© 2017 Lynn Abbott
When I was a little girl, I feared heaven. Of course, I feared hell–that place of outer spiritual and physical darkness–more.
And so, even though I was terrified of a heaven where I would stand before a Holy God in all my imperfection, I desperately tried to be good lest I displease Him, and be relegated to that “other place.”
I knew nothing of God’s grace.
My parents loved me unconditionally. And they gave me grace. God, on the other hand, seemed far off. And His expectations high.
I can recall that as early as age 7, I resolved each morning to become acceptable to God. Then, I got out of bed. And it was all down hill from there.
“How much trouble can a 7-year-old get into?” you ask.
“Trouble a plenty,” is my reply. “Especially if that same 7-year-old grew up during the 1960s and early 1970s in the San Francisco Bay area.”
Yes, rebellion reigned supreme; Hollywood glamorized the anti-hero.
For this reason, you won’t be surprised when I say that during that time, I concluded each day with a healthy dose of guilt and self-condemnation. Nevertheless, I promised myself I would do better the next day.
And of course, the cycle began anew on the following morning.
I certainly could relate to the apostle Paul when he wrote, “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do but I am doing the very thing I hate,” (Romans 7:15).
I suspect my fear of heaven had its root in the fact that I knew I didn’t measure up. Like Adam and Eve, I hid… I shrunk back from God who loved me.
Indeed, that day in paradise, the enemy hijacked humanity. With lies, he persuaded Eve that rebellion was the path to self-enlightenment.
Thus, she and Adam disobeyed God and walked into darkness. Darkness… because after all, God is light. To step out of His presence is to wander, at the very least, in shadow.
There, in that twilight, life did not become more clear as the serpent promised. Instead, the first couple’s vision clouded. Like those looking through old windows, peering into antiqued mirrors, or gazing into water’s reflection, they could not see clearly. For this reason, when Abba called them, they hid in terror.
They no longer trusted their gracious heavenly Father. They feared Him. Rebellion stood in the way; it muddied their perspective. Edenic living was no longer possible. Or as John Milton once wrote, “Paradise (was) Lost.”
Yeah, they saw through a glass darkly…
Most are familiar with the account of Adam and Eve. I think, though, that we often miss the fact that even in the midst of that terrible tragedy, even as Adam and his beloved Eve left the garden, they carried with them a glimmer of grace.
God promised that between the seed of the woman and the serpent, there would be no love lost. In fact, God spoke of One who would come and put things right: “He shall bruise you (the serpent) on the head, And you (the serpent) shall bruise him on the heel,” (Genesis 3:15b).
The way of suffering would lead back to Abba and the garden. Humanity would suffer, but Christ would suffer more… for humanity’s sake.
In the shadow lands, hope would sparkle in Bethlehem’s nighttime sky. Christ’s suffering will bring glory. But in the meantime, the world, despite its cloak of darkness, continues to partially reflect Abba’s love and grace.
That cloudy reflection–the beauty in the midst of pain and suffering–drew me as a preteen, and it draws me now.
In fact, my first understanding of God’s love came through a beautifully illustrated book, Uncle Arthur’s Bible Stories. Through the book’s paintings and accompanying Bible stories, I discovered Abba’s love story. And quite frankly, scripture describes a love beyond anything I can imagine.
I read the Biblical accounts and reveled in paintings that reflected God’s love and faithfulness to His promise to Adam and Eve… Grace heralded the coming of the Promised One.
Humanity witnessed Abba’s love in all the colors of the rainbow. Moses experienced grace through the beauty and power of a burning bush. David found forgiveness and expressed it through music and dance. While in captivity, Daniel caught a glimpse of humanity’s glorious future through vibrant visions.
Even though Abba could have just scrapped it all after the human debacle in Eden, love prevailed.
In fact, Hosea’s book illustrates the depths of God’s love for me and you. God asked Hosea to marry in order to depict God’s love for His people.
Hosea obeyed and married God’s choice for him, a former prostitute. Yet, Scripture indicates that Hosea loved her.
They had three children. But then, she left. Motherhood may have been more than she bargained for… In the midst of daily struggles, her old life may have appeared easier or more glamorous.
Or perhaps, like Eve, she believed the lie and thought her life lacked something valuable.
Whatever the case, like Adam and Eve, she exchanged genuine love for a life of shallow substitutes.
When Hosea found her, he begged her come home. But she refused. I imagine the prophet’s heart broke. But he didn’t give up on his bride.
