Your home is on fire. With only seconds to spare, you have time to salvage one possession. Hurry: What item do you save from the flames?
It’s a classic dilemma. Youth group leaders use it as an icebreaker. Teachers wield it as a get-to-know-you activity. Others write about it. Look no further than opinion pieces in The New York Times, than full-fledged books on Amazon. Author Foster Huntington collected answers from around the globe, publishing them within The Burning House: What Would You Take? It seems we all want to know our own and others’ answers to the question: If your house was burning, what would you take?
But the wonder doesn’t surround what we would “carry out” with us, as the word take implies. What we really want to know, is this: Should our homes become wisps of black and piles of ash, what possession would we cling to amidst despair? Given the choice, most of us can discern one thing that would make us to say among the sighs: “And yet, I have this.”
Godliness: A Costly Treasure
Though our homes may not burn to the ground, Christian lives will meet suffering. Just ask Paul. In his second letter to Timothy, Paul commends the young man for much more than good works. He writes, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra” (2 Timothy 3:10–11, emphasis added).
Love for God moved Timothy to imitate Paul, who sought to mirror Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). As a result, the fruits of the Spirit began to crop up in Timothy’s life — attributes like patience and love. But Paul’s list does not end there. As the Spirit dawned godliness in Timothy, his godliness was met with suffering and persecution.
The lives of Timothy and Paul — they are the rule, not the exception. For Paul goes on to say that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Suffering is not an option for the Christian. People who “forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness” will clamor for us to join them (Proverbs 2:13). When — Lord willing — we do not, the world will not be happy with us. In fact, we should not be surprised when it hates us (1 John 3:13).
Our Sweetest ‘And Yet’
So when (not if) the world tries to set your life aflame because of your faith in Christ, when (not if) you meet other “trials of various kinds” (James 1:24) that burn through the life you once knew, like terminal illness or joblessness or depression — what will you cling to?
Ultimately, the Sunday-school answer is the right answer. We cling to Jesus. But in order to run to him, we must know where he is. Where do Christians find him? Paul has an answer for us.
“Evil people and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:13–17, emphasis added).”
When suffering barges into our lives, to Christ we cling. And we cling to him through knowledge of him. And God has laced this knowledge throughout “the sacred writings” (2 Timothy 3:15). Daily we must look upon “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” that’s found in Scripture, lest we forget he who is our only hope in sorrow (2 Corinthians 4:6).
He is more than an answer to a hypothetical question. He is the answer to the Christian reality of suffering. Our faces wet, he is the only one we can confidently point to as we say: “And yet, we have Christ.”