Update: January 26, 2016
This appears to be my final update before Connie’s transition into the presence of Christ. As hard as it is to write those words, the promise of her being with Christ brings comfort and hope. I’ve been thinking a lot about life and death, along with you. Connie and I have recurring conversations about eternity. I’m realizing that we, in our affluent western context, have it backwards. We tend to view a long and fulfilling life here as the ultimate human experience, and to enter eternity with Christ as a kind of consolation prize. Of course none of us would actually say that, but it’s what we feel. But that’s not the teaching of the Scriptures. As enjoyable and fulfilling as this life can be, it pales in comparison to what is yet to come for us who trust Christ. God’s Word is filled with such promises.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
Existentially this life is the sum total of what we know, what we remember, what we think, what we feel, what we believe. We cherish the best of times and remember our joy filled experiences. So we desperately hang onto the present, and we tend then to see it as ultimate. These days Connie and I are rehearsing the happy memories of our shared experiences: our marriage and a two week honeymoon; home renovations turning houses into homes; the birth of our children; the joys of ministry; camping trips with our children; friendships that enrich us; recent trips we’ve taken to distant places. Memory is a wonderful gift. We naturally view these experiences as ultimate. But they’re not. The Bible teaches that this present life is penultimate, and the ultimate is yet to come. These experiences, as rich as they may be, are a mere shadow of what’s yet to come. Our future is not a shadowy, ethereal existence as many people suppose. It is concrete and tactile, even more real than our present reality.
The teacher in me wants to expand and qualify the previous paragraph. Let’s be careful to avoid the leaning of many Christians towards an ancient heresy called gnosticism (belief that flesh is inherently evil and spirit is good). God made this a tactile, physical world, and then pronounced it “good”. He made us physical beings with physical bodies, placing us in a physical world to enjoy. This world is not intrinsically evil. Further, God chose to enter our world through the incarnation. It’s a heresy to view the physical as evil and spirit as good. Yes, this world is marred by the fall, and so we see and experience it’s brokenness. But the original creation was good, and perfect. From the Scripture we understand that our experience here is a shadow of the original creation as God intended.
The new heavens and new earth, described in Revelation, is the remaking of the original creation. That’s the future kingdom that Jesus inaugurated. N. T. Wright describes it: “God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world which he said was ‘very good’. Rather, he intends to remake it. And when he does he will raise all his people to new bodily life to live in it. That is the promise of the Christian gospel.” This is the blessed hope that we anticipate. This is the ultimate experience that we will enjoy for eternity. That makes the very best of times here, including a great marriage, a penultimate experience. And so Connie’s physical death and future glory is not a consolation prize for a life lived well. That’s what we live and die for. And so, while we want to hang onto what we know, I’m helping Connie to look to her forever home, by faith. “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13) Indeed, this transition is the most difficult of our human experience, but it is the hope of the Christian and it brings some peace to our temporary separation.
I know that some of you are “amazed at our faith”. Some express wonderment at how we can “handle this so well”. Two factors come to mind – sound theology AND your prayers. We’ve read and thought more about these things than most. We’ve walked with many through their shadow of death. Over the years I’ve attempted to teach sound theology, based on Scripture and reinforced by reputable thinkers. That has provided a foundation for times like this. You too can build the same foundation. I hope that your journey with us through reading these updates helps you to build a robust theology. The other reason we are winning on this journey is because you are praying for us. Along with the many who read these updates, you pray faithfully and diligently for Connie and me. It really is an amazing experience to be carried by the Holy Spirit through your prayer. As difficult as this journey is, one of the rewards is the experience of palpable peace that exceeds any natural explanation. It truly is supernatural.
Embracing the promise,
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