Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: eternity

Ever With Thee

No more in darkness, trials, and temptations,
No more a waif on trouble’s billowy sea,
How sweet will be the day of my abiding
Ever with Thee!

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Bright after darkness shines the summer morning,
Bright is the sunrise when the tempests flee;
But brighter far the home where dwell thy chosen
Ever with Thee.

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Dear are the hours when those we love are near us;
Dear, but how transient must their brightness be:
That one glad day will know no sadder morrow
Ever with Thee.

Love will be there: methinks all other glories
Nothing to those enraptured souls will be,
Filled with the transport of that one assurance,
Ever with Thee.

But long may be the way that we must travel,
And many a dark’ning storm we yet may see,
Dread sorrows may o’erwhelm us ere we’re sheltered
Ever with Thee.

Not so: Thy hand, extended through the darkness,
Leadeth us on the the way we cannot see,
And clasping that, e’en here we are in safety
Ever with Thee.

Annie Louisa (Walker) Coghill, 1836-1907

Darkness and light

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. (Genesis 1:2-3)

The Scriptures speak of two kinds of darkness: the one a natural darkness which is simply the absence of natural light: the other a spiritual darkness that is opposed to God and which is the dwelling place of spiritual beings opposed to God. The original Hebrew and Greek texts of the Bible use different words to differentiate between the two forms of darkness. Many languages have two words for darkness, English has only one and that can lead to misunderstandings of the text.

In French Bibles the underlined word in the above text is rendered ténèbres. The dictionary defines this word as profound darkness, most often considered to be a material environment; in a religious sense, that which is opposed to the light of God.This captures well the meaning of the word used in the original Hebrew.

Understood this way, the verse is telling us that the forces of spiritual darkness were present on the earth from the beginning of creation. It also explains why God created light on the first day of creation, but the sun was not created until the fourth day. The light of the sun cannot drive away spiritual darkness, only the light of God’s presence can do that.

The next verse tells us that God divided the light from the darkness. The conflict between light and darkness has continued from that day and will continue until the end of the world. Natural night and day are realities that should remind us of the deeper reality of spiritual darkness and light.

Many cultures confused the light of the sun with the light of God and worshipped the sun. God showed His judgment of Egyptian sun worship by bringing darkness on the land of Egypt. The word used in Hebrew (and in the French translation) denotes spiritual darkness, but it also manifested itself as natural darkness. The land of Goshen, where the children of Israel dwelt, had light, both natural and spiritual.

Later on, when God called Moses to go up Mount Sinai, we are told that the mountain was covered by a cloud of thick darkness. The word used here simply means natural darkness. In French it is rendered obscurité. When Moses climbed up the mountain he was obscured from the view of the people below. When he reached the top of the mountain, the natural light of the sun was completely obscured and he was illuminated by the light of God’s presence.

Moving on to the New Testament, the gospel of John, speaking of Jesus, tells us: In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:4-5) Here again, the underlined words are rendered ténèbres in French, an accurate translation of the Greek word in the original.

Here are a few more New Testament passages:

And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness (ténèbres)rather than light, because their deeds were evil. John 3:19

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness (ténèbres) of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12

He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness (ténèbres) even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness (ténèbres), and walketh in darkness (ténèbres), and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness (ténèbres) hath blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11

(This is a good verse for discerning those who profess enlightenment in social, environmental or spiritual matters, but react angrily to anyone who dares to disagree with their enlightenment. It should be first and foremost a standard to prove our own spirit in these and all other matters.)

Finally, there shall be an eternal separation between darkness and light:

Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness (obscurité) of darkness (ténèbres) for ever. Jude verse 13

And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. Revelation 21:23

Reality

  1. This is my Father’s world. I did not ask to be here. I cannot choose to be in another world. This is it and I may as well make the best of it.
  2.  I am made in my Father’s image. Even though I am earthly, like the animals, with all the capacity for savagery that entails, I am also a spiritual being, able to know and communicate with my Father, with all the wonderful possibilities that provides.
  3.  This world, this life, is not all there is. Voices are coming to me from beyond this world, alluring me to discontent, envy, anger, rebellion. Other voices, softer voices, urge me to love and be loved. My destination after this life depends on which voices I choose to listen to and obey.

