Depending on what date and time you are reading this, you are either living in the final days leading up to the release of Avengers: Endgame or you are existing in a post-Endgame world. In a few short days I will know which of those two time-frames was a better place to live… the bitter fallout from the conclusion of Avengers: Infinity War or the finality of the Marvel universe after the curtain falls on Endgame. I’m torn on this… as much as I walked out in stunned disbelief after Infinity War literally DUSTED dozens of our heroes, I still had a small flicker of hope once I processed all of the events. Dr. Strange’s odd final interaction with Tony, the fact that another Avengers movie is still coming, and the obvious changes that must occur to enable the upcoming Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy movies tell me that this is not over. There is still hope. There are still possibilities. Once the final secrets of Endgame are spilled, Marvel’s first three cinematic movie phases will come to an end and all hope will be replaced with certainty. It is an odd juxtaposition of excitement and dread that fill me as I look towards this looming date with destiny on my calendar…
Here’s the thing… in my gut I know that everyone will not survive this curtain call. As painful as it was to watch the final scenes of Infinity War unfold… the core Avengers were still alive at the end of that conflict. I doubt I will be able to say the same at the end of this one. Maybe Tony Stark will offer himself up as the final sacrifice and save them all in a final blaze of glory. Perhaps the “man out of time” will finally be laid to rest and the movie will close with a flag being laid on the coffin of Captain America. Ant-Man could choose to re-enter the Quantum Zone knowing he will never return. So many possibilities… none of which I am terribly anxious to see. But I think we all know that in order to set the universe right and bring back at least SOME of those we lost, a major sacrifice (probably two or three) is waiting in the wings. Finality is coming…
As familiar as we are with the concept of life being birthed from death, it is natural for us to resist it. And perhaps one of the most painful aspects of the “Thanos snap” that snuffed out the lives of so many characters was the incredibly random nature of it. It was incredibly unclear why some were dusted and others were not… it just HAPPENED. It may have a yet to be explained purpose, but in that moment all that exists of so many of our favorite heroes is a hollow vacuum of what once was there. The only thing left as a reminder of these once powerful, vibrant, meaningful lives is now a simple pile of DUST. It just doesn’t sit right.
I have grappled many days and nights with understanding losses in my life and the lives of others I care about. Some were self-inflicted wounds, while others were unexpected collateral damage from choices that nobody would have ever imagined would carry this impact. Many, if not most of these are simply part of the process of living in a world in which loss is a daily part of life. For me, the most difficult ones to accept are the losses that seem to have no cause and on the surface serve no purpose. This goes far beyond the question of “Why does God allow bad things happen to good people?” and ventures deeper into the realm of understanding the value system of God Himself. And in His economy, over and over again He demonstrates that it is the cost of the sacrifice that gives the victory its value.
Genesis 23 opens with the sad story of the death of Abraham’s life-long companion, his beloved wife Sarah. After all of their adventures… leaving their family and home to follow the God’s promise of innumerable descendants in a land they had never seen, Sarah’s story abruptly ends. This woman with the miracle womb that borer one and only child at age 90, who survived being taken for a foreign king’s harem TWICE, and had faithfully followed Abraham for SIXTY TWO YEARS throughout his nomadic life simply passed away. No exciting story of escape from another foreign king, no dramatic sacrificial death while giving birth to a child as one would have expected at her age… just the natural ending of her path. But it was THIS ending that would launch an incredibly significant event so small that if you blink, you will miss it. And no matter how many times you have read this chapter, you may have never noticed this.
In Genesis 12 we find the beginning of Abraham’s journey to the land of Canaan. This is significant because this is the land God promised would be his. So what does Abraham do? He promptly heads south to Egypt… which is not Canaan. Not at all.
Genesis 12:5-9 So they came to the land of Canaan. Abram passed through the land to the place of Shechem, as far as the terebinth tree of Moreh. And the Canaanites were then in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” And there he built an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord. So Abram journeyed, going on still toward the South.
For the next eleven chapters, we can follow Abraham’s path all across the area… a continual journeying from city to city, living in tents as he traveled across the land. But while he would settle down in one area from time to time, he did not have any land of his own. Not yet. He was still a sojourner… a nomad… a traveler waiting for the end of his journey. And as tragic as it is, it would be the death of Sarah that would become the impetus for landing Abraham his first deed for property in Canaan in his portfolio.
When Sarah passed away, Abraham was forced to make a decision to purchase land in the country he was promised. While this was definitely NOT the way Abraham had envisioned purchasing his first plot of land in Canaan, it was the method God chose to use. And to bring this a bit closer to home, often God does the same with us.
Genesis 23:17-20 So the field of Ephron which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre, the field and the cave which was in it, and all the trees that were in the field, which were within all the surrounding borders, were deeded to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the sons of Heth, before all who went in at the gate of his city. And after this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah, before Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. So the field and the cave that is in it were deeded to Abraham by the sons of Heth as property for a burial place.
Sometimes the tragedies in our lives seem to exist without purpose in the moment, but when viewed in the rear view mirror these periods of pain are often times the catalyst for the change that carries us into the promise. Joseph’s imprisonment on a false rape charge in Genesis 39 led him to the second highest position in Egypt when all was said and done in fulfillment of his God-given dreams. David was chased by an insecure, psychopathic, murderous king until he was 30 years old. But this put him into position to inherit the entire kingdom of Israel when the dust settled, just as he was promised in his youth. And the insanely painful beating and crucifixion of Christ was the pathway for eternal life for each of us and ignited His eleven remaining disciples to launch their destiny. It was not in spite of, but rather THROUGH these horrific and costly sacrifices that purpose was realized in each of their lives.
If you are currently enduring or have recently experienced this level of pain and sacrifice in your life, I want to encourage you today to do more than simply look for the “silver lining” in your clouds. These circumstances have placed you on a collision course with your destiny in ways that you can only see from God’s perspective. I have heard the testimony of people who were placed in a hospital due to a horrific injury only to find that they were placed there to share the love of God with someone they would have never reached any other way. I have observed lives that were seemingly torn apart by the tragic and unexpected loss of a loved one only to find that this singular event catapulted them into a life they would have never even dreamed to pray for. And at times I have been able to reach into my personal well of pain to be able to understand, empathize, and relate to the pain in another’s eyes and guide them to the One who uses that pain for a purpose. And the more painful the sacrifice, the more valuable the land that it has purchased.
The most precious victories have been paid for by the blood, sweat, and tears of those who didn’t even necessarily understand what they were accomplishing at the time. In the case of Avengers: Endgame, those who lost their lives had no idea that they were inspiring the Avengers to FINALLY assemble. Their losses energized and united the remaining survivors in a way that could never have been accomplished differently. And I have a nagging feeling that the final victory over Thanos will come at an even higher price… probably one none of us would have chosen to pay.
It’s going to be rough sledding Thursday night, or whenever you choose to see the final chapter in this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But more importantly, we must see that the sacrifices and painful periods in our lives are not simply pointing us into a new direction, but are often thrusting us (whether we like it or not) into our destinies. These are not the actions of an unkind or careless God, but rather are measurements by which we can see how valuable these future victories are. It is BECAUSE these come at a heavy cost that they have significance. So take heart in your past and look forward to your future… your losses and sacrifices may have been sudden and shocking but they should only serve to galvanize you as head towards your inevitable date with destiny!
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