Sometimes it doesn’t get better. John the Baptist was a faithful prophet of God. His life had been a hard one, born to an old man and old woman, who, according to tradition died when he was still quite young, he had spent most of his life living in the desert, subsisting on whatever food he could find there, usually bugs and sometimes a bit of wild honey. After announcing that his cousin, Jesus, was the Messiah, he saw his followers drift away after the new man; although he understood it had to be that way, he was still human.
Then, after criticizing the king and his wife, he found himself arrested and kept in a prison; at last, to satisfy the vengeance of the king’s wife, the king—on account of a drunken promise to a dancing strumpet, his wife’s daughter—has him beheaded. So John died, alone and on a whim. (see Matthew 14:1-13, Mark 6:16-29)
And yet, Jesus had this to say about John:
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
“ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:24-28)
As the author of Hebrews wrote about other people of faith:
There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; y they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised…(Hebrews 11:35-39)
Like John the Baptist, they received no comfort, blesssing, prosperity or everything working out okay.
But notice what the author of Hebrews wrote after the sadness above: “since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Hebrews 11:40)
If we remain locked into seeing only our seventy odd years here on Earth, then John’s life, the life of the other faithful people who suffered and died, who experienced deprivation or martyrdom may seem empty and bleak. But we need to regain our perspective: we are eternal creatures, granted everlasting life thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. There is more to the story than our life here, and our physical death. From eternity, our seventy years here will be an ever smaller part of our existence, fading into the distance in our rear view mirrors. Objects in the mirror are smaller than they appear.