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Everlasting Splendors

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.  Michelangelo

I have always wondered, as a Christian, from the moment I realized that I wasn’t perfect, how God could see and love me as though I were..

I mean, there’s a difference between someone loving you because they’re kind, and someone loving you because they think you’re wonderful. The former is charity, which I can appreciate, but my question is, beyond God being charitable toward me, how does He really feel about me? Could He ever actually be in love with me?

After reflection and conversations and study I’d like to share my thoughts so far..

I think, while it is true to say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is also true to say that God’s love is not blind and He actually does see real beauty in us.

The short answer is that God loves us in every way we could possibly be loved, and what starts as his total compassion as He bleeds to death on the cross becomes his total affection as He sees us finally standing before Him in glory, prepared to marry Him.

“In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.'” (Hosea 2:16)

I think what we need to remember is that God is outside of time, so just as well as He sees us today He sees us on that day, shining like the sun (Matt. 13:43), bright and pure (Rev. 19:8), in splendor and glory (Eph. 5:27).. or as C S Lewis put it, as “everlasting splendors.”

You’re making me like You
Clothing me in white
Bringing beauty from ashes
For You will have Your bride

Free of all her guilt
Rid of all her shame
Known by her true name
And it’s why I sing..*

Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun.. Matthew 13:43.

Imagine shining forth as the sun.. To develop this thought from a recent personal experience, as most of you know I’ve been on the road to Missouri from California. I spent Sunday night in Denver, and went to bed around midnight, so was confused when I woke up at 5am the next morning and couldn’t go back to sleep. I figured I might as well hit the road early.

I started driving East around 6:30am or so, and I have never, ever experienced a sunrise so glorious in my life. If beauty was ever unbearable, it was. I thought I might drive right into it and be burned up. I was exhilarated and terrified at the same time, to the point I was scared to drive. I laughed and I cried. I didn’t have words. Across the entire horizon were golden rays of sunlight pouring and piercing through the billowing clouds, shining above and below and all around, and in the periphery were wisps of rain clouds dipping down to the ground. Not to mention as I drove on, all the movement as my perspective changed the site a hundred times. It was 45 minutes of pure bliss. If up until then I hadn’t believed in heaven, I would have been utterly convinced because of how the sky was opened to me. I felt irresistibly invited into the glory. I could hardly look, yet I couldn’t turn away, it was so wonderful.

After I’d already seen what felt like too much, the clouds began unveiling the rising sun, allowing it to shine forth in all of its splendor – and then of course it was too blinding bright and I had to hide my eyes. But to my point in sharing this whole experience, it has been written that we ourselves shall shine forth as the sun.. and now I can’t help but be deeply awed by the thought.

Even the process of our transformation is glorious, as we go from glory to glory** from what we’ve been to what we will become.. like the wonderful rising of the sun..

Who is she that looks forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners? (SoS 6:4)

So now here is my thought on how we can be presently unfinished and perfectly lovable at the same time.. because like Michelangelo, God sees the angel in the marble.

Imagine witnessing the carving of Michelangelo’s masterpiece. The entire process would be beautiful, not because the marble itself is so special, but because of the unveiling of the angel.

Or think of a man proposing to a woman – he proposes because he sees his bride in her, even while they are unmarried. So with God, positionally, He sees and loves His perfect bride in us, and yet practically, He still must get down on one knee and make us into His bride.

Right now He is down on one knee, carving His angel from marble, not for a moment losing sight of the masterpiece He perfectly sees.

I think of the way I draw portraits – I see the face in the blank page, and unless that face is my focus I cannot bring it out of the page. In the same way, God sees our face while He draws, while we only see a page with dark marks.

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be.. (1 John 3:2)

One application is that, if we live with the fear of being truly seen or known, I dare say we have a less than biblical view of ourselves – at least of who we are becoming. Rather than cringing at the idea of being fully seen and known, the truth is we should look forward to being discovered!

I like to think of opening up like the unfolding of a flower – notice how blooming flowers always draw us in. Flowers that are opening toward the sun are naturally more attractive and inviting than closed ones, though of course it’s only a simple illustration. My point is that the truest thing about each of us is absolute beauty, because of who we are becoming.

I think today, God is in love with all that is authentically us, and everything else about us, He loves by way of change, or carving. So I should add that though the carving process is glorious, it is painful. Imagine what the marble endures before becoming the masterpiece. Sometimes it will feel as though your very bones are being broken, but in fact, the great Sculptor is breaking off what is not really you.

So when you feel the hammer, take heart in Paul’s words, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Rom. 8:18)

And always remember that you, dearly beloved, are in very good hands.

“To please God… to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness… to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son- it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.”

C S Lewis

*Bethel’s “Ever Be”

**2 Cor. 3:18

Alive again

“your life is hidden with Christ in God…” (Col. 3:3)

My life is kept safe for me in my God. Who I am is hidden in who he is. As sure as he lives on, my life can never be lost. And I don’t merely mean my existing, but my quality of living can not be lost as long as he is my God.

