Many years ago I sojourned awhile at Spurgeon’s College. I remember once being set an essay titled something like, “Is it possible to be human outside relationships?” I don’t think I really understood the question then, but would do a much better job of answering it now.
There is in all of us a crying need for relationship. I believe this need springs primarily from our being created in the image of God, for relationship with God. As Augustine put it, “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.” This primary need of relationship with God is then expanded by our need for relationships with other people. As God said of Adam before the creation of Eve, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
This being the case, relationships with others are the source of our greatest joy, but also of our greatest pain. A couple of weeks back I took a wedding, and yesterday I took the funeral of a baby. Both these occasions reinforced the truth of this.
Whenever we commit ourselves to a relationship we commit ourselves to joy. After all, we enter into relationships in order to find joy – no-one gets married or has children in order to make themselves miserable! Yet at the same time, when we enter a deep relationship we also guarantee ourselves pain. If a loved one suffers, we suffer with them. If a loved one dies, a part of us dies with them. If a loved one sins against us, our souls are cut.
On returning from Cornwall on Monday I uploaded our photos on to my hard drive and while doing so had a quick look at some videos and pictures from previous Cornish holidays. Those pictures represent moments of incredible joy – moments of numinous blessing with my wife and kids. I would like to be able to stick together every joy filled moment into one long video tape, and keep playing it over and over and for that to be my life evermore!
But that is not how life is. Every joy filled moment is only the prelude to a more painful one – something as trivial as the kids having a fight, or the frustration of wrestling huge amounts of stuff off the beach up endless cliff steps, or a mosquito bite to the ankles; Or maybe something massive and life-shattering, like the death of a spouse or a serious illness.
Our hope as followers of Jesus though, is that this is not how life will always be. There will be a day when those moments of joy will expand infinitely while the points of pain will recede into nothing. We have the hope of resurrection, and a new heavens and earth – of a world and life made perfect, where “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)
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