When I think of resilience, I immediately think of the comedian, Eddie Izzard. In 2009, he ran 43 marathons in just 52 days; in 2016, it was 27 marathons in 27 days; in February 2020, it was 28 marathons in 28 days, travelling all over Europe to run each marathon in a different European capital; and in January this year, aged 58, it was 31 virtual marathons, and 31 virtual stand-up gigs in 31 days. As if this wasn’t enough, Izzard has performed in French, German and Spanish, and has plans to do so in Arabic, Russian and Mandarin. Then we could talk about the abuse he has experienced both as a street performer and a transgender person. Currently, Eddie is seeking to become a Member of Parliament. This is one resilient human being.
Interestingly, a few years ago, Izzard gave an interview in the Guardian that revealed the source of this incredible resilience. Tragically, his mother died when he was just six years old, and the article traces his resilience all the way back to that loss. Listen to this: ‘Everything I do in life is trying to get her back. I think if I do enough things … that maybe she’ll come back … I do believe I started performing and doing all sorts of big, crazy, ambitious things because on some level, on some childlike magical-thinking level, I thought doing those things might bring her back.’
I don’t know about you, but I find that very moving. This amazing resilience comes from a relationship; from the hope, however illogical, that somehow, something could restore the mother that a young child lost. This resilience comes from love.
The Apostle Paul
The Apostle Paul would agree that true resilience comes only through love. Paul suffered much. He writes about his troubles, hardships and distresses; how he experienced beatings, imprisonments and riots; how he endured hard work, sleepless nights and hunger (2 Cor. 6:4-10); yet he proved unstoppable. Read Paul’s letter to the Philippians to get a sense of the depth of joyful resilience that he had, and be amazed.
Now if we were to ask Paul where his energy and resilience came from, he would not have to think about it. He would be very clear: it did not come from a powerful personality, or a rampant ego, but from a relationship; from a person who is known, and from the experience of a vast and powerful love. He would say that the love of Christ constrained him (2 Cor. 5:14).
Love was the great defining experience of Paul’s life. He had once hated Christ and his followers, and he had set himself to persecute and eradicate them like a disease. Then one day, in the very act of persecution, he was confronted by the risen Christ himself. The outcome ought to have been swift and fatal for Paul, but instead of instant judgement, Paul was given a new life. Jesus commissioned him to preach the very faith he had been trying to destroy. It was an act of sheer, costly, transforming grace. It was an act of love.
This is the source of the unending resilience of the Apostle Paul. ‘It is no longer I who live,’ he wrote to the church in Galatia, ‘but Christ who lives in me, and the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20). Because of this, he moves forward, come what may, no longer in his own strength, but empowered by the indwelling Christ, who is powerfully at work within him (Col. 1:29).
Let’s pause for a minute; imagine your life with that sort of love at the heart of it. Imagine experiencing forgiveness that deep, and grace that powerful. It wouldn’t mean life was suddenly easy, but you would certainly never be the same again. You would have resources; deep resources, powerful resources.
Significantly, the message of the Bible is such that you do not have to imagine.
This same Jesus calls the whole world to trust in him, to be forgiven by him, and to be turned around by him. He calls the whole world to receive that which Paul received, to experience that which Paul experienced, and to live as Paul lived. If Jesus is calling the whole world, then he is calling you.
Just how profound is the resilience available to the person who will believe in Christ?
Here we turn back to Eddie Izzard. That same article continues: ‘I have a very strong sense that we are only on this planet for a short length of time, and that is only growing. Religious people might think it goes on after death. My feeling is that if that is the case it would be nice if just one person came back and let us know it was all fine, all confirmed. Of all the billions of people who have died, if just one of them could come through the clouds and say … ‘it’s brilliant’ … that would be great.’
Well Eddie, there was this one man; a man like no other. We’ve been talking about him. His name is Jesus, and Eddie, he has done exactly what you were asking for.
Two thousand years ago he was killed: tragically, brutally. His body was buried, then, on the third day, he came back from the dead. Hundreds of people saw him at a time; they wrote about it and it changed their lives forever, and having come back from the grave, what Jesus tells us is far beyond ‘brilliant’.
He tells us that he has atoned for all our sins, once and forever. He tells us that he has disarmed the dark, spiritual powers arraigned against us – we have nothing to fear. He tells us that he has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light – there is hope. He promises us a resurrection like his – he says to the world, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies’ (John 11:25). He says we cannot see him now because he has gone to prepare a place for us, and that he will surely come back and take us to be with him where he is (John 14:2).
Life is all about knowing him. Knowing him brings ultimate resilience – bigger than our weakness, bigger than our mortality. Death loses its sting – the grave loses its victory. Hope is born – a robust and joyful hope that nothing can quench. It is as if eternal life has already begun, which of course is exactly what has happened.
Eddie, with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ it is all fine, all confirmed. Simply brilliant.