This is reality. I may wish it wasn’t like that; I may choose to believe that it is not like that. But in the end, I cannot escape reality. Denying reality will not make me happy, now or ever. Happiness is only to be found in living in this world as it really is, not as it may appear to be or as I would wish it to be. Happiness is to be found in living to make others happy, not just in looking out for myself.

There are people around me who do not accept reality. Many people, probably most of the people I meet. This is shown by their attitudes, the way they choose to live their lives. Yet underneath the mask and armour there is still a person made in the image of the Father. A person who is sometimes capable of great acts of kindness, a person who might be touched by the kindness of others.

It is not up to me to unmask them, or tear off their anti-God armour, only the Father Himself can do that. Words and acts of love and kindness will do more good than cutting words of criticism. They are receiving altogether enough criticism already. And underneath that hard shell there is still the image of the Father and the realization that their rebellion against Him is not working out as they thought it would.

To show love and kindness is not to accept their rebellion against the Father. It is to show them that genuine happiness is found when we are ready to live the life that the Father made us for.

It seemed like such a good idea at the time

It was a really hot day today, so I stopped after work to get a two scoop black cherry ice cream cone. That really hit the spot.

As the young lady scooped my ice cream, I saw that both of her arms were covered with tattoos and wondered how long she will consider them an enhancement to her appearance. It reminded me of a young man whose arms are similarly decorated. At one time that seemed like a good idea; then he became a Christian and started wearing long-sleeved shirts to hide the tattoos. He is determined to get rid of them, but has found that removing them is not nearly as quick and easy as getting them.

Marshall McLuhan, in his book Understanding Media, noted that children who are continually exposed to television, do not have the ability to foresee that their actions of today will have consequences tomorrow. This inability to make a connection between cause and effect has become the defining characteristic of modern society. Politics today is not about issues, but about projecting the right image. Unfortunately, too many churches have fallen into a similar snare.

The problem is not with the programming on television, it is in the nature of the medium itself. A never ending series of images passes before the viewers eyes, without time or opportunity to consider the veracity of what is being presented, but impressions are implanted in the mind and senses. This transfers into the life of the viewer who has lost the ability to reflect on anything but the present moment. The same effect would be produced by exclusively watching Christian television.

I’m afraid that much youth ministry of our day dovetails neatly into this live for the moment orientation. There is no evidence that multimedia, seeker-friendly, youth-oriented “Christian” events have any long-term benefits. The young people who remain rooted and grounded in the faith when they reach adulthood are those who developed the habit of daily Bible reading and a personal relationship with God in their youth. They are the ones whose lives are not focused on the present moment, but on eternity.

Builders

Isn’t it strange that princes and kings,
And clowns that caper in sawdust rings,
And common folks, you and me,
Are buildings of eternity?

To each is given a bag of tools,
A shapeless mass, and a book of rules;
And each must make, ere life is flown,
A stumbling block, or a stepping stone.

                                    Author Unknown

Time shall be no more

Can you imagine an existence without time? I have tried, but I can’t. Does it mean that everything happens all at once, a state of super excitation with no ability to separate one event from another? Or does it mean a state of suspended animation where nothing happens at all? Neither of those states sounds appealing, so the Bible must mean something else when it speaks of eternity where there shall be no more time. Something that is beyond the scope of our present capacity to understand.

