Scholar’s Compass is our ongoing online devotional for academics. In it, we ask authors to write about how their academic vocations and their lives as followers of Christ fit together in a simple format: A quote from Scripture or a Christian author, a reflection, a question to think about, and a prayer. Since we launched the series in 2014, Scholar’s Compass has been one of our most widely read features. You can browse the whole series here. In this post, ESN author Christian Brady continues his Scholar’s Compass series on transitions. Follow this link for the whole series.
Quote and Reflection
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.”
This is a quote from the author and pastor Frederick Buechner that I have used often in graduation speeches. I readily admit that I found this quote while trolling various sites looking for good material. As dean of the honors college, I had to give three speeches every year, one for each semester and the summer, and while I kept my overall message the same (“Be people of honor, not just people who have earned honors”) I tried to provide some variety for the sake of the faculty who were present at almost all ceremonies. This quote is ideal as a statement for students ready to head out into the “real world” and it is not surprising that I found it in many such speeches. It presents a fundamental truth: Life is hard and full of challenges, but there will be beauty and joy in the midst of suffering and grief, so embrace it.
When I began work on a book about the biblical theology of suffering and grace I thought “Beautiful and Terrible Things” would be an ideal title. Suffering the perpetual graduate student paranoia of citing all sources, I set out to track down the origin of the quote and the context took me by surprise and made it all the more fitting for my project. The quote is found in Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith. This was the entry for G, “Grace.”
The grace of God means something like: “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you.”
My first response was to chuckle. Of the many speeches I read that used this quote, I would wager very few of the authors would know or embrace the context and original intent. Yet how perceptive and prescient is Buechner’s message in the context of transitions such as graduation? Or of living this side of the empty tomb?
Indeed, I believe Buechner’s nine sentences capture beautifully the truth of the biblical message of suffering and grace. We live in a world that God made for us and it is not complete without us. Last of all God said, “Let us make humankind in our image.” Yet this world is broken by our sin and we daily encounter truly terrible things. This is the reality for everyone. As Christians we recognize that God’s grace exists in this world as well. There is beauty and, most importantly, God is with us, nothing can ever separate us.
We daily live in this tension of the “already and the not yet.” Christ has already won the victory and through his sacrifice has given us eternal life. He will restore all creation to its intended glory and ourselves to his divine image, but not yet. As we walk across the stage at graduation, down the aisle at our wedding, drive the car cross-country to our first job, or liquidate our assets to prepare for retirement, we are in transition, we are living in-between. And it will be more than OK, it will be wonder-ful. Remember that at all times and everywhere, God is with us and loves us.
Rom. 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Even if you are not at an obviously liminal moment such as graduation, you are likely to still be in some sort of transition. What is that and how does considering it as a time of transition in light of today’s reflection help you?
- There will be “beautiful and terrible things” in life. How does it encourage you to know that God is present in it all?
- As we embrace the “already,” that Christ has died for us, how do you live in the “not yet?” There is work remaining for us to do in this world; what work is God calling you to do?
Image courtesy of Pexels at Pixabay.com
About the author:
Christian M. M. Brady is a scholar of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and an academic administrator. His academic research focuses upon the interpretation of the Bible in antiquity, especially the ancient rabbinic commentaries of the books of Lamentations and Ruth known as “Targum.” He has also written extensively on the topic of suffering and grace. Brady is a faculty member in the department of Modern & Classical Languages, Literatures & Cultures and is dean of the Lewis Honors College at the University of Kentucky. Prior to that he was dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State from 2006-2016, director of the Honors Program (2003-2006) and the Jewish Studies Program (1998-2003) at Tulane University. He is an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church.