Thursday, December 3, 2015

Echoes of Emptiness

Yesterday, I wrote about the sticky theological problem of there being no mourning in Heaven. But the question goes far beyond even the difficult things I was able to mention in one short post. Most pressingly, it's hard to imagine a Heaven without mourning when it's rather clear that it's been full of mourning since Genesis 3.

God Himself mourns.

God mourns the turning away of His creation. He mourns the loss of His people's hearts. He mourns the brokenness, the destruction, the hate, the poverty in His world. He mourns His tarnished creation. And as heart-breaking, as gut-wrenching, as grief and mourning are, we just don't have a paradigm by which these things ever go away.

We can't imagine that when God restores the creation, when He re-creates the world, that this sting in His heart is just going to go away. That all of a sudden, He's not going to grieve any more about all that His creation has been through, about all we have lost, about all we have given away, about all we have missed, about all we have mistaken. 

It's like when you see someone who's been struggling for so long finally break through. It's like when you see someone finally reach their full potential. It's like when you see someone turn a corner, and for the first time, it feels like things are going to be okay. There's this overwhelming joy, this amazing pride, this awesome sense of peace...but these are only heightened by a deepening sense of grief. In these victorious moments, we feel the pain of struggle all the more. 

Receiving the all-clear from the oncologist only makes us look back on the dozens of rounds of chemo. Hoisting the championship trophy makes us think about all the rebuilding years. Crossing the finish line makes us remember all of the training miles we put in. Landing that steady job makes us reflect on the poverty that's marked the past season. We don't feel "bad" about these things any more, don't feel the immense pain of them. There's almost a certain nostalgia to it. But fullness has a way of emphasizing the emptiness in a way we just can't shake. 

And I think that's the way it's going to be when God looks at His redeemed, restored creation. He's going to be overwhelmed with joy, content with peace, but I don't think He can just shake off all the heartbreak that He's felt over the years at the state of His creation, the condition of His people. I think the fullness of redemption has to be somewhere in the tension between what always was and what finally is.

And I can't imagine that my response will be any different. I can't imagine a world in which I don't look at the recreated, restored, whole people who have been part of my broken journey here, where I finally see them as they were always intended to be...and I'm overcome at once with joy and with the nagging sense of heartbrokenness that this was hiding inside of them the whole time, and they were never able to latch onto it. Mourning is not our primary emotion, but joy is only complete in filling an emptiness. 

Can we ever be whole without feeling our emptiness? I can't imagine that we could. I don't think we ever have.

Yet I'm also aware that we've never lived a Heavenly life. We've never lived in a non-broken world. Maybe things are really that different there. Maybe there's a way. Maybe the way we feel joy in Heaven is so far beyond even the greatest joy that we have here that we can't even imagine what it's going to be like. If that's the case, I can't wait to see it. 

But I'm ready, too, if my heart always stays a little broken, if I always have echoes of this emptiness inside of me. Because at least from what I know here, the emptiness makes the space for the joy to go all the deeper. 

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