FAITHFULNESS AMID THE ABSURD by   for Servants of Grace

Franz Kafka (1883–1924) once wrote a parable titled “An Imperial Message.” In it, an Emperor’s messenger faces surreal trials as he delivers an important message. This messenger is an “indefatigable man,” bearing the symbol of the Emperor and thus having “the way made easier for him than it would be for any other man,” But hear how his journey turns out:

The multitudes [of people] are so vast. . . . How vainly does he wear out his strength. . . . He must next fight his way down the stair . . . the courts would still have to be crossed . . . and once more stairs and courts . . . and once more another palace; and so on for thousands of years.

Although mandated, encouraged, and empowered by the Emperor, this quest seems like it will never be fulfilled. The key to this story—the thing that makes it Kafkaesque—is that the crowds, courts, and stairs seem to stretch (ad absurdum) due to the importance of the journey. The effect caused by this parable, then, is that the world is a labyrinth designed to weary us when we pursue our most important tasks.

Have you ever felt this way as you “walk-in” the “good works, which God prepared beforehand” (Eph. 2:10)? I know I have. Perhaps you’re burdened by endless red tape as you try to better your community, you’re worn down by endless criticism as you lead a church, or you’ve seen endless disobedience regarding the simple lesson you’ve taught your son over and over again.

When you are overwhelmed by Sisyphean conflicts, I encourage you remember this sentence to remains faithful: this world causes despair, but God is sovereign, and I bear Jesus’s name.

1.) This world causes despair . . .

In response to such conflicts, Christians may wish to sweep any suggestion of hopelessness under the rug without engaging with it. But we need to face it directly, truthfully. While it is a true and perfect word that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28), it is uncompassionate (and naïve) to disengage from feelings of despair with a shrug, saying, “Well, there’s a reason for everything.”

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