Having a brain tumor and a potentially shortened life (shorter than I was assuming…my old football coach had a saying about what happens when we assume—it had to do with breaking down the spelling of the word) actually has some spiritual advantages. The letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament says that we are wayfarers and sojourners, longing for our homeland and occasionally getting a glimpse from afar of our beautiful city. Having my longevity assumptions snatched away helps me to sometimes turn my heart a little more “toward home.”
This whole experience is, of course, in some ways a matter of the heart. One of my early blog entries was a reflection on the Apostle Paul’s dilemma of wanting to “depart and be with Christ” and at the same time wanting to remain on earth with the people he loved. Like Paul I have decided that I want to remain. And since all the medical reports are good right now, it looks like God may be granting that request. So I am still requesting prayers for complete healing, and still believing healing will happen if that is the Lord’s plan. Yet I think more often of what “our real home” might be like. In the next couple of my blog entries, I want to share some of those thoughts.
One of the prevailing ideas of existence after death is that we are absorbed into some kind of life force. I think this idea, in Western thinking at least, comes from a mix of scientific knowledge (Energy is never destroyed) and Eastern religious beliefs (The blissful nonexistence of enlightenment). To my understanding, this is not what Jesus believed and is not what the Bible teaches.
Jesus believed in the resurrection of people. And his belief in resurrection was based on his understanding of the character of God. Since he believed unwaveringly in his own resurrection, he had obviously thought this through. In Matthew 22:23ff you will find the story of his argument about resurrection with the Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection or anything “supernatural.” Referring to the story of Moses standing on holy ground in Exodus 3 “(the story about the bush,” Jesus says), Jesus argues for the reality of the resurrection of individual people this way: 1) In the story of the bush, God says “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”; 2) God is God not of the dead but of the living (“I am” not “I was”); 3) Therefore Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive, though they died a thousand years ago; 4) Therefore they have experienced resurrection and are now alive with the “God of the living” in heaven. This is a logic for resurrection based in the very being and character of God. If God claims you as God’s own, you will be alive as long as God is alive, and God lives forever. God is about life, not death. Life is in God’s very character and nature. Therefore we will live because we belong to God.
Furthermore you will be you. Jesus always spoke of resurrection in a personal way. To Mary and Martha he said their brother would rise again (John 11). And that everyone who believes in him, though they die, will live. Love is always personal for Jesus, and so resurrection is always personal…not our energy being reabsorbed into the energy of the universe, but you and me experiencing resurrection and eternal life together. The love which does not end (1 Corinthians 13) is not impersonal, but is a personal love of the “God of the living” for us.
The other night I was watching a PBS program about a visit Senator Bobby Kennedy made to apartheid South Africa in June of 1966. I know where I was at that time because I graduated from college on June 6, 1966 and Kennedy was in South Africa then. One segment of the program was about his visit to Regina Mundi Catholic Church in Soweto, a church which became a sanctuary for the anti-apartheid movement in the early 1970’s. I have been to Regina Mundi Church. And as I watched the program, I began to feel exhilarated at the thought that I might get to sit down with Robert Kennedy in heaven. We could talk together with no barriers between us. I could know this man who preceded me by so many years in my hopes for South Africa, and for the end of American racism. The exhilaration reminded me that being in heaven right now wouldn’t be so bad. In fact it would be amazing.
So it will be. Relationships between people will be one of the great joys of heaven. None of the negative dynamics of this world will interfere…neither anxiety, nor ambition, nor jealousy, nor bitterness, nor lust, nor selfishness, nor class strata, nor racism, nor anything else—no manner of human sin will interfere, as it interferes all the time in this world. We will know each other in far deeper ways than are possible now. I, for one, am looking forward to it. It will be better than we can imagine.
But I can wait, knowing it is coming. I glimpse our homeland from afar and long for it. But this journey on this earth is also a gift from God. However long the journey, I want to take it with you for as long as I can. After that, I will look for you on the other side. And none of the suffering, and none of the glory of this world will in any way compare with what our loving God, the God of the living, has for us in the world of resurrection.