My good life is kept securely for me in my God. I was breathed from his lungs. I was crafted from the raw materials of his heart. I was brought forth from God. I cannot really live while disconnected from him, because I am a part of him. I only work attached to him, like a limb. And isn’t that his message in John 15? “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” (v 5)

My peace endures in Jesus, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you…” (Jn 14:27). And if I have lost my joy it can be found again in him, “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (Jn 15:11)

What are you holding to so dearly, as though the loss would determine the quality of your living? Have you not learned that the fear is worse to suffer than the losses? Take heart in God, who is the greatest part of everything you love. Absent of his goodness, there is no true gift. His presence is the best part of our experience.

How can the lifegiving presence of God be explained? There is a real quality to it that surpasses understanding yet permeates our experience as we seek him. His presence is deep soul rest. His friendship brings sweet refreshment. His words calm our hearts. His closeness restores and revives us, and we come alive again. Yes, our wellbeing is hidden, and so found, in him.

More than we thought

Each of us possesses a great capacity that, unless God himself fills, will exist as empty as darkness in his absence. The soul can be filled with nothing less than God himself. This says everything for us. We were made for much more than we thought. We were made for God.

I wonder if it is better to believe in no God at all, than to believe him to be passive, or distant, or small. To be blinded by what we thought we saw. He is the meaning in everything we have ever experienced, yet still the element in everything we so desperately miss. He is the one we are looking for in everyone else. He is the more we’ve been hoping for. He is the voice, the face, the fragrance, that ruins us for less. Do we know how much we’ve missed him? He is the reason our hearts are broken beyond repair, until he dwells unparalleled there.

Life is beautiful, but unless we live in his presence, we are always on the outside looking in, and despite so much goodness – oh, how it escapes our experience.. But his presence, mysterious as it is, welcomes us in. With him the sunlight warms our souls and not just our skin, and life springs up from within. With him we become as fragrant as the flowers, as weightless as the wind. With him we enter in. Impossible as it seems at first, after living in such perpetual disconnect, the moment we break through it feels as natural and easy as breathing to do. And we will exist in spiritual depression unless we believe there is enough of heaven here for us to live on.

Yet what is heaven but the promise of the one we’ve so terribly missed, but have forgotten, despite how we’ve ached for him. Our hearts remember home, though we’ve lived as orphans. Our bodies remember being held, despite our disconnection. And heaven is the promise that we’ll be reunited again. Though now we may live in a certain degree of separation, then we will know constant invitation, continual communion.

We will know glory that outweighs our pain at the sight of his face, as we do here in moments, in glimpses. We will see heaven work backwards (as C.S. Lewis has said) bringing redemption to all that’s been broken. And we will realize we haven’t actually missed a thing, despite our grieving. And all we thought we were missing, or losing, in living, will be ours even more than it had been before. This is the promise of heaven. All will be restored to us again, even God himself. It’s him for whom we’ve been designed, and heaven for which we’ve been destined. And God, so relentless in his kindness, will break our hearts if he must, in forbidding us to settle for less. But oh, how we will credit him our truest friend in the end, 

We don’t do this. We don’t meet for coffee and smile politely while our hearts break quietly. We don’t look at the time, as if we have somewhere better to be. We don’t run out of things to say, or get uncomfortable with the silence, or resort to nervous tics. Or at least.. until now we didn’t.

I used to take sunsets personally, like he painted the sky just for me. I used to cry while he kissed my face. Now the tears have left no trace. I used to walk down the street smiling about him. I used to pass strangers like I knew the secret to life, convinced… If only they would stop to ask me what it is, they would run to him for their lives and never look back. I used to close my eyes on the plane, on the train, on the bus, enjoying our sweetest love. I would sing like he was listening. I would sway like we were dancing.

Oh God, what have we become? The couple sitting across the table from each other, arms crossed and hearts locked, having found a lover yet lost the wonder? You know I haven’t forgotten. It’s the memories leaving me lonely. Oh, how dearly I must be reminded that you remember me tenderly.

Maybe you can meet the crowds for coffee, but not me, please not me. I am in too deep. Do you remember me? My name is graven on your hands. Do you still miss my fragrance? Are my shoes still on your doorstep? Is my journal still by your bed? Tell me you haven’t forgotten, my Love, to remember me tenderly.

seals

You know me past my pretense. If you leave me, you’ll leave me too broken to fix. Will you run to me through this wilderness? Will you take hold of my hand? I will come home to you again, if only you’ll take me in. I will say yes without hesitation, if only you’ll ask me to dance. We’ll sway back and forth on your floor like before. Our love will be precious once more.

To be wrapped in each other’s presence is the closest I’ve been to heaven. All I want in life and in death is to lay my head on your chest, to be known as your beloved. Would you sing again, so my soul can rest, and hold me til dawn like you did?

I remember the words you prayed before you went away, “that she would be with me where I am…” Oh, to be with you where you are… Show me the way and I will walk in it. Keep your promise so that I may live. You said you’d come again. You promised. And I will hold you to it.

