So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Cor. 4:18
“It is what it is.” I’ve heard this phrase uttered with a sigh three times by three different people in as many days. Those who said it to me each wrestled with unique and difficult circumstances they would desperately like to change. Each one was coming to terms with a situation over which they had little or no control. To them, “It is what it is” marked an acceptance which felt like a good and necessary step past the desperate panic of denial. But to me it often feels a little like giving up.
“It is what it is.” You just have to get through it because it’s not going to get any better. There’s not going to be much value in it and certainly no pleasure. There will be nothing to celebrate. Better not to care, to put your head down and just walk it out. It is what it is. Except that it isn’t. The phrase itself is a soporific deception, robbing us of hope as it absolves us of responsibility. In the Kingdom of God nothing is merely what you see with your eyes, hear with your ears or touch with your hands. Nothing is without meaning or value. And nothing ends just because we give up on it.
There are unseen forces at work beyond our material circumstances. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Eph 6:12. The lonely divorcee who longs for love at any cost is not merely fighting with herself. The man who sits at his computer until 3 a.m. every night is not as concealed as he believes himself to be. The hesitant teenager who befriends a disabled classmate secures so much more than the scorn of his friends. Eternal battles are being fought, lost and won in workplaces, hospital rooms and cafeterias every day of the week. Eternal weapons like truth, faith and love are clashing with lies, doubt and fear in the very air around us. If we opened our eyes a little wider, we might catch a glimpse of dire peril or exquisite glory in the most mundane places.
There is unseen purpose in the everyday. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Cor. 4:17. Conflicts well fought, even those which seem to have few tangible results in this life, are accumulating glory in the next: a ‘weight of glory’ that is heavier than the struggle itself, a glory that will shine, not only for us one day, but also for God. What will play on the big screen of your life when you stand before His throne? It will not be the vacations and birthdays you memorialized in your photo books; it will be the days of faithful struggle when you clung to Christ despite your dark confusion. It may be your long prayers for a prodigal or your gracious acceptance of a weaker brother, your pursuit of an anxious friend, or simply the fact that you didn’t leave your marriage when that would have been easier. The Man of Sorrows is revealed in our story when we follow His footsteps and hold onto His hand.
The unseen future holds a heavenly ending for every present drama. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Peter 1:6-7. The end of all things waits to be revealed in ways we cannot now envision. In a sense we are living our whole lives on Good Friday afternoon, unable to imagine that on Sunday there could be a resurrection. The Bible is filled with stories of people who spent their lives waiting for God to show up. People like Joseph, who waited in prison, Moses, who waited in the desert, and John, who waited in exile. Their work must have seemed desolate and futile, but we know its glory as the foundation of our faith. These stories are meant to give us hope for the value of the present and expectation of great joy in the future. Our God is in the redemption business. The worst thing that ever happened – the murder of God’s Son – became the greatest gift ever given: salvation for all His children. That same God is surely able to redeem our smaller circumstances. We have His promise that it all comes right in the end.
Complacent dejection misses the depth and richness of our God’s purposes. Jesus might have faced the cross with the kind of resignation which some of us direct at our everyday lives: “It is what it is.” But, instead, He faced it with passion. He worshiped in His anguish, He loved within His suffering, and He did it all in hope of the resurrection. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Heb. 12:2. Satan would like you to believe that it is what it is. In the life and death and life of Jesus we find the assurance of our own redemption, and the reminder that things are not, even now, what they seem to be.
This article was originally posted on this site under the title “It Is What It Is – Or Maybe Not” in 2011.
Why Bother by Ed Welch