Frederick Buechner happens to be one of my favorite theologians. The things Frederick has written about have had a profound impact on my life and on the lives of many. He once wrote a wonderful piece on loving God. In it he said, “To be commanded to love God at all, let alone in the wilderness, is like being commanded to be well when we are sick, to sing for joy when we are dying of thirst, to run when our legs are broken. But this is the first and great commandment nonetheless. Even in the wilderness – especially in the wilderness – you shall love him.”
Beautiful stuff. But his life didn’t start out so beautiful. He grew up in a difficult and fractured family. By the time Frederick was 10 years old his father once a brilliant honor student at Princeton had become an alcoholic unable to keep a job. In his despair and shame rather than face his classmates at his 10 year reunion, he went into the garage and took his own life.
This event of course both haunted and shaped young Frederick. When people would ask him how his father died, he would say, heart trouble. Which he felt was at least partially true. Frederick went on to be an honor student at Princeton as well and a brilliant writer. But he could never really shake this depression that lay hold of his heart and eventually he became unable to find the strength to even write. He was edging toward the very pit that his father fell off into so many years earlier when a friend suggested that he go to Madison Ave. Presbyterian church in New York. After several weeks of attending, God began to speak to his heart and he fell in love with Jesus. Years later he would write, “The worst isn’t the last thing about the world. It’s the next to the last thing. The last thing is the best. It’s the power from on high that comes down into the world… Can you believe it? The last, best thing is the laughing deep in the hearts of the saints, sometimes our hearts even. Yes. You are terribly loved and forgiven. Yes. You are healed. All is well.”
The worst things are never the last things with Jesus. What a profound word for the times in which we find ourselves. No one can live without hope and the world needs our witness now more than ever. Will we be those people who insist that yes, this world is broken, but in Christ all that is broken will be made new? Will we be the ones in our communities who live and speak that the worst thing is never the last thing because the worst thing has already been defeated? Through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead we have been raised into a living hope. It is alive in us and nothing, not even death can take it from us. And that my friends, changes everything.