Our earthly existence is measured by the rhythms of the sun, moon and stars, the changing seasons, and by remarkable events. The prophet Amos was given a vision of the spiritual condition of Israel “two years before the earthquake.” The ancient Greeks believed that the position of the stars at our birth birth determined our character and the course of our life. Many people still set great store by such notions. In the Old Testament, the passage of time was marked by the weekly Sabbaths, the blowing of trumpets at the new moon and the seasonal holy days. I grew up with the ecclesiastical calendar of the Anglican Church in which every Sunday, and many other days, were given names to denote their significance. Thus we had days like Quinquagesima Sunday and Maundy Thursday. I understand there is an ongoing controversy among those who really care about such things concerning the origin and meaning of the word “maundy.”

The New Testament teaches that these markers of time should no longer govern our lives. The apostle Paul warned: “But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain” (Galatians 4:9-11). “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).

The sun still rises and sets, the moon waxes and wanes, the changing seasons are accompanied by movements of the stars, but these are not to be the markers of our spiritual lives. When a person repents and is born again, that person enters into a continual spiritual Sabbath of rest from any labours to establish his or her own righteousness.

“Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:1,  3, 10).

It is still right and good to gather for worship on Sunday, to feed our spiritual hunger, to be refreshed in the company of the saints. But this is not the Sabbath, and being a Christian on Sunday only means that one is not a Christian at all. To this extent the times and seasons are no longer markers of our spiritual life, we have entered into a foretaste of eternity. Beyond that, we cannot tell just what eternity will be like.

FAME, part 2

Oh think not genius, with its hallowed light,
Can break the gloom of the eternal night;
For splendid talents often lead astray
The unguarded heart, and hide the narrow way,
While the unlearned and those of low estate,
With faith’s clear eyes behold the living gate,
Whose portals open on the shoreless sea
Where time’s strong ocean meets eternity.
Across the gulf that stretches far beneath
Lies the dark valley of the shade of death –
A land of deep forgetfulness, – a shore
Which all must traverse, but return no more
To this sad earth to dissipate our dread,
And tell the mighty secrets of the dead.
Enough for us that these drear realms were trod
By heavenly footsteps, that the Son of God
Passed the dark bourne and vanquished Death, to save
The weary wanderers of life’s stormy wave.

Why then should man thus cleave to things of earth?
Daily experience proves their little worth –
Or waste those noble qualities of mind,
For wise and better purposes designed,
In pursuit of trifles, which confer
No solid pleasure on their worshipper;
Or in the search of causes that are known
And guided by Omnipotence alone?
A height his finite reason cannot reach,
And all his boasted learning fails to teach?
While the bewildering thought overwhelms his brain,
Death comes to prove his speculations vain!

Is he deserving of a better doom
Who will not raise a hope beyond the tomb?
Who, quite enamoured with his fallen state,
Clings to the world and leaves the rest to fate;
Prefers corruption to his Maker’s smile,
“And shuns the light because his deeds are vile?”
The man who feels the value of his soul,
Presses unwearied towards a higher goal;
Leaving this earth, he seeks a brighter prize,
And claims a crown immortal in the skies.
The child of pleasure may despise his aim,
And heap reproach upon the Christian’s name,
May laugh his faith, as foolishness, to scorn: –
These by the man of God are meekly borne.
His glorious hope no infidel can shake;
Her suffers calmly for his Saviour’s sake.–

The world’s poor votary seeks in vain for peace:
He cannot bid the voice of conscience cease
Its dire upbraidings; in his heartless course
He meets at every turn the fiend Remorse,
Who glares upon him with his tearless eye,
That sears his heart – but mocks its agony.
He hears that voice, amid the festive throng,
Speak in the dance and murmur in the song,
A death-bell, pealing in the midnight chime,
Whose awful tones proclaim the lapse of time,
And e’er the winged moments as they fly
Seem to proclaim – “Rash mortal, thou must die!
Soon must thou tread the path thy fathers trod,
And stand before the judgment-seat of God!”–
He hears – but seeks in pleasure’s cup to drown
The dread that weighs his ardent spirit down;
Derides the warning voice in mercy sent;
Rejects the thought of after-punishment;
In folly’s vortex wastes the spring of youth,
Nor, till death summons, owns the awful truth;
Feels it too late to calm the agonies
Remorse has kindled – and despairing, dies!

But in the breast where true religion reigns
There is a balm for all these mental pains;
A sweet contentment, felt, but undefined,
A full and free surrender of the mind
To its divine original; a trust
Which lifts to heaven the dweller of the dust.
The pilgrim, glowing with a hope divine,
Counts not the distance to the heavenly shrine;
He meets with guardian spirits on the road,
Who cheer his steps and ease his heavy load.
Serenely journeying to a better clime
He does not shudder at the lapse of time;
But calmly drinks the cup of mortal woe,
And finds that peace the world cannot bestow;
That promised joy which brightens all beneath,
And smooths his pillow on the bed of death;
That perfect love which casteth out all fear;
And wafts his spirit to a happier sphere! –

Fame is a dream – the praise of man as brief
As morning dew upon the folded leaf;
The summer sun exhales the pearly tear,
And leaves no trace of his existence there.
Seek not for immortality below,
But fix your hopes beyond this vale of woe,
That when oblivion gathers round thy sod,
A lasting record may be found with God!

[This lengthy poem comes from a book by Susanna Moodie, Enthusiasm and Other Poems,  published in 1831, the year before she and her husband came to Canada.]

FAME

[This is the first half of a poem written by Susanna Moodie]

Oh ye! who all life’s energies combine
The fadeless laurel round your brows to twine,
Pause but one moment in your brief career,
Nor seek for glory in a mortal sphere.
Can figures traced upon the shifting sand
Washed by the mighty tide, its force withstand?
Time’s stern resistless torrent onward flows,
The restless waves above your labours close,
And He who bids the bounding billows roll
Sweeps out the feeble record from the soul.

The glorious hues that flush the evening sky
Melt into night, and on her bosom die;
Through the wide fields of heaven’s immensity
The gold-tipped billows of the crimson sea
Flash on the awe-struck gazer’s dazzled sight,
The rich out-gushings from the fount of light;
Yet oft, concealed beneath that splendid form,
We find the herald of the coming storm;
The fiery spirit over half a globe
Spreads the bright tissue of his beamy robe,
And, ere the day-king veils his glowing crest,
Shrouds the dark tempest in his burning vest;
O’er earth and heaven his gorgeous banner flings,
And gilds with borrowed light his sable wings –
And those who view with rapture-lifted eyes
The short-lived pageant of the summer skies,
Behold it vanish like a fearful dream,
And death and desolation mar its beam,
So when we seek above life’s sea of tears
To raise a monument for future years.
If built on earth the fabric will decay,
Oblivion’s hand will sweep the pile away;
The proudest trophies of the mightiest mind
Fade in her grasp, nor leave a wreck behind;
She o’er earth’s ruins spreads her misty pall,
And time’s unsparing ocean swallows all;
Hope for a moment gilds the spoiler’s shroud,
As parting sunbeams tinge the lucid cloud;
The transient glory cheats the gazer’s sight;
The storm rolls on – ’tis universal night

Say did not man inherit, at his birth,
A higher promise than the things of earth;
Views more exalted than this earth can give,
And hopes that, deathless as the soul, outlive
The wreck of nature, and the common doom
That hourly sweeps her myriads to the tomb?
His mental powers, unfettered by the clod,
Soar o’er time’s gulf, and reach the throne of God.
Oh what a privilege it is to know
That death claims not the immortal soul below!
Through the dark portals of the grave upborne,
Leaving the care-worn sons of earth to mourn,
On wings of light the newborn spirit flies
To seek a home and kindred in the skies.

