The Epitome of Tension

Posted by Frank.Lewis on April 24, 2018

Concrete Flower

Greetings from Louisiana, friends.

Seems we have people getting arrested at Starbucks, engines failing on Southwest Airlines planes, chemical attacks in Syria, Facebook zillionaires testifying before Congress, and untold millions of other examples of multifaceted “crazy” going on just about everywhere you look.

That is to say nothing of the violence that seems to find new ways to stun and amaze us on a daily basis. Tuesday’s shooting of two Dallas police officers has the city reeling. Are you one of the many who’s a bit tense now-a-days?  

It’s left me pondering the notion of tension.  So exactly what is tension?

Step into the Physics Lab at Louisiana Tech (or Texas Tech, for you Red Raiders) and you’ll hear all about tension. Tension in their world is defined as “a force applied within or around an object.” Often it exists when an object is pulled at both ends, but it can also refer to the force of molecules wanting to hold together – such as the case with surface tension. Tension binds buildings, bridges, and atoms.  Along with buoyancy, ships float due to tension.

But how do we define tension?

Step into your local emergency room, and you’ll hear all about tension.  Too much tension gives you hypertension and is bad. Too little tension means you have hypo-tension and is bad.  Just the right amount of tension, and you’ll get sent home.  Just the right amount of tension, it turns out, is good. 

How do we define theological tension?

Now let’s step into the Bible. Once again, you’ll hear all about tension.  Tension has been around since the beginning of time.  Creative tension that is… 

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.
                                                                                                                                                   – Genesis 1:2

Next let’s look at a textbook example of tension in the workplace that resulted in one of the first documented organizational restructurings in history. 

So Moses gave heed to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves.
                                                                                                                                                – Exodus 18:24

Tension in the workplace is good?  Really?  Well, yes – when it’s creative tension.

Then again, is not the entire Bible a story of tension?  The Israelites lived it. The psalmists sang about it.  The preacher tried to explain it in Ecclesiastes. And aren’t the Proverbs designed to alleviate it? Even in light of his dreams, don’t you think Joseph’s relationship with Mary had to be just a little tense at times?  

Jesus lived a life full of tension while on earth. His parables outlined the good, the bad and the creative.  Perhaps my favorite three-word summation of tension comes from Pilot when he asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38).  

So, tension is force; a resistance to breaking down. Tension is pressure that must not be ignored but maintained in a proper context. Tension when used creatively, yields miracles. But is that all?

Tension is, perhaps, much more.

Could tension be defined as the Holy Spirit? Could tension be defined as a manifestation of faith?

Indeed it is the Holy Spirit that holds us together, empowering us to resist the urges that would rend us apart. It is the pressure within our very hearts that we cannot ignore. It is the force that keeps our vessels afloat in both white-water and in calm. Tension is the Holy Spirit at work.

In times of tragedy and need, when we feel drawn to serve or act in any capacity that advances or exemplifies Christ’s presence on earth, is the tension we feel the very manifestation of a living faith motivating us to action? Is not tension a sign that our faith is alive and vibrant?

Tension is a manifestation of our faith. And in those times, we act first. We ask the Spirit to help us focus less on the motive behind the tragedy and more on the needs made obvious in its wake. We offer our imperfect understanding of the “whys?” to God and ask for the Lord’s guidance and wisdom in the execution of the “what nows?” and the “how tos?”

Yes, we employ our brains and endeavor to anticipate and prevent; but we do not let that get in the way of the immediate good demanded of our hearts, voices, hands, arms, and feet.  

So yes, we live in a world full of tension, but it is the Holy Spirit that empowers us to join with Luther and affirm that in spite of all, it is here that we stand. It is here that we serve. It is here that we love. It is here that we can do no other.

Frank Lewis joined NorthPark Presbyterian Church in 1998. Frank and his wife, Jennifer, met at NorthPark, were married in 2000, and have three children – James, Lindsey & Matthew. Frank has served as a deacon, elder, Stephen Leader, and was a member of the NorthPark choir.  He and his family moved to Ruston, Louisiana, in 2014 where they currently reside with their dog, Gumbo.


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