Life went from bad to worse: Hosea’s wife, Gomer, was sold into slavery.
And so, Hosea, deeply in love, went after her. He paid the slave trader and brought Gomer home.
Hosea forgave her, time and time again; he offered grace when he might have written her off. Such was his love for Gomer.
And like Gomer, you and I have wandered away from God. Yet, Abba’s heart has remained faithful. He lovingly pursues us. And Christ has paid our ransom on the cross in order to bring us home.
On the cross, He defeated our greatest enemy. And just as God promised Adam and Eve, Christ’s heel was bruised, but the serpent and his weapon, death, were crushed.
Without a doubt, God loves you and me more than Hosea loved Gomer. Indeed, His love is patient, kind… it never fails, (I Corinthians 13).
As a child, I feared heaven because I saw through the glass darkly. I didn’t understand Abba’s heart. I trembled before the perfect God I didn’t know. But God found me, and His perfect love eliminated fear.
I see now that heaven is so much more than simply a preferred alternative to hell. Heaven is illuminated by God’s grace.
John assures us, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment…there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear…” (I John 4:15-18a).
Love crushed the serpent. Love paid the ransom. And now, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1).
True, on the journey back to Eden, we frequently experience pain and suffering. We encounter dangers of every variety. The enemy seeks to derail us. And the gateway to Paradise is often perilous.
However, as I journey through this dark world and back to the One who loves me more than I can fathom, I find the glimmers of the garden that yet remain. Eden has not yet been restored, but I see traces of it in the world around me.
That’s probably why when loved ones die, when friends face illness, when heartbreak hits, or when the day-to-day overwhelms us, you and I intuitively look for something better.
The human soul longs for Eden.
Yes, you and I experience pain and sorrow. The road home is often difficult.
Paul writes, “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God,” and “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now,” (Romans 8:19,22).
Undoubtedly, we travel through an imperfect world. And while Abba could immediately take His children home, He delays. He knows that as we sojourn here that His grace will shine through us and draw others, too. Our reflection may be imperfect; yet, grace glimmers through us.
Yes, our Father waits patiently for the beloved. When I experience pain and suffering in this world, I participate in God’s story of grace. I await Eden because love waits for those who have wandered.
Sometimes when I paint, the colors on my palette become muddy. When that happens, I know it is time to clean my palette. Yet, I often put it off as long as possible in order to save the colors that remain.
God works in a similar way. Currently, much of the world’s palette has grown murky. Things have lost their original, vibrant hue. Yet, He seeks to save.
For this reason, we wait for those who have wandered as we gradually make our way back to Paradise.
And you and I do not journey without hope. We hang on because we know that Eden is worth it.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” Paul said, (Romans 8:18).
The Master Gardener has planted Paradise in my heart. And someday, His love will bloom and I will experience grace face-to-face, (I Corinthians 13:12).
His love and the colors of Paradise will be richer, deeper, clearer, more vibrant and real than the shadowy reflection we experience here. After all, face-to-face reality outshines any reflection.
Of course, at present, humanity no longer lives in Eden.
But we have Abba’s promise. And He always keeps His promises. After all, just as He told Adam and Eve, One came and crushed the serpent’s head. Jesus found us and now leads us back to Abba’s house, (John 14:1-4).
I love the way C.S. Lewis describes it in his children’s book, The Last Battle. As the children follow Aslan into Aslan’s country, they find it is not so very strange or different.
Aslan’s country, in fact, resembles Narnia; however, Aslan’s is more vibrant… the colors are richer and deeper. Things appear more focused.
Heaven is like that. We know because John describes it in the book of Revelation. In his description, gemstones become the standard of color and light. God’s country glistens. And John writes that the Tree of Life grows in heaven as it did in Eden, (Revelation 22:1).
But most of all, God’s love and grace fully envelop all who dwell there.
As the Message puts it, “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!” (I Corinthians 13:12).
This world’s glass reflects darkly. Eden fades like a distant memory.
Yet, God’s promise gives us hope, shining brighter than any rainbow: when this journey ends, we will rejoin the God in His garden. And His love for us is infinitely deeper, wider and more steadfast than any we have ever known, (Romans 8:38-39).
For now, we see through a glass darkly. But then, we will see Him face-to-face.
” And He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away,” ~Revelation 21:4
“‘…I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with loving kindness,'” ~Jeremiah 31:3b