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All Gain, No Pain

by Joy Choquette

Six-year-old Child Shot in Crossfire of Gang Wars”

“Elderly Woman Found Dead in Her Secluded Country Home, the Apparent Victim of a Fall”

“Two Teens Die in DUI Accident”

The headlines scream at us. Magazines, newspapers, and blogs remind us monthly, daily, hourly, that the world is a dangerous and scary place. That the old saying really is true: there is nothing certain in life but death and taxes.
It’s so easy to believe this, isn’t it? When we’re inundated with more and more stories about personal struggle: of families who lose their lives in a freak flooding, parents who lose their children to disease and sickness, violence that claims life in inner cities, and far beyond. Brothers shooting brothers, sisters turning on parents, children killing other children.

Every several weeks, it seems, we hear about another school shooting. Staring wide-eyed and sickened into the face of grief, we can only ask “Why?” And there are so many others: Shootings and stabbings, overdoses, drinking and driving related deaths, heart attacks and cancer and car accidents and . . . on and on it goes. “How can God let this happen?” People ask after a tragedy.
“How can a loving God allow him to die?” or “I won’t believe in a God who would let something like this happen to my sweet little niece.”

It’s very easy to get drawn into this way of thinking. Easier still? Blaming God for all the bad things that happen in our lives: for death and disease, for brokenness and sin, and for the true ugliness of human nature.

But what does the Bible say about this? Let’s take a look in Revelation 21:3: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’ ” (NIV).*

At church this week one of the teachers, Sandi, was talking to the preteen and teenage class about heaven. “Is there going to be mixed martial arts in heaven?” one of the 16-year-old boys asked.

Sandi smiled and shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve never been there. But I believe it’s going to be a lot different than we imagine.”

“How so?” the kids asked.

“Well, a lot of people think that we’ll just be sitting on puffy white clouds, strumming harps, but I don’t think it will be like that at all,” Sandi replied. “That sounds really boring.”

I think she’s right. Heaven will be someplace that we never want to leave. Imagine that! Think back to one of the best experiences you’ve ever had in your life. Maybe it was the time you were 10 and got a new bike and took it on its first expedition down the road. Or maybe it was the time your grandmother signed you up for horseback riding lessons and you fell in love, absolutely in love, with the smell of the leather saddle, the feel of the soft fur against your legs as you rode around the ring. Was it the time you were singing in the master choir at school? the laughter that buoyed you up as you played amateur stand-up comedian at a friend’s house during dinner? the freedom you experienced the first time you ever drove alone in a car? your first trip to Disney World?

I think heaven will be like that. It will be like one of those experiences that we wish deep and hard would never, ever end. It will be like all our birthdays and Christmases rolled into one, every beautiful moment shared, every exciting experience, every taste of freedom, every laugh-filled, joy-filled, love-filled moment of our lives captured in this one, eternal home. Forever.

Revelation 21:4, 5 says this: “ ‘He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’ ” (NIV).

What does this mean to you, that God promises us there will be no more death or mourning, no crying or pain? Can you imagine a world in which these things didn’t exist? Imagine with me for a minute that we lived in a world without pain. Diseases would be nonissues, as would pain of every kind. No more hurt feelings, mean words, cruel laughter. No more bullying. No death or mourning. No loss and loneliness. No grief.

But God didn’t say just that there would be an end to these things. It’s not going to be an empty void that replaces all of these negatives. There’s going to be so much more! “I am making everything new!” (verse 5, NIV). So what will there be in abundance when all the bad stuff is gone forever? Love and grace. Peace, hope, and joy. Beauty and passion. Care and kindness. All of the beautiful, positive attributes of God will radiate around and through us. Together we can quote the apostle Paul: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55, NIV). Because of the promise of this new place that God is building to share with us forever we can face the darkness of this life with new vision.

Have you ever looked at those funny 3-D picture books that were popular several years ago? Looking straight at the page, you see a pattern. But when you allow your eyes to become unfocused, your gaze to soften, a very cool three-dimensional picture appears within the pattern.

Life is sort of like this kind of book. We walk through it often seeing only the here and now. There’s a lot to keep us busy every day, and busy we are! It’s easy to get caught up in seeing what’s right here in front of us: the people we talk to, the loved ones we care about, the hobbies we pursue. The joy we feel is only a fraction of what we’ll someday experience in God’s presence. Every one of us experiences pain and heartache at one time or another in this life. We spend a lot of time looking only at the present, that flat page in front of us. Sometimes we forget to soften our gaze, to imagine for a while the bigger, more beautiful picture.

Dig deeper into God’s vision for us, and you’ll see that there’s a reason for all of these things that break our hearts here on earth. Sin. Sin rears its ugly head, and we are left numb with shock over a life lost or a home burned down or a pet that dies. It’s been here since the beginning of time, ever since Adam and Eve first felt the juice of the forbidden fruit drip down their chins. Sin causes our world to be broken; pain and heartache follow close on its heels.

But that isn’t what God intended for us. That’s not His ultimate plan. We are meant to live in perfect peace with Him someday. We will fully understand how incredible He is, more than our wildest dreams or best imaginings.

Pretend for a minute that you’re creating a beautiful sculpture for someone. You love this person so much, more than your own life. Through this work you hope that they can recognize even a fraction of the love you feel for them. You spend hours, weeks, months, and then years, steadily working away on this piece of artwork. On this sculpture you record their special life events: their birth and growing-up years, pictures and images that symbolize their maturing into adults, their marriage or independence, their children or travels, their highest work accomplishments, their most secret delights and generous deeds. All of the things you love most are captured on this sculpture, and you mold each onto the surface.

That’s sort of what God does for each of us, isn’t it? He treasures us. He rejoices in our happiness, loves to bless us, and wants to spend time with us. He loves us so much, more than our parents, more than our siblings or best friend, more than our favorite aunt, or cousin, or grandparent. In fact, if you took all that love and rounded it up, captured it somehow in a physical space, it would still be just a fraction of the love God feels for us. He doesn’t want us to hurt! He doesn’t want us to feel pain. He cries with us when we cry; He holds us close when it feels as if life is falling apart. He is working right now to make a new home for us—one that will be safe and loving, filled with peace and joy and His presence. His love is unending and immeasurable.

And someday, when we arrive in heaven, we’re going to finally be able to experience what life is truly meant to be. Full of gain, with no pain in sight.

* Scripture quotations credited to NIV are from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Joy Choquette writes from Swanton, Vermont.

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