Dear Church Family,
Greetings in the Name of the One who ushers His servants into a better country.
Together with you, we await the Lord’s pleasure in restoring to us the freedom of movement once enjoyed. Our church ministries remain suspended, and the recent presidential announcement, regarding a phasing down/out of the lockdown, does not provide us a timeline to work towards. Certainly there will be no abrupt start to all our activities; some sort of scaled re-introduction would need to take place, guided by prudence and counsel.
One of the themes repeated in media and conversation has been the question “What will ‘normal’ look like after the lockdown/virus has passed?”. It brought to mind a comment from a friend, made once over Christmas lunch. “This isn’t the real world” he said as we enjoyed the roast, and the giving of gifts, “The real world is out there. This isn’t the real world.” The point was obvious; and probably he was remembering his own past – being uprooted from his home owing to political turmoil. But these do beg the question – what exactly would the Bible call ‘normal’ in the ‘real world’?
Many live under the illusion that ‘normal’ entails a comfortable home in a good neighbourhood, decent schools, quality health care, a fairy-tale marriage with healthy children, a stable career with sufficient time for hobbies & social engagements on the side, all culminating in a gentle retirement easing down to a dignified passing at a ripe old age. After all, isn’t that what the brochures promised? The ones with the smiling happy people, with smiling happy children and smiling happy doctors or financial advisors? Isn’t that normal? Not hardly. Prosperity gospel teachers thrive on the abuse of Scripture to commend it to you as such – as normal – but it is not so. It is abnormal, and the rare exception to history, despite the fact that Christians are often conditioned to expect this state of ‘heaven on hearth’ now.
The Scriptures speak of the ‘real world’ as ‘a fallen world’. It tells us that death entered the world through sin; that this is a world in which godlessness and wickedness thrive. It speaks of sickness, disease, suffering, tears, grief, hardship, work by the sweat of the brow, oppression, corruption and persecution. It’s no wonder that we are told to remember our Creator in the days of our youth, before the years come when we say “I have no pleasure in them”; and that the length of our days is perhaps 70 or 80 years, but their span is toil and trouble. If any of this has been your experience, then you’ve been living the normal life; even the normal Christian life. Because that’s the real world. Anything else has been sheer grace, multiplied to you many times over. Aside from making us more thankful for past kindnesses, and more mindful of present benefits still enjoyed in abundance….it should also create a longing for future graces as yet unreceived. (Note, Scripture does not call on Christians to respond with ‘the ingratitude of guilt’ for good received from the Lord’s hand. But it does call for both charity and sober perspective in the midst of such. Having spoken about charity in previous letters, we turn our attention now to the future graces of a better world.)
Are you thinking much concerning Heaven? Has a threat to your life, livelihood, comfort, or ‘normality’ ever made you yearn for a better world? In a few years, perhaps a few decades (unless the Lord returns sooner), you will have crossed that invisible line drawn by the One who holds time in His hands; and you will have entered your eternal state. This helpless inevitability should be a terror to His enemies; but for those who have taken refuge in Christ, there is nothing to fear and everything to hope for. The Bible speaks about a new creation – new heavens and new earth; populated by God’s children, living righteously before Him for all time. It speaks about a state in which ‘normal’ will mean eternal joy and satisfaction; an end to death, sin, suffering, temptation, tears, pain and loss. It speaks of it in physical terms, rather than as an undefined ethereal vagueness. There will be a resurrection body, with an earthy physicality to the eternal state we simply call “Heaven”. Imagine it, if you can! Indulge yourself for a moment, as you set your mind on things above where Christ is; as you consider the place that Abraham longed for as the ‘better country’, the place where David would consider ‘one day a better than a thousand elsewhere’, the place eagerly longed for by Christ as He thought of eating in His Kingdom with His disciples, the place where Paul was transported in heavenly vision to see rapturous things. Let your imagination be informed and sanctified – by all means – but enjoy then the liberty of using it as you consider the hope held out before you. Imagine a beautifully restored earth, filled with living creatures, physical and tangible. Imagine redeemed humanity utilizing every gift and talent in the arts and sciences to construct, compose, invent or discover the innumerable wonders that arise from that place. Imagine the hearts of all who are there, made pure, and you among them living out a God-glorifying humanity to its fullest, most delightful measure. Imagine being alive in glorious form – in a resurrected body that the Spirit calls immortal, imperishable, honourable – breathing the crispest, cleanest air, and running as the swiftest athlete would for the sheer joy of the occasion; as Eric Liddel would say, for the pleasure of God; as CS Lewis would put it, “unstiffened”. Imagine being in the presence of the thrice Holy Creator – the unchangeable Saviour – and not having one single part of you want to retreat in shame for memory of indwelling sin, for all will be perfect as it should be; and we shall see Him as He is, and understand grace for what it is. This will be the new normal, for the people of God. The real world, for all of time.
Then consider once more, the trials that presently remain. They cannot be ignored, and we dare not minimize the suffering they might produce. They are real. Yet…they are passing. And as Christians facing such, we have every right to lay hold of the hope that is set before us; and live in the light of that impending reality. In other words, we must become heavenly minded, so as to do earthy good, both to our own souls and that of others. Perhaps the words of an old hymn will help us with this perspective. It starts out as many hymns do, but then takes a surprising turn in the third verse.
My God, I thank thee, who hast made
the earth so bright,
so full of splendor and of joy,
beauty and light;
so many glorious things are here,
noble and right.
I thank thee, too, that thou hast made
joy to abound;
so many gentle thoughts and deeds
circling us round,
that in the darkest spot of earth
some love is found.
I thank thee more that all our joy
is touched with pain,
that shadows fall on brightest hours,
that thorns remain;
so that earth’s bliss may be our guide,
and not our chain.
For thou who knowest, Lord, how soon
our weak heart clings,
hast given us joys, tender and true,
yet all with wings;
so that we see gleaming on high
I thank thee, Lord, that thou hast kept
the best in store;
we have enough, yet not too much
to long for more:
a yearning for a deeper peace
not known before.
I thank thee, Lord, that here our souls
though amply blessed,
can never find, although they seek
a perfect rest;
nor ever shall, until they lean
on Jesus’ breast.
In as much as those words are true or helpful, we commend them to you for reflection. May the good things of this world – the bliss – never prove to be a chain; but only lead us to desire more greatly the One who gave them. When such gifts are taken from us – for life, or for a season – may their departure on wings only make us long for heavenly things. And added to all the graces already received, may the Lord grant us this grace too: to be at peace and find rest in the living, present, personal Saviour – Jesus Christ.
Martin, Andrew, Shane, Winton