Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Incompleteness of Life

by David Bissette

We are all on a journey of growth and healing, and most of us, as we travel along, struggle to engage in various activities that can help us to make progress along the way. 

Several years ago a woman spoke to me whose life had included a near-death experience. She described it as an overwhelming, life-altering experience of feeling forgiven, healed, and whole. There was a lot of content to her experience, including an experience of God, but the main result was that from that point forward in her life she lost all fear of death. She began to view death as the ultimate healing experience. In fact, since then she has spent much of her life offering comfort and hope to those facing death, actually being with over 500 adults--and children--as they have died. 

I believe the lesson she learned is a true one. Death is a time of transition from the incompleteness of this life to the overwhelming healing and wholeness of the next. We are all aware of the inevitabile arrival of that day, and we anticipate it with our own mixture of emotions. 

However, in the meantime we continue on our journey, and it's hard at times. While life offers much in the way of adventure and thrill, it also contains challenges that go on and on without change. And our hearts ache as a result.

Growth and healing in this life is always incomplete. In fact, even during the time of Christ, no matter how much healing was intended by God to happen, there was never going to be enough for everyone, even then. 

There must have been people who couldn't get to Him. Some of them probably had friends or family who were healed, while they unable to get close enough to the Master for it to happen for them. One lucky guy had friends who let him down through a roof. 

Heartache is a reality of life. Some of us are born into circumstances that virtually guarantee significant heartache in our lives. In fact, we all carry at least some heartache within our bodies, no matter how much we try to numb the sensation of it. 

What do I believe about all this?

First, that we can be whole in our souls--now. I also believe that we have no idea how much blessing can come our way even now. There are lots of good things and miraculous things that can happen now. We can always grow more, and we can always be healed more--even now. 

That can help a lot. We can even become grateful for some of our difficulties because of the gifts they have given us. 

However, most of us continue to have some source of significant pain that is difficult to endure. 

What does God do? Ultimately, I believe God joins us as a companion in our difficulty. 

The concentration camp guard asked the Jewish man working in a trench, "Where is your God now?" The man answered, "Down here with me, shoveling your mud."

If there is anything we can learn from the death of Jesus of Nazareth, it is that God is not above (or too good for) suffering. God joins us in our present day circumstances and feels much of what we feel. 

We also need to join others in their suffering and let them join us in ours. There is a joy that comes from joining in the suffering of others. It's like sitting with a friend through their detention back in high school. 

I don't believe that God looks down on horrific pain and thinks, "What shade of pain do I want to paint with today?" I think He looks down and is horrified..and promptly begins to work for good in what is happening. Yes, God allows all that happens, but much suffering is impersonal in it's causes, and I think God allows it in agony at times. After all, God is our parent.

Whatever God is doing, it MUST be stunning. NO parent would allow the events to occur that happen to us without being compelled to do so by extraordinary reasons. 

My belief about Jesus walking up to Lazarus's tomb was that sadness had been building in him for a while, and He was overcome as he broke down and cried. Yes, he was overcome with emotion, and it spilled forth from His eyes, His face, and His body. 

The Bible is clear that there is waiting involved in life...and heartache. We can relieve much of it, and we should. But much of it will continue, and it hurts. (And, you know, there is no reason to believe that God has cried only once.) 

Unlike Christians of previous generations, modern Christians tend to have no theology of heartache...but we need one. Don't assume that some ongoing suffering is because of something you have done. Much of it is simply inherent in life. And though heartache and the incompleteness of life are presently our companions, we do not need to harden our hearts against them. If we open our hearts to ALL of life, the companionship of God and of one another can keep them in their place until that blessed day when we are no longer forced to carry them with us. 

Be active in growth and healing...that is important. But also know that all healing is going to be partial in some way for right now. And, in the midst of all that is bad, and good, there is hope. After all, the best is yet to come...of that we can be sure.

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