Sunday, August 31, 2014

Forever After

I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

—Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Last Sunday was our 57th wedding anniversary and for the occasion I sent Carolyn an anniversary card depicting two frogs, one of which says to the other, “I’ll love you till I croak.” To which I added my own scrawl: “And beyond!” 

I’m sometimes asked, “Will we know and love one another in heaven?” George MacDonald answers that question with a counter–question: ”Will we be bigger fools in heaven than we are here?” Of course we will know and be known, love and be loved throughout eternity.[1]

Love is a divinely designed, essential part of our joy. We are not designed to be solitary beings, but lovers like God himself. And just as God on earth loved every person in a special way, so we are designed to love people specially. (Jesus had special friends: his disciples, Mary, Martha and Lazarus.)

Love is one of the greatest of God’s gifts to us and God’s gifts are “irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). Our family and special friends will always be our family and special friends. Heaven, thus, is just another place for love to grow. We never love well enough here; we will never be loved well enough. But in heaven we will love and be loved to perfection.

One of my favorite reads is George MacDonald’s novel The Golden Key, a tale of two children Mossy and Tangle, their love for one another and their journey together to find the door that can be opened with a golden key (Jesus). They love, marry and grow old together and then are lost to one another when Tangle dies. Mossy, old, lonely and foot-weary, finally arrives at the “place from which the shadows fall.”

He came to a great precipice of rock, up which he could discover but one path. Nor did this lead him farther than halfway up the rock, where it ended on a platform. Here he stood and pondered. It could not be that the way stopped here, else what was the path for? It was a rough path, not very plain, yet certainly a path. He examined the face of the rock. It was smooth as glass. But as his eyes kept roving hopelessly over it, something glittered, and he caught sight of a row of small sapphires. They bordered a little hole in the rock.
He tried the key. It fitted. It turned. A great clang and clash, as of iron bolts on huge brazen caldrons, echoed thunderously within. He drew out the key. The rock in front of him began to fall. He retreated from it as far as the breadth of the platform would allow. A great slab fell at his feet. In front was still the solid rock, with this one slab fallen forward out of it. But the moment he stepped upon it, a second fell, just short of the edge of the first, making the next step of a stair, which thus kept dropping itself before him as he ascended into the heart of the precipice. It led him into a hall fit for such an approach—irregular and rude in formation, but floor, sides, pillars, and vaulted roof, all one mass of shining stones of every color that light can show. In the centre stood seven columns, ranged from red to violet. And on the pedestal of one of them sat a woman, motionless, with her face bowed upon her knees. Seven years had she sat there waiting. She lifted her head as Mossy drew near. It was Tangle. Her hair had grown to her feet, and was rippled like the windless sea on broad sands. Her face was beautiful, like her grandmother’s, and as still and peaceful as that of the Old Man of the Fire. Her form was tall and noble. Yet Mossy knew her at once.

"How beautiful you are, Tangle!” he said, in delight and astonishment.

"Am I?” she returned. "Oh, I have waited for you so long! But you, you are the Old Man of the Sea. No. You are like the Old Man of the Earth. No, no. You are like the oldest man of all. You are like them all. And yet you are my own old Mossy!


[1] Jesus said, “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30)—a verse Carolyn ascribes to a scribal error. But Jesus’ statement about marriage doesn’t say anything about love in the hereafter. It was made in response to the Sadducees that posed the question of multiple marriages and how a man that had seven wives on earth could sort them out in heaven. It was a trick question since the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection (that’s why they were sad, you see) and only wanted to show how absurd the idea must be. Jesus replied that the question was irrelevant because there will be no “marriage” in heaven for there will be no need for it. We will be like the angels that live forever, and do not procreate. (A cherub, despite Rubens pudgy, little munchkins, is not a baby angel. It’s the Hebrew singular form of cherubim.) Marriage as an institution will be passé, because there will be no need to conceive and nurture children, nor will there be any need to safeguard our commitment to one another. But we will love one another forever for “love never ends” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

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