Thoughts on hard places

Do you know the song, "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries"? Well, it's not true. In fact, it's a flat-out lie.

I suspect many of you would look at life and the world around you and agree. For most of the people I know and see in my world, life is difficult, and it involves more pain than we want to think about. It's a long ways from just sitting around enjoying good, sweet fruit.

In hard times, especially the ones that seem to have no end, I sometimes wonder what part God plays in this mess. Is he even in it? Can these things really come from a loving, sovereign God, a part of his will?


Recently, I read a book that started me thinking about my life and what redemptive value there might be in the hard times. The book was Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright. It's a very thought-provoking read, especially for those raised with some "traditional" beliefs about heaven, resurrection and our purpose in this life.

In one place in this fascinating work, Wright mentions the concept of purgatory, in some traditions a place where the dead go for purging and cleansing to prepare them for heaven. He points out that two leading Roman Catholic theologians have in recent years written on this topic, proposing that there is, indeed, a preparatory, but it's in this life, and not after it. This life prepares us for the future.

That set me thinking. As I have fervently sought God for relief from intensely difficult and painful experiences, and have seen no change in my situation, the questions have come: What did I do to deserve this? Does God really love me? Can I trust him? Why does God say he loves me and wants to bless me, while leaving me to suffer in these situations?

One answer might be that I have my focus in the wrong place, and what I think I understand is not reality, but a distorted perception. I want happiness and peace here and now, when it's clear that there will be little of that in a fallen, broken world that only gets worse, not better. I am simply not going to have an easy life here, and neither is anyone else who is focused on truly knowing and serving the one true and living God.

I was reading this morning in Revelation 4, and noticed that I have written in the margin, "Things to Come." I think I was mistaken. The chapter is a description of the throne room of God.

The throne room of God, and "heaven" in the sense of the "place of God" is not future, but present. It's now. What John described in that chapter was a present happening, and not something to look forward to some day, whenever.

Science fiction writers are very good at creating parallel realities, with multiple worlds, each invisible and unknown to the other. But is the idea of parallel reality only the stuff of fiction?

It seems that guys like John the Apostle and Ezekiel and a few others saw into a parallel reality, the reality of God. They didn't see the future, necessarily, but a different present, and they struggled to describe it. Revelation 4 is a small example of that. The Celtic Christians spoke of a curtain hanging between the reality we know, and the reality of God, or heaven. They understood places like Ezekiel and parts of Revelation as "tears in the curtain."

So, going back to the "purgatory" idea, is it possible that a part of what's going on in our lives is preparation for our move "through the curtain" into God's reality? That doesn't explain everything in life. There are still many questions. But it may be, I think, a part of the answer to my questions: Why doesn't God do something about my situation?

The answer is that there is another reality, and we live in part in that reality even now. And that reality is in fact a more important and more lasting one than what we know in our world.

And what I experience and choose and live in this life is both a little bit of bringing the "other side of the sky" to this earth, and preparation for my move to the other side, to live in God's presence.

Not a bad thought, and it puts my struggles in a different light.

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