Oh what are earthly crowns and earthly bliss,
And pride’s delusive dreams, compared with this?
Ambition’s laurel, purchased with a flood
Of human tears and stained with kindred blood.
Once gained, converted to a crown of thorns.
Pierces the aching temples it adorns –
Not Sappho’s lyre nor Raphael’s deathless art
Can twine the olive round the bleeding heart;
In heaven alone the promised blessing lies,
And those who seek – must seek it in the skies!
Seek it through Him who, humbling human pride,
Wept o’er man’s fall, and for his ransom died;
Poured out his blood on the accursed tree,
To break the chain and set the captive free.
Heaven bowed its glory on the cross to teach
That greatness man’s lost nature could not reach.
The true humility, which stoops to rise,
And, leaving earth, claims kindred with the skies.

How many pages have been blotted o’er
With heartfelt tears, that now are read no more;
And, like the eyes that long have ceased to weep,
In dust and darkness quite forgotten sleep!
Dead to the world as if they ne’er had been
The favoured actors in one little scene.
The scene is changed – and, like their fleeting-fame,
The fickle world adores another name.
They knew the price at which its fame was bought;
The glittering bauble was not worth a thought,
Yet, Esau-like, a better birthright sold,
And for base counterfeit exchanged the gold!

Ere man presumptuously his genius boasts,
Let him reflect upon the countless hosts,
The untold myriads, of each age and clime,
That sleep forgotten in the grave of time.
What were their names? Go ask the silent sod
Their deeds – their record lives but with their God!
At every step we tread on kindred earth,
Nor know the spot that gave our fathers birth.
Oh! could we call before our wondering eyes
All that have lived – and bid the dead arise,
From the first moment the Creator spoke
The word of power, and light through darkness broke,
And see earth covered with the mighty tide
Of all who on her bosom lived and died,
What a stupendous thought would fill the soul
Could we behold life’s breathing ocean roll
Its human billows onward – and this mass
The grave has swallowed, down from Adam, pass
In one unbroken stream – the brain would reel –
Lost in immensity, would cease to feel!
Whilst living, ah, how few were known to fame!
One in a million has not left a name, –
A single token, on life’s shifting scene,
To tell to other years that such has been.
Yet man, unaided by a hope sublime,
Thinks that his puny arm can cope with time;
That his vast genius can reverse the doom,
And shed a deathless light upon his tomb;
That distant ages shall his worth admire,
And young hearts kindle at the sacred fire
Of him whose fame no envious clouds o’ercast,
Yet died forgotten and unknown at last.

Dying with dignity

The Supreme Court of Canada is currently considering the question of assisted suicide, or what some people call the right to die with dignity. This has brought back to my mind something that happened many years ago. This account would not have any significance to the legal minds who are arguing before the Supreme Court, but I think it demonstrates the possible effect the choice of an early exit of this life could have on one’s eternal destiny.

In the early years of our married life Tom and Theresa*, a couple who attended the same church as we did, had been our good friends. Then we moved away and eventually lost touch with them. Some years later we heard that Theresa and the children had left Tom.

A time came when we were back in the area for a few days and we phoned Theresa and invited ourselves over for a visit. She told us how Tom had been physically abusive to her all their married life. She had covered up what was really happening at home and tried to keep the family together for the sake of the children. Then Tom became physically abusive toward their oldest daughter. That was the breaking point, she took the children, moved out and began a new life. Tom never admitted any wrongdoing or made any attempt at reconciliation.

Then she told us how it had gone when Tom’s father (who also belonged to the same church) was dying. Toward the end, when he was in the hospital and it was evident he was not going to get better, Theresa was the only one of the family to spend time with him. Her father-in-law had never admitted that his son had done anything wrong and blamed her for the breakup of their marriage.

Finally one night his internal organs began to shut down and it was apparent the end was near. Theresa sat with him the whole night, praying for him and trying to discover if he was at peace with God and ready to go. He turned his face to the wall and would not speak to her at all through the night. At last, as morning approached, he turned to her and whispered that he was sorry for all that had happened and asked if she could forgive him. They prayed together and he was at peace. He breathed his last as the morning light dawned.

Would it have been better for Tom’s father if he could have decided to “die with dignity” a few hours, or a few days sooner?

* not their real names

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