THE ABIDING LIFE
Why do we have to live this life?
Life as a bridal preparation.
By Gwen Sellers
Do you ever wonder why life is so long? Why doesn't God just perfect us and bring us to Heaven now? I have. Sometimes out of longing for God's perfection. Our world is not as it should be. Nothing truly satisfies; and there are times I struggle to find the contentment that glimpses of God's perfection can bring. I want to be Home, where life is as it should be, where "[God] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Revelation 21:4). Often I'm just tired of this body of sin and the shrapnel of this fallen world. Life can be hard and sometimes I simply want out. But at various times throughout my life God has given me assurance that earthly life does indeed have purpose.
First, He helped me realize that life is about getting to know Him. There is no goal to accomplish, no arrival point, no time at which I've finally got it figured out. Life is a journey, an active relationship where God continually reveals Himself to me. Isn't Heaven more exciting the more we know God? We don't look forward to extended time with strangers as much as we do with those we know and love. Without the hardship or joy or failure or forgiveness or even just endurance through monotony that we experience in earthly life, how much of God do we really know? Part of the reason God gives us so long on earth is to enable us to discover more of Him.
But I think we'll also be getting to know God a lot better in Heaven. He is, after all, vastly beyond our comprehension.
So life isn't only getting to know Him, it's getting to experience Him. Life on earth is the foretaste of true life. It's like licking the spoon after making brownie batter. The taste buds wake up; your mouth begins to water. Then you start to smell the brownies in the oven. The small taste, the smell, it all makes you long to bite into the actual thing. So it is with God. The small taste we get of Him, those glimpses of who He is and what He has in store for us, make us hunger all the more. And doesn't a brownie taste so much better when you're actually hungry for it? I think Heaven will be better for having hungered for God while on earth.
This all sounds good, but it isn't always enough. After all, brownies are pretty good even when I've not licked the bowl and smelled them baking.
The other day God showed me yet another reason for extending our years on earth. And this one really makes sense to me. Ephesians 5:25-27 says, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." Life is the cleansing period. We're in bridal preparation right now. And God does not rush through hair and makeup. No, He takes His time, cleansing each aspect, making each detail beautiful. We are to be "holy and without blemish." If you're anything like me, this is not an accurate description of your current life. I know I am fully justified, and I'm trying to cooperate with God's sanctification in my life, but there is a long way to go.
I am reminded of the story of Esther as I think of preparation to become such a splendorous and pleasing bride. In Esther 2:7 she is described as "lovely to look at" and yet she spent a full year being prepared to be presented to King Ahasuerus to see if he would choose her as a bride. Esther 2:12 describes this year, "this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women." Did you catch that? Spending a year to beautify already lovely women was normal. I am not saying that God follows the rituals of a pagan king; but if a king was willing to wait a full year to completely beautify his options, how much longer is our King willing to wait to make His bride perfect?
Ezekiel 16:3-14 describes God's beautifying work with Israel. It says, in part, "as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field […] And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. […] When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord God."
I realize this passage applies to Israel, but it demonstrates something to us about the character of God. And I think it can be applied to Christians in many ways as well.
We don't even start out lovely like Esther did. We start out "wallowing in [our] blood," "dead in [our] trespasses" (Colossians 2:13). But God gives us life (Ephesians 2:1-5). And then He allows us to mature and flourish; and He adorns us with beautiful clothing, lavish jewels, and nourishing food (John 15:1-3; Ephesians 4:24; Ephesians 5:25-27). We become royalty (Romans 8:15-17; 1 Peter 2:9). Do you see His tender attention to detail? Do you see His patience? Do you see His love and care? Do you see His beauty?
Life is not to be rushed. God is cleansing us, adorning us, turning us into something so perfectly beautiful that our renown goes forth among the nations and we are fit to be the Bride of Christ.
So rather than moan about the hardships of life or wish it would be over sooner, I am going to believe that time on earth has intrinsic value. Not only do I get to know my God better and experience but a foretaste of His fullness, I get to be lovingly prepared. Sometimes beautifying hurts, as anyone who has had their eyebrows waxed can tell you. There is nothing pleasant about scrubbing off caked-on dirt save the clean feeling at the end. Pruning (see John 15) requires that the branches be cut, but it results in an even more beautiful and fruitful plant. So, too, God's work in my life sometimes evinces pain. I'm not usually eager to give up my pet sins. I don't always enjoy learning about God's strength by going through a situation in which I have to depend on Him. Disappointments that lead me to a greater understanding of God's perfection are still disappointing. Yet all of these things ultimately result in deeper joy in my relationship with God and a truer understanding of beauty. And I must remember that I am not only cleansed, but healed. The wrinkles, spots, and blemishes are removed. God does not leave me with open wounds. No, He anoints me with healing oil. He is the "God of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3-5). Through it all, I become a splendorous display of His glory (Colossians 1:27; 1 John 3:2). How could I complain that my King would take the time to prepare me to be so beautifully presented before Him?
Yes, life is hard and long sometimes, but it is beautiful and well worth it. May we never lose hope. May we, along with Paul, be "sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
Image: Esther by Edwin Long, 1878; Public Domain
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