In the Same Boat…
I was in church when I heard the news. A high-school friend had been paddling late one night through the frigid waters of a whistler lake. His canoe flipped. He was reported to us as missing. When I heard the news I forgot to pray. Instead I held my breath. But not for too long. A search party found his body the next day. I exhaled with a curse hurled at the heavens.
A rush of memories can flood your mind in the midst of loss, countless tales of laughter, stupidity, kindness and conversation. It can be overwhelming, raw and all consuming for a time. An orifice has been pried open in the placid surface of your life and into the crack rushes a flood of emotion you don’t feel like feeling.
And here I am, in church, newly awakened to faith, months old in the Lord, freshly initiated into the eternal mysteries, the translucent nature of heaven and the opaque nature of hell, mourning the loss of a friend. My faith didn’t take away the ache; either because my faith was too new or my loss was too present or, perhaps for some other reason all together. The lump in my throat didn’t lessen. The pain in my chest didn’t disappear. I grieved as grievers do.
Death was still an enemy.
The difference for me, I guess, is that now death was an enemy living in a world where God raised His Son from the dead. And this, of course, is the type of difference that makes all the difference in the long run.
In the short run, to be sure, this is still a world where the only thing that will stop us from watching everyone we love die of disease, accident or crime, is our own death from disease, accident or crime. But the world was this way before I was given belief. How could this harsh reality threaten my new faith when it was a given before I had any genuine faith to speak of? Suffering was a part of my pre-conversion data.
I had been to funerals before and I had spent some morbid moments reflecting on the inevitability of my own. Only a fateful step away, I had been told. I knew, at least from a distance, the tragic/comic nature of human life on this pale, blue dot floating through the darkness. I knew the mortality rate was 100 percent. Or, I should say, I knew all this in my head, there is room to doubt whether or not I knew all this in my heart. Sometimes our heart has to be hit hard before it truly awakens to the rough edges of reality and learns to really feel the weight of tragedy.
Yet, as hinted at above, there was a difference that faith made in my mourning, a change, not in the world, but a change in me. The shift was, and still is, that I’ve had my ear tuned to the whispered rumours of another world, a world whose waves of love, hope and redemption have started to crash unceasingly on the shores of this tired, old, ill-behaved planet that floats around a star while pockmarked with ancient scars.
We suck air in a world where God raised his Son from the dead and, in that, there is hope for wholeness.
Hope that those beautiful stories, so filled with struggle, hardship, death and sacrifice, yet ending with a happiness made brighter, not by the absence of scars, but by their unfortunate acquisition, are not just the stuff of fairy tales and bedside stories that haunt our memories before our hearts filled up with hurt.
Rather, fairy tales are the echoes of this; this real story, filled with quirky, hard done by characters, sinners longing to be saints and saints confessing they’re sinners. This story that stoops to sweep up and include people like you and me, straining at the oars of life, leaning into the wind, heading for God’s celestial shore, hopefully with the needed help of his hand. Eyes blinkered and weighed down with hot tears that can obscure, but never quite sweep away the sight of a blood stained cross and an empty tomb that whisper, steady and persistently, ‘I love you still, all is not lost, if God is for you who, my friend, can be against you? Your heart beats in a world where God raised His son from the dead. The world hasn’t stopped spinning and God hasn’t stopped saving. In that there truly is a hope that is stronger than death.
In an atheistic universe death ultimately wins and love ultimately loses. Count the cost. Deny God, then deny yourself and all the significance or your loves and losses, follow me into oblivion. Gain the world and lose your soul. Then lose the world too. The story ends here. It all started with a bang, but it won’t even end with a whimper, a whimper is too dignified a response in the face of the oncoming darkness.
A godless universe keeps death and suffering while removing meaningful freedom and God; it also creates and sustains the problem of ultimate hopelessness; all of that without even a God to complain to about (or blame for) our sorry situation.
There is only what ‘is’ not what ‘ought’ to be, the dignity of coherent revolt is replaced by a tired resignation in light of injustice, hardship and innumerable sufferings. Anger implies an ‘ought.’ Justice requires an ‘ought.’ Atheism can only provide an ‘is.’ The universe is what it is. Did you expect it to be something else? Shitty, I know. I am almost sorry to disappoint you.
Only God provides the ‘ought’ that calls what ‘is’ to account, the transcendent standard of good that cultural conventions must bow before, acts of kindness must conform to and acts of cruelty flee from. There is a way the world ought to be and somewhere, deep down you know this to be true. After all, you’ve protested, you’ve voted; you’ve found nature to be strangely unnatural. You are still a stranger at home because you were made for heaven.
And this, thankfully, is not it.
One day, some day, this world will be made ready and the crooked lines we’ve drawn will be straightened out by the ultimate author; in this way what ‘is’ will reflect what ‘ought’ to be; the distance will be bridged, the unlawful divorce will be reconciled, heaven will invade earth, not incognito, but fully and finally.
Dress yourself in loving kindness than, clothe yourself in Christ; all in anticipation of that moment when the tyranny of what ‘is’ will be tossed into the dustbin of history.
In the Christian story love wins and death loses. The resurrection turns death from a period or a question mark into a comma, after which follows the climax and continuation of God’s story into a New Heaven and New Earth. Death remains an enemy for us, but a defeated enemy, which, in the hands of a redemptive God, can now be employed by Him as the great healer. Instead of disease ending solely in our demise, death for us becomes the end of all disease, hardship and suffering as we enter, through loving trust in the blood of Jesus, into God’s future world; bearing the marks of our suffering, perhaps, but marks that, on our new resurrection bodies, only increase our glory for, in that moment, we will be like the resurrected Christ in all of His glory. This is our hope. There is a better, more beautiful story to live in then the barren, hope-sucking quagmire of atheism.
So, the only question is, which story do you want to live in through all your loves and losses? Which tale do you want your life to tell?
The choice is yours.
For us the words of the apostle Paul, at the end of his treatise on the resurrection, seem a fitting conclusion: “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1st Corinthians 15:58)