Let’s set aside a holy moment together to bask in the love of God and marvel at his faithfulness towards us.
As I meditate at my writing nook, I am reminded that I exist in a cosmos that’s in transition. The Judeo-Christian creation story posits that the primeval world contained a garden of peace, beauty, and delight where God moved among the trees and enjoyed the company of man and woman. It was a peaceful kingdom—sincere, intimate, and safe. It was Eden.
But as I type this post, I hear the thunder gurgle over the hilltops, the wind heaving against the walls of my rented home, and the raindrops blasted to smithereens against the asphalt. I remember I live in a world of terrible, fragile beauty. Death surrounds me at every moment. I touch my own warm flesh and remember that each breath is potentially my last. Soon I will be but a cold corpse. I think of my children sleeping in the room next to me and know there’s no guarantee they will all wake up in the morning.
Even beyond the spectre of human mortality, as Tennyson observed, nature is “red in tooth and claw.” The Lord in his foreboding grandeur constructed a world where almost all life must kill to survive.
I think of my backyard chickens, huddled in their coop against the storm, and how every time we release them we unleash a massacre on the lawn. My hens may appear majestic from my kitchen window. But to every frog, baby snake, slithering worm, beetle, and midge that might cross their path my pullets are the horsemen of the apocalypse.
Birds are beautiful. The winsomeness of their flight and the euphony of their songs may delight our hearts. But the truth is these winged beasts must constantly murder other creatures to feed their voracious metabolisms. My body itself is a battleground for microbes—both inside and out. I am a walking war zone.
And then my imagination pierces the membrane of the atmosphere and I contemplate the vacuous aphotic darkness of outer space. The vast majority of the universe is utterly dead. Utterly cold. Utterly silent.
But it is this darkness, this mortality, this ubiquitous violence that creates a chiaroscuro—a contrast that brings things into sharper relief. Against the background of the death, decay, and coldness of the universe, the salubrious love of God in Christ shines so brightly. Against the meaninglessness and despair that mars our histories, God’s grace hits our hearts with such warmth and tenderness we cannot help but be drawn toward it.
Perhaps the Lord made a world with so much death and horror in it because it is against this background that we can most lucidly appreciate the defining feature that pulses at the core of his being—his benevolent love for humanity.
Why make the world at all—the Bible suggests we ask—unless God did it because he wanted friends?
Indeed, in the Gospel God does call us to turn our eyes away from the darkness of the fallen world and to join his family—to be permanently engrafted onto the living vine, to become spiritually connected to the Trinity itself.
I may never understand why the world appears so hostile. So random. So cruel.
But I can understand this:
There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. [And] if God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us…? Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?… No…I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
–Rom. 8:1-2, 31-39 NLT
And I understand this too:
See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!…God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love…And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us…We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love.
God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world.
Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.
–1 Jn. 3:1; 4:9-19 NLT
I wrestle with the rough parts of Scripture. I wrestle with natural disasters, with the existence of mental illness, and with the achingly beautiful fragility of everything around me.
But when I look to the lodestar of God’s love, the questions cease.
When I think about the presence of Christ in the room with me now, my doubts dissolve into silence. Creation is awesome and terrifying. But the heart of God, which transcends the created universe, is awesome and tender.
This is a cosmos in transition. God has a plan to bring us back to Eden. Even death itself and the underworld will be destroyed forever when the new Jerusalem arrives on earth (Rev. 20:13). In his divine vision of the future, the prophet John saw “a new heaven and a new earth:”
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”
Rev. 21:1-5 NRSV
God’s love and grace are what I can depend on. They have carried me through my dark nights. May it be so for you, too. May he show himself to you. May you hear the Lord’s voice and feel his presence in your life. May he pour his love into your heart through his indwelling Spirit (Rom. 5:5) and transform you into a walking reflection of Christ.
When you join God’s covenant of love, no outside force can ever separate you. Praise him through the universe!
About the photo: Chiaroscuro in art is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition. Francisco Goya used this art form in his depiction entitled, Christ on the Mount of Olives.
An attorney born in Nashville, Bren Hughes writes about spiritual growth, worship, biblical interpretation, and putting scripture into practice. His writing resonates most with people in spiritual transition who love Jesus, are open to experiencing the Spirit, and who rely on the authority of Scripture. A former campus minister, DJ, rock singer/guitarist, Wal-Mart department manager, and state Supreme Court judicial clerk, Bren (M.A., M.Div., J.D.) currently works as an attorney for the federal government’s judicial department in eastern Kentucky. He recently chronicled his spiritual journey in his book Heaven’s Muscle, which doubles as a biblical theology of the Holy Spirit (see HeavensMuscle.com).In his spare time, he blogs, writes articles for academic law journals, and records music with his talented wife. The Hugheses have three young sons, plus backyard chickens. