I've been doing a lot of thinking regarding how to respond to the news in your last e-mail. Overarching all my thoughts are the words that were among the last I was able to share with my mother on the day of her death: "I have loved you with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you (have continued My faithfulness to you)" (Jeremiah 31:3). I believe that it is God's love for us that is the most basic claim for a response from us to Him. In His love for us, He created every single one of us for a love relationship with Him. That's why within us all there is a "God-shaped vacuum."
I believe that we started off back in the garden of Eden able to fill that inner space within us with fellowship with our Maker. But the human race is no longer in that state of being able to be what we were originally created to be. Since we by our own choices to be independent of our Creator, and to reject Him as our "boss," have decided to "go it on our own" without Him, there have been consequences. And so we try to meet that innate, inner yearning with all kinds of things, perhaps seemingly good things, that will never be able to take the place of the only thing that "fits" there. Independence turns out to not be what it's touted to be. The reality is that independence from our very life-source is not a wise move!
If you happen to have a bottle of arsenic in your cabinet, you may decide, for whatever reason, to change the label on the bottle to something else, say, "vanilla flavoring." Does changing the label actually change the contents of the bottle? Well, if we put it in our cake, we'll find out! Yet, isn't re-labeling just what we "smart" people do? Throughout history, although our Creator has clearly, faithfully, and persistently communicated to us human beings, His crowning creation, that submission to His ways is for our good, we (every one of us) have rebelled against what He says. We say we know better than He does. We choose to "be our own god." Simply put, that is the essence of sin. Remembering that His whole purpose in creating us, of making us "in His image'' (like Him) was for a love relationship, for on-going communion with us, then it follows that our distrust of Him and our rejection of Him breaks off that potential. Our rebellion causes our separation from God. Our attitude of "I'll do it without you" (toward the very One who gives us life) sets our feet onto the pathway of death - of its ravages working in each and every one of us relentlessly and inevitably until it eventually brings us to its end - our totally conquered state of an eternal separation from our Maker. So our calling "sin" by some milder name is really the most ludicrous of all self-illusions. Call it what we like in our brilliant rationalizations; it does not alter its effects. No transient "climate of human opinion" can change the essence of reality. We either choose life, or we choose death (to be blessed or to be cursed - by our having chosen obedience or disobedience (Deuteronomy 11:26-28 & 30:15-20; Joshua 24:15). In the final analysis, there are only these two options.
Of course, the immeasurable tragedy is that death was never our loving Father's desire or intention for us. But "created in His image" (like Him, to be capable of fellowship with Him) meant that He gave us free will - to be able to either choose to love Him in response to His love for us, or to choose to leave His love unrequited. And so we chose. The ironic thing is that in our prideful presumption, when the deadly results of that choice came upon our globe and into all our lives, we blame God for those effects. We don't correctly see the blame is on ourselves. Perhaps that seems too painful to admit. But whether we admit it or not, we still carry the burden of our guilt. It remains a weight on our shoulders, and an integral part of our consciousness.
Until, and unless... Well, you know the remedy, Jamie. There is only one remedy for the fallen state of humankind, for the hurtful consequences of our chosen path of separation from the Giver of life. In one word, it is submission. It is returning to the very fork in the road where we first went astray. It is submitting to His way, not ours. He made a way back for us, and He paid an unfathomably great price to do so. So we stand at the same crossroads again, in a sense. There is no price for us to have to pay; it's already been paid. The way back home to our Father's heart is now a free gift to us, the eternal objects of His everlasting love. But once again, the choice is ours. Will we accept His gift or not? Will we receive what He says is "the Way," or will we again stubbornly and defiantly refuse His outstretched hand, concluding: "My way is better"?
I friend of mine died yesterday of liver cancer. She was just a few years older than you are now. None of us can predict when the day will arrive on "our calendar" that is our last day. Yes, our bodies will die, that is unavoidable. But, the "real us," our spirits, will live on - beyond this "first death." It is the "second death" that is the dreadful one. The moment that our spirits leave our bodies, that matter of having a choice whether to yield our wills and hearts to God, our Creator - or not - is over with, ended. We no longer have the choice available to us. Our choice is made - for eternity. There is no "second chance," no opportunity to change our minds. What our choice was while we were on our pilgrimage through our time on this earth will determine whether or not we have chosen for ourselves, by the God-given gift of our own free-will, the second death. That "death" is eternal separation from our God. No matter how much we may yearn then to find Him who alone can fill that longing within us, our "God-shaped vacuum," it will no longer be a possibility for us. Never - for eternity.
