It was with great sadness that I saw that Michael Spencer, AKA The Internet Monk (one of my all-time favorite bloggers) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Barring a miracle, he is expected to live for only 6 months to a year longer.
That, along with my own father-in-law's brain tumor, has made me focus once again on the brevity of life, and how quickly everything passes.
Don't worry... this won't be a morbid post!
I found myself thinking back to my horrid 6-month long panic attack of last year. As horrible and hellish as it was, I came away with something good (even though at the time I saw it as anything but) -- that is, the awareness of how nothing here is eternal. All the things that I took for granted as "normal" would one day pass away... goofy things like TV shows, or trips to the coffee shop, or sitting in the library. I realized that I was truly CLINGING to those things that I considered to be normal, as if they would somehow remain and would hold all the evil at bay. Of course, if you had asked me I would have denied it, but going through that 6 months when I had to envision the horror of everything I took to be normal, routine, and comfortable ripped away from me made me realize just what I was holding on to: nothing.
OK, so HOW is this not a morbid post? Bear with me.
It was during this time that I came across a book... I think the Internet Monk recommended it, actually... called SURPRISED BY HOPE: RETHINKING HEAVEN, THE RESURRECTION, AND THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH (whew! What a title!) Now, I have to start by saying I'm not exactly recommending this book. I thought he took a lot of cheap potshots at Catholicism, and there were some parts that I had great problems with.
So why am I even mentioning it?
Because before I read it -- if you had asked me about the afterlife -- I would have mentioned Heaven, of course, and some vague bit about the resurrection of our bodies, but that would be about it. In my mind, however, I still had visions of fluffy clouds, everything white and sunshiny bright, and... well... foreign. There was nothing in that picture that appealed to me, nothing that made me "long for home, " and nothing that brought joy to my heart. Sure, I would have told you that I would see God face to face, and it was supposed to be amazing, but my heart really wasn't in it. THIS place, THIS life, is home to me, and to pretend it wasn't was just a sham.
So last year was incredibly hard for me, because while I was dealing mentally with the end of everything I hold dear down here, I was faced with my only hope being a place that didn't really appeal to me. I felt lost, alone, and a total failure as a Christian on top of everything else.
After reading this book, however, I came away with a real glimmer of excitement. For some reason, the resurrection of the body, which I believed in wholeheartedly, never really sunk in before on an emotional level before then. Coupled with that was reading about the author's excitement about a new earth... something that we confess we believe in, but somehow I never thought about before. A new earth. Not some glowy, ethereal cloudlike existence, but the promise of a new earth. Once I let myself just meditate on that for a bit, I came to realize that all those things that CS Lewis mentions that bring us great joy... all those moments in our lives that speak to us of what our hearts are really searching for... will be there. I may be crazy, but a new earth to me speaks of seasons, of sunrises and sunsets that just take your breath away, of a cool autumn breeze blowing in your face as you bundle up in your favorite sweater and crunch leaves beneath your feet.
These are some of the joys that God has created, and the thought that I wouldn't have to say goodbye to these forever brought me a hope that I never had before. There is a joy in being human, and our bodies are incredibly important to God. Matter... matters. I don't have to envision some glowy, cloudlike, entirely spiritual existence (like I said, I didn't realize I had mentally painted that picture for myself, but over the years the bits and pieces of people's ideas, mixed with cheesy artistic renderings of the afterlife coupled with vague "beyond-and-back" stories had done quite a number on my vision of what is to come). We were made with bodies to run, to laugh, to hug, to create, to cook, etc. I am human, and always will be human -- not some vague spiritual blob.
I can get excited by the prospect of not only seeing the Lord face to face, but of spending eternity in a resurrected body with surroundings that don't look so foreign after all. What will it be like? I have no idea... but for the first time in my life, I do have hope, and that is worth the pain I had to go through last year.
So will I grieve for Michael Spencer and my father-in-law if the Lord chooses to take them soon? Of course I will. I'm in tears now just thinking of life without my father-in-law, and what a huge hole will be left behind if he goes. But I know that IT IS ONLY TEMPORARY. As hard as that is to see right now, all of this will one day be no more, and I will see all those that have gone already. And on that day, I won't have to worry about ever saying goodbye again. I won't have to worry about all this garbage that we are faced with on a daily basis. I won't have to worry about my children, or about all the evil in the world, or about everything disappearing one day. I will finally have that security and stability that I have always craved, and I won't have to fear it being taken away from me.