Hope in the Caverns

If you want to see my sister and me argue, bring up James Franco.

I love the man. Talented, smart, funny, weird, attractive – what’s not to love? I watch his movies and I’ve seen Freaks and Geeks (the lovely one season it was). I own and have read Actors Anonymous. I even had a Pineapple Express poster hanging up in my room for a while.

My sister, on the other hand, will watch a movie with him in it despite the fact that he is in it. She theorizes that he bought his degrees instead of earning them. She doesn’t even think he’s a little bit cute. (“He’s always squinting! He never opens his eyes!”) She’s who gifted me Actors Anonymous for either my birthday or Christmas one year, and it almost physically pained her to buy the book.

Going into it, the main reason I watched 127 Hours was that James Franco was in it. While I love and appreciate and try to do my part to preserve nature, I’m not an outdoorsy person, so that didn’t appeal to me. Gore sometimes makes me cringe and curl up in a ball in terror, so that didn’t appeal to me. But I found it at Walmart for, like, five bucks a few years ago, and it’s one of those movies that people seem to refer to in passing more than you’d think, like they’re operating under the assumption that most people have seen that movie, so I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.

Aron Ralston, played by Franco in the film, is basically an uber human (the term I stole from one of my college professors for someone who’s good at everything). And in his free time, he explores canyons, among other things. He’s off doing this one day when he falls into a crevice/cavern and a boulder falls with him pinning his arm and leaving him stuck for 127 hours.

Aron can see the sky from where he is, so it’s not entirely dark. In fact, he gets about 15 minutes of direct sunlight every day. Aron gets out his camera a few different times and starts recording, so it was at least enough light to make a video. I think if it’d been pure darkness, Aron probably would’ve had a heart attack or had such a problem breathing that he would’ve never caught his breath and would have passed out entirely.

There’s a very tiny part about caverns in Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Billy Pilgrim is 12 and is on a trip with his family out west. They’re in Carlsbad Caverns and the ranger warns everyone that he’s going to turn the lights off and that they’ll be in total darkness. When the ranger does as he said, “Billy didn’t even know whether he was still alive or not.”

Scott’s sermon on Sunday made me think of both of these scenarios. It also spawned the working theory my brother and I developed that, in addition to being captivated by the One Ring to Rule Them All, Gollum was what Scott would call “cave crazy.”

But what do Franco, Vonnegut, and Tolkien have to do with a twisted Bible verse?

When we read Jeremiah 29:11-13, we read it correctly and often perceive it wrong, and that disconnect has everything to do with dark and light.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.’” (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NLT)

So beautiful. Such a bright image of tranquility that you almost feel like you’re looking at the sun. The words “good,” “future,” “hope,” “I will listen,” and “you will find me,” give us this idea and promise of peace and joy that is absolutely real. That is what this scripture means.

But when we zoom out a little and read just one verse before and one verse after, the entirety of the truth is seen.

“This is what the Lord says: ‘You will be in Babylon for seventy years. But then I will come and do for you all the good things I have promised, and I will bring you home again. For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,’ says the Lord. ‘I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.’” (Jeremiah 29:10-14, NLT)

A darker picture than before by far. One that demonstrates that we will have adversity. It’ll get better, sure. There is some light. But it won’t always be a great time. There will be some darkness in our lives.

It’s a truth that many don’t realize until they experience it: it’s not that our lives contain no darkness; it’s that we have light to make our way through it. Hope doesn’t come from never having problems. Hope comes from knowing fear, stress, failure and knowing that none of those are where you end. The greatest hope comes from knowing it doesn’t come from your own merit but the merit of an all-powerful God with a perfect record.

We’re not Gollum, victim of the darkness. We’re not Billy Pilgrim, unsure of our very lives.

We are like Aron Ralston. We have light to guide us, to see us through. We may be stuck in an immovable situation. Everything we try may fail. Our faith may wane, but God’s faithfulness won’t. We may not know how, but He’ll get us out. That’s enough. We may not have enough light to see every detail, but we’ll have enough light to see a way out.

There’s a song by Switchfoot called “The Shadow Proves the Sunshine.” The chorus goes:

We are crooked souls trying to stay up straight,
Dry eyes in the pouring rain.
The shadow proves the sunshine.
The shadow proves the sunshine.
Two scared little runaways
Hold fast to the break of daylight were
The shadow proves the sunshine.
The shadow proves the sunshine.

It’s a testament to the fact that there is good and bad, light and dark, and we often can’t know one without the other. Were it not for the shadows, we wouldn’t perceive the depth we need to navigate. And if there was no sunshine, we wouldn’t be able to see the area we need to navigate and how we need to move. God is the truest light, and He will fulfill His promises and give us hope, joy, and peace. But it won’t always be easy. We just have to remember that we have access to the Light, and all we need to do is keep reaching for it.

By Carrie Prevette

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