Huh?! That may be your response to some of what you see and hear Jesus saying in the gospel accounts. So many of the things that Jesus says sound so strait forward and easy to understand. And, no more than half-way through a logical sentence, Jesus seems to say something illogical — seemingly counterintuitive to what he just said. One such example of this comes from John 16, where Jesus tells his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Now, the first thought that Jesus gives, “In this world you will have trouble” — we easy comprehend. It is a strait forward thought that seems to parallel our everyday lives. Jesus essentially notes that living in the world is difficult — a lot of evil stuff happens all the time. Don’t be surprised. But, not more than a breath later, Jesus says something that sounds like almost the opposite of what he just said, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Huh? Jesus just said there would be trouble, but — in a sense — he says to not think about that. Rather, Jesus has somehow overcome all of the evil and difficult stuff that happens. So, go ahead and live as if that stuff isn’t happening.
How is it that Jesus sounds like the wisest person we’ve ever met, and at the same time also sound like a complete lunatic? I don’t think I have the time or space or even ability to actually unravel this mystery. But, what I can hopefully offer is a perspective on how to understand why Jesus give thoughts that seem illogical or counterintuitive.
To clarify, I don’t actually understand Jesus to be telling his disciples that just because he (Jesus) showed-up on the scene, now nothing evil will not happen anymore. But, I do actually understand Jesus to be telling his disciples that the evil that continues to happen should not paralyze them with fear anymore. As much as there will still be trouble, Jesus’ very presence and action — while living on earth — has made an impact on the trouble that happens. And, because of Jesus, his followers are no longer to be held in fear to trouble, but are to stay close to him (Jesus) and see what impact he has had against the troubles of the world.
As we read and hear Jesus speaking, it is paramount that we keep in mind who Jesus is. Jesus is the Son of God (having come from his Father in heaven), and because of that, he has a unique perspective on reality. It is a perspective that we, as pure creatures (created beings), do not naturally have. But Jesus — the God-man — does.
I suggest that Jesus’ unique perspective, as the Son of God, is partially a way of reconciling why Jesus can make a paradoxical statement (like the one in John 16) and it makes complete sense to say it. Jesus is speaking both from a human perspective, and from a divine perspective. So, on one hand, Jesus’ presence and action in the world does not seem to have a gigantic affect and change to the troubles of the world. Which, this perspective reflects the first-half of the statement that Jesus makes in John 16 — that there will be trouble. But, from a divine perspective, Jesus’ presence and action in the world does have a gigantic affect and change to the troubles of the world. Which, this perspective reflects the second-half of the statement that Jesus makes in John 16 — that he has overcome the troubles.
What Jesus does here in John 16 (and in many other passages in the Gospels), is a case in which he presents a now, but not yet perspective (a worldview, an understanding of how we make sense of the world). When Jesus speaks of the troubles of this world being overcome, he means that literally. He means that something has happened, that has made significant change to the reality of the world — to overcome it’s troubles. And, that something that has happened is Jesus’ presence and action in the world (and later involves his death, resurrection, and ascension). But also, when Jesus speaks of his disciples still encountering trouble (even though he has entered the world), he also means that literally. He really does mean to say that his followers will still encounter troubles — that they should expect them. He is not saying that they should live with their heads stuck in the sand — living oblivious to the troubles of the world. Rather, he is saying that they should face reality and acknowledge it for what it is, that it is a troubled reality in which they live.
But, as mentioned earlier, Jesus’ disciples — because of Jesus’ presence and action among them — are now empowered to not let the troubles of the world paralyze them. And, taking Jesus’ language about eternity (as given throughout the gospels and New Testament), his disciples are also to be on the lookout for the troubles of this world to one day be completely overcome. They are to be on the lookout for a day when they will not just be un-paralyzed by troubles, but those troubles themselves will actually disappear.
This is what a now, but not yet perspective of reality looks like. It looks like a disciple of Jesus living in the reality that Jesus has made an impact against the troubles of the world, but from our point-of-view, those troubles have not been completely eradicated. The process of eradication is done, but not yet fully seen (or realized).
A good illustration of this understanding of reality can come from our own culture. And, it can come from the recent 2016 Presidential election. Now, I am not using this illustration to approve or disapprove of the President elect, Donald Trump. But, Donald Trump’s recent win in the election illustrates this point (as would any President elect from years past or in years to come). As, Donald Trump won the election, the U.S., and even the world, gave indication that something impactful had just happened. The stock market went bizerk for a little bit, and that impact came ringing across all news feeds. Even, from news reports in our neighboring country to the north, Canada, rumblings came about regarding how a Donald Trump’s presidency would impact trade, security, and societal ethics (in the U.S., and in the U.S.’s presence around the world). The point I want to make here is that Donald Trump was only just elected as President. He hadn’t yet taken office. He hadn’t yet been able to ratify legislation. But, his mere presence as the winner of the election, and now his action of beginning to appoint his cabinet of advisors is having a real-life impact on how the U.S. society operates, as well as how the global society operates. The President Elect is already having an impact, even though what he’ll actually do, has not yet been done or fully materialized. As we see in this illustration, even in the U.S., there is a now, but not yet understanding of politics. Donald Trump’s Presidency has commenced, but it hasn’t been fully realized yet. There is a real impact, but that impact will not be fully realized until after he takes office. Not necessarily trying to tie Jesus and Donald Trump together, but the same is true of Jesus’ work on earth. Jesus has commenced the act of overcoming the troubles of the world, and that commencement has already had an impact on his disciple’s lives (living un-paralyzed to trouble). But, overcoming the troubles of the world has not yet fully been seen (has not yet fully materialized).
So, I want to affirm that I don’t think Jesus is a lunatic. Rather, Jesus is the wisest person to ever make his presence known on the earth, because he was the God-man, with a God-man perspective on reality, and the God-man kind of ability to truly overcome the troubles of the world. My hope is that you would adjust your worldview to one of now, but not yet. That you would not stick your head in the sand about the real troubles of the world. But, that you would live amidst those troubles in the peace and hope that those troubles have already been overcome by Jesus. We just aren’t able to fully see that side of reality — yet.