Feeling the Tension

  • Nathan Schneider
man crossing a tight rope

Well, I suppose that there’s one thing on everyone’s mind today, and it’s not cupcakes. We’re all probably going about our day-to-day tasks, at work or at home, with the same lingering thought cycling through our minds. We may push it away, telling ourselves that there’s no use dwelling on it, that we just need to be patient, that thinking about it won’t change anything. Those self-induced counseling sessions work for a little while, but ultimately the same questions creep back in for another round of distraction. We just want to know what’s happening. We want an answer, either way. We want to know who the next leader of our nation will be. That’s the tension of the moment, and the entire nation is undoubtedly feeling it. 

But in fact, tension is a reality that comes with the territory of being a Christian. If you don’t feel some kind of tension in life, then something is most likely amiss spiritually. That’s because one of the great paradigms through which we view the Christian life is that it is a life lived in dynamic tension. Obviously, this is an uncomfortable reality. We tend to resist tension. Like water, which naturally flows in the path of least resistance, our human tendency is to try, if at all possible, to release these tensions.

There are numerous tensions we could talk about…the dynamic tension inherent in the hypostatic union of Christ, the God-man, the mystical reality of the trinitarian Godhead, the tension between human responsibility and God’s sovereignty over our lives, our salvation, our sanctification, etc. These are all real and legitimate tensions to feel, ponder, and embrace.

Another tension exists, though, which deserves far more thought than we tend to give it. It’s a tension that’s expressed, among other places, in John 17:14-16…

“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”

One of the great tensions of the Christian life is the reality that we do not belong to this world. It’s a thought that seems absolutely counterintuitive. We are born here. We grow up here. We live our lives in this world. We eat, breathe, work, and play in this world. We engage with this world. Yet we are not of it. We don’t belong to it.

And that reality produces tension. Every day we are surrounded by those who are of this world. And the very fact that we are not, means that there is a dynamic tension that exists in our relationships with unbelievers. You will work alongside them at your jobs. You will sit next to them and talk with them and befriend them at your kid’s little league games. You will see them at your family reunions. You may live with them under the same roof. You may go to school with them, or even sit under their instruction in class. Nevertheless, we are not of this world, and because of that, there is a tension that we feel in this life. It’s the reason we feel tension today. We know the grand scheme. We know who ultimately wins…who sits on the throne. Yet we want to know who will be in the White House come January. Tension.

We live in this world, but we don’t belong to it. We belong to another world—a world to come. We have been delivered from this world…this domain of darkness…and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son…the world to come (Col 1:13). We know that our citizenship is in this world to come, and that we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 3:20). As such, we live as sojourners and aliens in a foreign land to which we don’t belong (1 Pet 2:11). More than that, we live as ambassadors for this coming kingdom—we call this world to renounce its current citizenship and pledge allegiance to the king of the world that is coming.

Part of living the Christian life is feeling that tension—of belonging and yet not belonging, of being here and yet feeling totally out of place. We have these relationships—family, friends, colleagues—and it’s hard to know sometimes how to relate to them because they are of a different world. It’s hard to know how to feel about an election like what we had yesterday, because it represents a nation to which we belong and yet we don’t belong, and it concerns a president to whom we must submit, and yet whom we know is not our King.

But here’s the great challenge. Like we already noted, we don’t like to live in tension. And because of that, we are constantly tempted to relieve that tension in one of two ways:

  1. Retreat and disengage – we keep away.
  2. Bridge the gap – to live like the world, to blur the distinction between them and us.

Neither of these are options for us. We’re not allowed to relieve this tension. So it could be said, then, that when it comes to living as Christians in this world, we live in a dynamic tension—a tension that we have to feel.

Stay tuned over the next few Wednesdays as we look at some important questions we need to ask ourselves as we navigate living in a world to which we don’t belong. In the meantime…embrace the tension.