Reflections

“Autumn Light” © 2018 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2018 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.”

After all, rebellion reigned the day.

For this reason, I concluded my days with a healthy dose of guilt and self-condemnation; I promised myself I would do better the next day.

But, of course, the cycle began anew on the following morning.

I knew nothing of God’s grace.

I certainly could relate to the apostle Paul when he wrote, “…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.

They no longer trusted their gracious heavenly Father. They feared Him. Rebellion stood in the way.

There, in that twilight, life did not become more clear as the serpent promised.

Yeah, they saw through a glass darkly…

Yet, 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 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 wouldsuffer, but Christ would suffer more… for humanity’s sake.

Indeed, 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.

Yes, even though Abba could have just scrapped it all after the human debacle in Eden, love prevailed.

Hosea’s book actually illustrates the depths of God’s love for me and you. You may recall that God asked Hosea to marry in order to depict God’s love for His people.

The way of suffering would lead back to Abba and the garden.

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. 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.

Like Gomer, you and I have wandered away from God.

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.

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…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).

I see now that heaven is so much more than simply a preferred alternative to hell. Heaven is illuminated by God’s grace.

And even 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.

Indeed, God’s love is patient, kind… it never fails, (I Corinthians 13).

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…our Paradise Lost as John Milton once wrote.

Paul writes, “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God,” (Romans 8:19).

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.

Thus, 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.

And in the meantime,you and I do not journey without hope. We hang on because we know that Eden is worth it, (Romans 8:18).

The human soul longs for Eden.

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.

But God’s promise shines: through Christ, we will rejoin the God in His garden.

His love for us is infinitely deeper, wider and more steadfast than any we have ever known, (Romans 8:38-39).

At present, we see through a glass darkly. But then, we will see Him face-to-face.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then, we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then, I shall know fully, even as I am fully known,”~I Corinthians 13:12