Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Be Not Afraid....of Heaven

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid ; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. "He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said.Matthew 28:5-6

There are a number of instances throughout the Bible when we are encouraged to not be afraid. And of course being afraid is a natural (human) reaction when we are confronted with the supernatural...or as Rudolf Otto aptly described it, "the wholly other." But as I re-read this passage recently, I began to think that there was something more being said here...something larger. As I read this now, and consider this in the context of the rest of the Gospels, I believe God (via the angel) is doing more than simply reassuring the women that they do not need to be fearful in the presence of the angel or be anxious that something happened to Jesus' body. I believe God was telling us (here and now), that we do not need to be afraid of death. Or maybe put more appropriately for our modern thinking, we don't have to be afraid of Heaven.

I think this is why (or at least one of the reasons) Christ appeared so many times after His Resurrection. He wanted to continue telling us, "do not be afraid." (In fact He says this on a couple of occasions when He appears to His disciples.) And He didn't want to simply keep telling us...he wanted to give us the proof. He wanted us to see why the resurrected life...the Eternal nothing to fear. It is not clouds and harps. It is not mist and fog. It is not amorphous wisps and spirits floating in some cosmic soup. No...that is not what the Resurrection is at all. If it was, then I'd be right there with Billy Joel when he says "I'd rather laugh with the sinners, than cry with the saints. The sinners are much more fun." I mean we've all seen those images of Heaven, now a punchline, of people with wings strumming harps. Or maybe even more frightening, we've heard preachers declare that for all eternity we will worship and praise God in Heaven. Depending on your experiences with various church services...or worship services...this could seem like an unwelcome fate indeed.

But that is exactly what Jesus was trying to reassure us. Heaven...Eternal Life...whatever you want to call our "what's next" not an end of life as we know it. Rather it is the perfection of this life. As Jesus Himself showed us, our Eternal life is about a new body...better suited to our Soul. It is about eating...and about touching...and about interacting. It is about knowing...and being known. It is about living...and loving...and being. We don't lose ourselves...and we are not destined for eternal monotony.

There is no doubt that I am pressing up against a paradox here, but while our life post-resurrection will indeed be wholly different from what it is now, the life we live now is nonetheless a hint of that life...a shadow...or a reflection. This is how C.S. Lewis tried to describe both the connection and the difference between this life ("Old Narnia") and the next ("New Narnia"):

“It is as hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different - deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more.” ~ C.S. Lewis

This is what we have in store for us. This is the life Christ is calling us to. And while we can't realize it fully on this side of things, we can begin to taste it...begin to glimpse it. So among the many messages this Easter season, one of the most significant for me is that we need not be afraid of the next stage. So says the angel on Easter morning.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Exactly Where I Am Meant to Be

There is a famous quote from Albert Einstein that says, "God does not play dice with the universe." And while I don't believe Einstein was intending to make a theological statement...and certainly not a statement about my life in particular, I'm nonetheless finding some profound Truth in what he said. Another, probably more appropriate, source for this wisdom is St. Therese of Lisieux. She has a prayer attributed to her that includes the following line, "May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be."

I'm realizing the very powerful, and very comforting, reality in that Truth. I am exactly where God wants me to be. Whatever is happening, whatever is going on, this is what God wants for me and my life right now. And for that very reason, I can take comfort in knowing that this moment...whatever pain or struggle or joy or challenge it contains...passed through Him first. And if I connect this to the promise that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God (Romans 8:28), then I can know that not only is this moment not some cosmic accident or some kind of luck (good or bad), but that it was a specifically created moment for me...for my good. And let me tell you...sometimes...especially those times when the moment is hard or uncomfortable or painful...being able to trust and believe that whatever it is will ultimately be for my good can make all the difference.

But there is actually another area in my life where this comes into play. You see, despite how it probably looks to everyone around me, I really am striving to be the person God intended me to be each and every moment of each and every day. (OK...I'm probably not always striving as hard in some moments as in others.) And for me, that means I am constantly trying to figure out what God wants me to do. What is His will? I do this even down to seemingly silly things like do I get on the HOV lanes or not, or do I have this for lunch or not. I'm sure that seems crazy...maybe ridiculous...and I don't literally go down to that level all the time. But the point is that because of my sometimes desperate desire to want to please God and do the right thing...I worry that every little thing is a sign telling me what I should do. I worry about missing the signals God is sending me. What if I make the wrong decision? What if I miss out on something He is trying to do for me.

But you see, there is the Truth again. I am exactly where I am meant to be. If God wants me someplace else (a different job, a different friendship, a different service at Church), He'll make it happen. Of course He doesn't take our free will. But He is also not going to play some hide-and-seek game with His will for my life. I believe that if God has a place for me to be or He has something He wants me to hear, He's going to make sure I get the message. You see because God doesn't play dice. He doesn't play games with our lives. He is not going to leave us to our own devices trying to pick up some subtle clue or hint or premonition and then just say too bad when we miss it. God loves us too much for that.

So the next time I'm frustrated or in pain or suffering in some way, I'm going to try to remind myself that this is God allowing a situation to draw me closer to Him. This is God working good in my life...even if I can't see it. And when I worry about missing an opportunity or find myself longing for something bigger or better in my life...I'm going to repeat my new mantra over and over again: I am exactly where I am meant to be. God allowed this moment in my life...on purpose...deliberately...and with His perfect sovereignty. So whether joy or pain, I take comfort in knowing this is where I need to be.

In His Peace...