while in this lifetime. The fact is your blessings are present. Your promises are here. God is the best that is, and forever will be. God always offers his available best and never withholds it. In the words of the Psalmist, “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand (Ps. 16:11, NIV). In the midst of life’s highs and lows, the Creator promises an everlasting presence in times of need.
In my short time on Earth, I’ve encountered lazy people luxuriously living off of their lump inheritance, while those who have worked tirelessly only meet a scarce retirement. Life may get better in some regards, and life may get worse in others. There is no equation that will fulfill expectations. Sometimes, decisions are met with consequences, and other times people are the random receivers of others’ successes and failures. Experiences may lead to poverty while others may lead to plenty. Circumstances may lead to war, or they may lead to rest. Of course, the best is to come when Heaven comes to Earth, but in this life, humankind will face hardship and unrest, and the blessings of God can be disguised in seasons of uncertainty. Sometimes when the God of triumph is the expectation, the God of grief is missed. Creation is promised Immanuel, a God authentically engaging in the fullness of experience and with us not matter what life may bring.
Creation is promised Immanuel, a God authentically engaging in the fullness of experience.
Speaking through John the Elder, God declares, “I am making everything new! It is done. I am the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are mine will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children” (Rev. 21:5-6, NIV). May God continue to be with you, and may you fully experience God’s best in this season of uncertainty, and in whatever the future may hold. May you joyfully cling to the promise that God’s best is with you and will forever be by your side. “May you pick a plum from the tree of life, and won’t that be fine.”