In one of my favorite books, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, young Johnny Cade lies dying from severe burns he received after saving a group of school children from a fire. He has a simple parting message for his dear friend, Ponyboy: “Stay gold.”
The Outsiders is a story of friendship, loyalty, and struggle. The boys are divided by socioeconomic status—blue-collar “greasers” verses upper-class “socials.” Much of the story takes place in a rundown, abandoned church where Johnny and Ponyboy hide from authorities after a fight ends when a “social” is stabbed to death.
During their exile, Ponyboy reads to Johnny from Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay”:
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Frost’s poem gets them thinking. “Nothing gold can stay.” Spring’s leaves fall in autumn. All good things must end. Their youth will fade, along with their innocence, which gets increasingly tarnished by sin.
Before he dies, Johnny urges Ponyboy to “stay gold.” Remain innocent. Don’t let the tragedies of life corrupt you.
That’s my encouragement to you, too. “Stay gold,” especially when your times are defined by darkness: sickness, social distancing, racial tensions, etc.
Our lives will continually be troubled with trial and tribulation, but Jesus didn’t stop there: “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
For Ponyboy and Johnny, this life was all they had. “Stay gold” meant work harder, be better, rise above the circumstances, pull yourselves up by your own bootstraps. For us, it means something entirely different.
Yes, we find ourselves in uncertain times, but we lean on someone much stronger than ourselves. We lean on Jesus. Jesus has overcome this world and so provides a peace that cuts through the tribulations we experience. Jesus’ peace is secured by a promise—the promise of future glory, guaranteed by His cross.
We’ve been purchased with a price, and there are no “returns” in the economy of God. Having been bought, in our most desperate times we look to Jesus for shelter in a world gone wrong. When we lean on Him and the promises of God, we’re able to rise above our current circumstances.
But there’s more. In Jesus we find our innocence again. Jesus makes sure we “stay gold.” Isaiah said it so well:
I will rejoice greatly in the Lord,
My soul will exult in my God,
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,
He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness.
You and I are wrapped in Christ’s righteousness. Preserved in this fallen world for something more.
I’m not saying we aren’t affected by the world around us. We are. I’m not saying you and I won’t sin. We will. What I am saying is that when we find forgiveness in Jesus, we’re made innocent through the Innocent One.
Though the world may lose its luster as “dawn goes down to day,” we know there’s a new day coming. A better day. A day defined by God’s radiant glory. A day absent of viruses, and racism, and death, and degradation. With every moment, we draw closer to that day.
In the world, it’s true: All good things come to an end as innocence gives way to sin. But that’s not the end of our story. Our story ends in victory and total peace. Innocence restored. Gold, which never loses its shine. With these things in mind, we can have peace and be of good cheer because Jesus has overcome the world.