Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
-1 Timothy 6:12
In my Bible, the translators note that one could also say, “struggle the good struggle of the faith.” This reminds me of a book I read last week, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me.
It was a short but challenging read. I don’t know quite what to make of Coates’ advice to his son about being a black man in America. I don’t fully understand where I fit. Nonetheless, it’s a beautifully-written, troubling story, a troubling story we all inhabit and help write. Coates calls his son to “struggle,” and he declares that the only hope for anyone is to do the same:
I do not believe that we can stop them, Samori, because they must ultimately stop themselves. And still I urge you to struggle. Struggle for the memory of your ancestors. Struggle for wisdom. Struggle for the warmth of The Mecca. Struggle for your grandmother and grandfather, for your name. But do not struggle for the Dreamers. Hope for them. Pray for them, if you are so moved. But do not pin your struggle on their conversion. The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white, is the deathbed of us all.
-Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, p.151
These two passages share more than the word “struggle.” Paul calls us to the “struggle of the faith,” because following this God requires a striving past who we currently are and the world we currently inhabit. Coates calls Samori “to struggle,” would want the Dreamers “to struggle,” because he has expert insight into what’s wrong in our current world, as well as what’s wrong in the current us.
Christians must keep this in mind: Paul goes on to say, “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and the Lord of lords.”
For us, the struggle “of the faith” arises in the gap between what-is (if we’re willing to see) and what-should-be (if God is God). Responding rightly to the racial injustice in our society requires an admission that things are harder than we thought or want them to be. It requires listening to those most hurt by what-is, through both reading and relationships. It requires willingness to enter into the struggle, not only because of what’s wrong with what-is, but also because we believe in a God who has Power over all powers, who calls us to a better life than the one we’ve created, who sees what we choose to see and not see, who will appear at the proper time. This God knows what-should-be, desires what-should-be, and has the power to bring it about.
There is another way–the way of illusion and ease–but that way only makes sense if there is no problem or there is no reckoning. If there is wrong and God is God, then we are called to struggle the good struggle of the faith, to live in an unsettled state, to make ourselves vulnerable to the transforming hand of God. For those of us in Christ, because we are in Christ, we must. For those of us in Christ, because we are in Christ, we can.