It’s early Wednesday morning as I silently sip my tea with half a thought, half a prayer in my quiet soul. Do you care to hear my voice when my throat is sore and I’m half awake? Can you see me past the morning fog that hides my face?

Sooner than I ask the question I feel you smile as if to say, I’m just happy to see you today.

For a second I wonder if it is only my imagination, until I hold back the tears that come because it sounds like something you’d say. Half of me is sorry I doubted my truest friend, and the other half, just happy to hear your voice again.

Where love began

You knock on my bedroom door before I’m ready and I hold my breath in a moment of panic, wondering how you’d respond if you saw me like this.

I am half dressed, scrambling to cover my nakedness. My face is wet with tears and yesterday’s makeup. My heart is caught in conflict. I’m scared of what I’ll say. I’m scared of what you’ll say. My heart is screaming your name, but my throat is choked by my shame. I can’t bear for you to walk away, but I’m terrified for you to stay.

Please, my Love, please wait.

You’ve waited a thousand years, you say, and that wasn’t all to leave me this way. So you wait, and you whisper my name, and you hum a melody meant only for me, until my heart responds in harmony. I close my eyes, and breathe.

My breath isn’t shallow like it was, but as deep as my need in your presence, and I lay back and rest. I haven’t even heard your footsteps, but you’ve come so close to me I can feel your heartbeat. I cry because you hold me with arms so holy, where I’ve felt unworthy to touch. I can’t believe the walls between us could be overcome by love.

But there are parts of me still hidden, and I don’t know how to let you in. I’m desperate to protect you from myself, from this crushing disappointment… am I really the one you wanted? If only I could be all that you deserve… How do you see beauty beyond my brokenness?

We’re quiet for a moment, and I grieve in the silence. But I find answers in your abiding presence. Your love simply is.

Is love really love when it has a reason to be, or is it proven when it makes no sense? Isn’t love most true when it has every excuse not to be? If love could be bought, it would become worthless by definition. Yes, reason would deem love meaningless. Love is a gift, you answered, and you said you are blessed in the giving, even more than I am in receiving.

You are blessed to hold me just like this, you promised, and you sealed it with the sweetest kiss, so our hearts couldn’t help but keep singing. I had come to the place where I thought love would end, only to find that was where love began.

Through the tears

I think we can give God the silent treatment without realizing it. We hurt, so we pray, but God doesn’t always save us from the pain. Hearts break, plans fail, we fall, and people die. We groan inside. We know God could have prevented what causes us such grief, or make it better, at least. But for whatever reason, we bleed.

We remain kind to him, but distant. We stand, but we don’t lift our hands. We pray, but we don’t praise. We are polite when all we want to do is fight until things are made right. We don’t confront him with our questions. Does our pain matter as much to him as his reasons? And if he cared as much, wouldn’t he spare us?

God might be the only one to break our heart for the better, but that doesn’t mean it hurts any less.

I keep thinking of the story of Lazarus. Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus when their dear brother was on his death bed because they knew Jesus loved him as much as they did, and he could make him better. Jesus said, “This will not end in death, but in glory” and then delayed until Lazarus was dead for four days. When he finally arrived, Mary stayed inside and cried, but Martha ran outside and confronted the Son of God, “If you had been here…”

Jesus gives her a promise, much like he does with us, but Martha’s comment implies that it wasn’t enough. Jesus promised again, “This will not end in death, but in glory,” and Martha responds that she already knows he’ll live in the end, but she was hoping he’d be alive in this moment. We too believe in God’s promises, but feel desperate for them in the present. Jesus replies by reminding her who he is. He is resurrection and life, and he asks her if she believes him despite death, and she says yes.

He calls for Mary, the one who loved to sit at his feet and listen, and now she fell at his feet and wept, “Jesus, if you had been here…” Jesus knew full well that he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He knew it was all for the best. But instead of repeating his promise, he was overwhelmed with the brokenness of that moment. He loved Mary, so he felt what she felt. He was deeply moved, and he wept. He saw Lazarus’ tomb, and he mourned. He too was torn.

JesusWept

We assume that since God knows the glory of the future, he forgets the pain of the present. But he is ever present. He is the truest kind of friend. He involves himself intimately in our experience. We can have tearful conversations and ask him the desperate questions. Though he is in complete control, he becomes completely vulnerable. Just because he is over it all doesn’t mean he’s not under it all. His Spirit in us feels our laughter and our tears. His heart aches with ours. We have no fear he has not felt or tear he has not wept. He bears our scars on his arms.

God has entered into our human experience. He embodied himself in our flesh to bleed with us, to bleed for us. He drank our cup of suffering to the very last drop. He has not forgotten.

God has experienced our condition in a way we never will. We don’t have to convince him by being downcast or distant. He understands. Because he validates how deeply we break, we can laugh with him without betraying our pain. We can dance in the rain. Since God cries when we cry, we can smile with him through the tears.

And through the tears of our trial he does smile, just like he did when he raised Lazarus from the dead, when he said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.
Psalm 46:1-3