Jamie, we are all in this "human condition" together, and all journeying from the day we were born to the day we will die. For all of us, the "rose-colored glasses" come off sooner or later as inevitably life will not be what we wanted it to be, and we each will react to that realization in our individual ways. I've come to see that the crucial matter is: "in what direction" would my reactions take me? We will either increasingly walk in the light or increasingly in darkness. Regardless of whether we believe it or not, we have an enemy who hates us and wants nothing more than to destroy us. He wants us to not know the truth; he wants us deceived. His trick is to clothe his lies in some truth, so that it does not seem to us like something we'd naturally recoil against. So like the fisherman who hides his hook inside a pretty little worm, he baits us, and we swallow his deadly deceptions. But, it looked okay, it seemed so good, so desirable, it appeared to be the right way...!
In what direction, ultimately, am I going? Will my reactions to the hurt and pain, to the unfairness and meannesses, to the disappointments and fallings short, to the harsh buffetings and the cruelties of life's realities press me toward God or away from Him? Will I react by choosing contempt of His ways, despising what He has placed within my very conscience as knowledge of what choice is at root good, to the point of wrenching control out of His hands in anger and disgust? Or will I react, even when I am overwhelmed with agony and questionings, with the inner choice to trust Him - and keep my hands off the steering wheel, believing that He alone has the big picture and that He will not let my life be driven "off the cliff"? "Who will be on the throne of my heart?" is the pivotal question for every single human being.
It is natural that we want to try to protect ourselves from hurt. But when we hold on to our way to do that, and we disregard and disobey God's best way for us to live, then He has to "let go" and let us reap what we sow. If we choose to walk away from the blessing of being under the divine protection that comes from living within the boundaries He sets for us, then like the prodigal son, we will suffer. "If you love Me, then you will obey Me" (John 14:21) - that's our side of the covenant, of the relationship with Him in which He can bless us, and cover us. He doesn't force us. He waits for us - patiently, in love. If we refuse to trust Him, to take Him at His word (and we go on to reap from our choice to be rebels, resulting in our causing ourselves - and others - great damage), then His heart will indeed be filled with pain and grief for us. But, He will not override our free will.
Dear Jamie, I do not minimize for one second the painfulness of loneliness. We indeed are made to love and to need to be loved, and those longings are part of the very fiber of our being. But sadly, even the very best and sweetest love and affection that another human being may be able to offer us still cannot be "the solution" to our aching hearts. God alone can truly meet our most intrinsic need. He will not let another human being take the place of Himself in our hearts, any more than He will allow any other thing that we "worship as a god" in His place to truly satisfy us. As long as we keep trying to find that elusive something that will fulfill us - and our quest is outside the boundaries of His will for us as the One who made us, knows us, and loves us in the highest way - we are going to continue to "hit our heads against a brick wall" over and over and over again. Only - only - when we truly, with all our hearts, give up our willful "own way," and submit to Him as our good (and trustworthy) Master, will our lives "get into the orbit" that they were meant to move in, where the Creator's wise and perfect order can be restored in our lives - as He originally intended when His own hands lovingly "formed us in our mother's womb" (Psalm 139:13). No, this yielding up of our wills to His will does not guarantee that we may not still experience loneliness, or suffer tragedy, or know woundedness and sorrow and difficulties of myriad sorts on our earthly journey, through this fallen world, this "vale of tears." But it does mean that we will be aligned with our destiny, with that for which we were created, and we will at last find that peace that is "beyond understanding" that is the fruit of our being rightly related to our God. There is no true and lasting peace for the human heart outside of that relationship. And it only comes on His terms, not ours. He is the Potter; we are the clay. The "pot" cannot tell the potter what to do! It's that simple. And mysteriously enough, it is also that wonderful. There alone, in the center of His will, we will find rest for our souls. (For although for so long we may have been too blinded to realize it, our Father's will for us is "good and perfect and acceptable" Romans 12:2.) Only when we embrace humble submission to His will, saying with His own Son, Jesus, "Not My will, but Thine be done," will we be able to begin discovering the matchless springs of His everlasting lovingkindness toward us, His beloved children. And we will surely discover, increasingly, as we set our feet on that path of obedience, the length, and width, and height, and depth of His love for us. Our hearts will come to know that there truly is no substitute, nothing that can compare.
I could go on (and on), Jamie. But, who knows, you may have not even read this far! I've put a great deal of soul searching and heart-felt effort into writing this, and hoped to share it in a way that would be meaningful to you. Obviously it is not easy to dilute such a subject into a few short paragraphs. Above all, I want you to know that what I offer you in this "nutshell" is because I deeply care about you, little "sister." If you would like, I'm glad to share more in response to any questions, comments (or arguments) you may have. We can write back and forth, or we could talk on the phone any time that is convenient for you.