For parts one and two, click here
“RaisingofLazarusBloch” by Carl Heinrich Bloch – http://www.familyartusa.com/site/253614/page/917008. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:RaisingofLazarusBloch.jpg#/media/File:RaisingofLazarusBloch.jpg
I’d like to segue into the next topic with an analogy to the raising of Lazarus from the tomb.
The tomb, for our purposes, can represent the “old geography” — beautiful in itself (indeed, part of God’s good creation), but unhallowed by the presence of death.
And then there is Lazarus, who (again, for our purposes) can represent us, to whom comes Christ bringing new life.
Now imagine laying in the musty darkness of the tomb, newly awakened as though reborn. Christ, the Lord of life, stands above you with hands extended. You take hold and begin to allow Him to help you up. As you stand, and as your bones and joints creak, you realize just how hard this is, and how completely dependent you are on the grasp of your Savior.
This makes you grasp all the tighter, and yet you hesitate. You’re afraid that if you grasp Jesus’ hands any more firmly, you will pull Him down into the darkness with you.
But here’s what you do not yet understand: He is already there. Just as surely as He is there before you to pull you up, so also is He there behind you to push you forward.
(“Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction” by Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev – Mikhail Evstafiev. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction.jpg#/media/File:Evstafiev-bosnia-sarajevo-funeral-reaction.jpg)
But why does it have to be this way in the first place? It’s all well and good for God to be united to us in our suffering, but if He is all-powerful and all-loving, then why won’t He make our path to Him less agonizing?
There are numerous answers to this, but let me throw this out there for you: If the divine-human relationship involved all blessings and no crosses, that would give us less of a guarantee of God’s love, not more.
When we talk about a pattern of blessings for good works, gifts as tokens of love, etc., we find ourselves within the borders of commutative justice (this is a fancy way of saying fee-for-service, or quid-pro-quo); this is true even with tokens of love, in which case the Giver gives in order to get love from the receiver.
Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing wrong with commutative justice; it has its place. But of itself it is impersonal, and does not necessitate the presence of love. Co-suffering (which is the literal meaning of com-passion), on the other hand, does.
“Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – Return of the Prodigal Son – Google Art Project” by Rembrandt – 5QFIEhic3owZ-A at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#/media/File:Rembrandt_Harmensz_van_Rijn_-_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
Instead of a gumball-dispensing Santa Claus in the sky, what we have is a Divine Lover who so loves and values us that there is no kind of suffering — even death itself — that He will not (indeed, has not deigned to) fully enter into with us in order to give us life.
This does not mean that if we are faithful to Him, we will have to suffer forever. As Scripture tells us, there will come a day when “He will wipe away every tear” (Rev. 21:4). But until then, we fallen creatures have need of the tutelage of suffering.
With that in mind, I’d like to close by sharing the thoughts of Cardinal Francis George, who recently died after a long battle with cancer. In this very brief clip of less than two minutes, he shares some very profound and moving thoughts on how suffering prepares us for eternity. Take a listen before reading the next sentence.
So the “New Geography” is a work-in-progress — but the good news is that the work has already been finished from on high, by He who holds all time and space in His hands.