I spent a great deal of my childhood obsessed with nuclear war. I grew up in the 80’s during the Cold War near a plant where they put the final pieces of nuclear warheads together. And from a pretty young age, I was oddly aware of my own mortality and terrified of death. Thus, I would irrationally try to plan some sort of escape hatch in my mind, some way in which to evade the inescapable so that I would somehow be the one person who survives, just like the hero at the end of every great disaster movie. This battle in my mind and emotions with death continued as I grew into an adult. I never understood how other humans were so adept at seemingly ignoring the inevitability and unpredictability of their own deaths, because, well, that’s the one guarantee we all have in this life and the one thing we all have in common — our mortality. For me, it took my husband having a near death fall while rock climbing, the deaths of my father, my stepsister, and my stepfather, and a diagnosis in my own body that put me face-to-face with the vapor of my own life to finally force me to wrestle with the Lord until I came out the other side with unwavering faith instead of fear.
"Sooner or later God meets every trusting child who is following Him up the mountain and says, "Now prove that you believe this that you have told Me you believe, and that you have taught others to believe." Then is your opportunity. God knows, and you know, that there was always a hope in your heart that a certain way would not be yours. "Anything but that, Lord," had been your earnest prayer. And then, perhaps quite suddenly, you found your feet set on that way, that and no other. Do you still hold fast to your faith that He maketh your way perfect? It does not look perfect. It looks like a road that has lost its sense of direction: a broken road, a wandering road, a strange mistake. And yet, either it is perfect, or all that you have believed crumbles like a rope of sand in your hands. There is no middle choice between faith and despair." (Amy Carmichael)
“For you are just a vapor that appears for a little while, and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14)
“All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the Lord blows upon it; The people are indeed grass!” (Isa 40:6-7)
Many of today’s messengers would have us believe that the hope promised to us by the gospel is mostly for today - that if we but believe, Jesus will give us our best lives right now. He’ll fix our emotions, deliver us from all our problems with sin, heal our bodies, and give us perfect, prosperous circumstances. But that’s not really what the Bible points to as the hope of our calling and the ultimate gift of salvation.
It’s not that Jesus doesn’t do anything for us in the now. He does. He may even do some of the things above, some of the time, for some people. But the “peace that passes understanding,” the contentment that Paul had “in any and every circumstance,” and the “prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” that enabled Paul to count everything else as rubbish and press on for the one thing that really mattered was not about this life — it was about the promise of the resurrection and eternal life with God in Christ Jesus. There is something glorious for us past the veil of this age, something our mortal minds cannot fathom and our fleshy hearts would burst to behold, and all of Scripture is pointing toward it.
In John 17:24, Jesus prayed His deepest desire, and the plans and desires of the Trinity, as He moved toward the Cross: “Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, may be with Me where I am, to see My glory that You have given Me because You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” In Revelation 21, John sees this desire finally answered in its fullness when he sees the new heaven, the new earth, and the New Jerusalem. John describes the scene this way: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:3-4). Revelation 21-22 is simply one glimpse of the age to come (and probably the one we are most familiar with), but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Old and New Testaments are full of promises concerning the age to come. Unfortunately, we often misunderstand these verses as metaphor or just skip over them entirely, but they are there nonetheless and worth searching out.
But for the redeemed, the greatest promise of heaven is not seeing our loved ones again or the promise of no more tears and no suffering; it’s finally seeing the Lord face to face. Paul says it like this: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12). Can you even imagine?! Revelation 4 describes the scene around the throne of God with living creatures who are covered with eyes who have done nothing for all of eternity but behold the beauty and glory of God Himself, and they never grow bored or tired of it. Day and night, for all of eternity, covered in a multitude of eyes just so they can take in all of His glorious beauty, they cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come” and they give Him glory, honor, and thanks (Rev 4:5-11). If you think for a second that you’re going to be bored in the presence of Yahweh in eternity to come, then you have no idea who He is and you are in for a very big surprise. The fullness of the beauty and majesty of God that we will finally know when we stand in His presence unhindered by the veil of this age will be the culmination of all that we have ever longed for, needed, and/or imagined… plus so much more.
“As the departing saint wades through the stream, and the billows gather around him, and heart and flesh fail him, the same voice sounds in his ears, "Fear not; I am with thee; be not dismayed; I am thy God." As he nears the borders of the infinite unknown, and is almost affrighted to enter the realm of shades, Jesus says, "Fear not, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Thus strengthened and consoled, the believer is not afraid to die; nay, he is even willing to depart, for since he has seen Jesus as the morning star, he longs to gaze upon Him as the sun in his strength. Truly, the presence of Jesus is all the heaven we desire.” (Charles Spurgeon)
If we can grab hold of a vision of Eternity and anchor our hope firmly to Jesus there, it’s then that we’ll have a song to sing through the dark nights that we will almost certainly endure throughout our lives. Like the lyrics of this chorus, we can “let go of the rudder in the storm” and trust that Jesus will see us through to the other side just as He has for all the saints in the cloud of witnesses. Letting go of the rudder means truly letting go. It means we must trust just as Jesus trusted in the Garden of Gethsemane; and though we may ask for deliverance from trials and troubles, we must also yield the whole of our lives to His goodness (Rom 8:28) and pray, “not my will, but Yours Lord.” We pray this because we know that the promise and hope of the gospel reaches far beyond today and any troubles it may bring. When we truly see the reach of the gospel and believe it, there is no pain, no suffering, and no loss that will be able to shake us loose from our hope in the future that Jesus has secured for us through the Cross. We are able to cling wholeheartedly to Jesus, the lover and anchor of our souls, and trust Him to steer our ship all the way to Eternity’s shores.