Gary Thomas, the founder of The Centre for Evangelical Spirituality, has an excellent book called Authentic Faith, and on the cover is a quote from the book which has always struck me so forcibly, “What if life isn’t meant to be perfect, but we are meant to trust the one who is?”
Now, I want you to hear me clearly here, and to hear what Dr Thomas says inside the covers of his book: God never intended, never created, the world of pain and grief in which we find ourselves. He created a whole, perfect world, and “saw that it was good” as Genesis repeatedly reminds us. God never created, nor intended us to be the frail, fallible, sinful beings we now are. He created whole, perfect men and women – “male and female he created them” – who were fit to rule over the earth he had made, and all the living creatures he had made to live in it in harmony.
It was only when we had sinned, when we had disobeyed God and chosen to trust the smooth words of the serpent, that the world as we know it came gradually into being. (Remember the ages of the sons of Adam and their descendants, in Genesis 5? It wasn’t till after the flood that we started living lives that ended in double figures...)
But now that we, and our world, are in the state we’re in, God doesn’t intend for us to live everlasting lives of perfect peace, health and harmony, once we had become changed by our transaction with the enemy – which is why in Genesis 3 God decided to throw us out of Eden in case we ate from the tree of life as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – until we had been cleansed by the blood of Jesus.
These two trees were really a matter of whether mankind would be obedient and trust God. When considered in this light, the fruit of the tree of life is “life itself”. The choice of the tree of knowledge of good and evil represents mankind’s desire to decide for themselves what is to be considered good and evil. In a spiritual sense, the “fruit” of the tree of knowledge would be “death.” God said, “for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”
So, now that we find ourselves out of Eden, “we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14 (NIV) We can never be at home in time and place as we know them, and all that we know is partial, and temporary, and broken.
Jeremy Cook, president of Vineyard Music Global, and pastor of Hull Vineyard, has this to say in an article in Worship Together magazine:
“We desperately want to experience the glory of God, but we want to avoid the vehicle by which it often comes – pain and difficulty. Because Jesus, our model, embraced suffering in light of the glory to come, we as Christians must be prepared to embrace suffering. Outside of the western world, the Church has had to embrace suffering in significant degrees, and these brothers and sisters will attest to the transformation of the heart that occurs in the place of trial. In my view, it is in the embracing of suffering that the revelation of the glory of Christ increasingly comes to us.
His glory is the fullness of His revelation.
The celebration that awaits us is worth enjoying now, in the midst of earthly struggle. When we embrace our suffering, we are embracing the hope of heaven even before we can see it. Fix your eyes on Jesus, and join in the dance.”
Our accepting Jesus as our Saviour, our risen Lord, has brought us life; but what is going to undo the poison of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, the result of our falling for the enemy’s line about “you will be like God”? By his grace God may in some people’s lives remove not only sin but the stain of sin seemingly without struggle – but for most of us it requires discipline, the gradual reshaping of ourselves according to God’s plan: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” Psalm 119:71 (NIV)
Through suffering – maybe in the end only through suffering, we can enter into the glory of the presence of God: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Cor. 4:17 (NIV)
We may not understand why we suffer, but what we can understand are God’s promises related to suffering: Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV) Paul’s understanding of God’s promise in Romans 8 “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." (Romans 8:18 NIV)
It has been said that for those who sincerely believe in Jesus Christ this short, trouble filled life on Earth will be the closest thing to Hell we will ever experience... but for those who don’t believe, this life will be the closest thing to Heaven...
So, no matter who we are or what we are, the Bible says our path to Heaven is all the same. We are saved from Hell through our love for God and faith in Christ Jesus.
Our perception of God and Heaven may now seem a little hazy, but then (as soon as this body dies) we will see everything clearly. We’re told nobody on Earth will fully understand all these things. As the Apostle Paul tells us we will not see clearly until after this body dies... “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12 NIV)
One day we shall know – one day we shall see the front of the tapestry. You see, life is like a tapestry that is being woven continually. It is being woven by God on the one hand, and by choices that we make on the other hand. It is like we are knitting. God has one needle and we have the other and together we knit out our life.
When some of us look at this tapestry, we believe in God. There are people who look at a sunset and say that God exists. There are people who birth a child and are converted at the birth. There are people who have had their heart suddenly changed in some kind of a conversion experience. But there are also people who look at that tapestry and say, “I see no proof of God.” This is common in the “scientific world” that most of us grew up in. There are those who look at evil like the London bombings or the horror of 9/11 and say, “No God would allow this.”
Here is the problem: We are only seeing one side of the tapestry. We only see what our senses apprehend. We never get on the other side of the tapestry. We never see the back side.
God starts all of our prayers, prompts us into prayer by his Holy Spirit, but we contribute by cooperating with grace. Prayer is like a thread going into that tapestry. We might pray for someone who has cancer. The thread goes into the tapestry where our that person is, but where that thread comes out, we have no idea. We have no way of knowing. Threads that go into the tapestry do not necessarily come out in the next spot; they may travel underneath. For all we know, our intercession this morning about our own church is helping a church in Thailand. Perhaps our own lives are sustained by people that live in a different time zone and are doing church, or sitting alone having their quiet time somewhere else around the world.
I am quite sure that when we die and get to see on the other side of the tapestry we shall see that no prayer, no matter how brief, no matter how little or insignificant it seems to us, is ever wasted.
All of those prayers, all of that energy, all of those threads that went into the tapestry, came out somewhere. When we die, all of those little prayers that we prayed will be our treasure. The Lord will lay them at our feet and say, “There, that's what you did!”
We will be in some unknowable way rewarded for all those times that we prayed for people. We will see that none of our prayers were wasted. All of our prayers were answered, but perhaps in ways that we could never imagine in this life.
We know so little – we cannot work it out, and in fact I think that the brains of even the best of us, the greatest thinkers and scientists, could not begin to compute the warp and the woof of that tapestry. We’re not supposed to try and work it out. That’s why God gave us Scripture, why we have his promises. We don’t know what it’s all about, but we know where it leads: to glory!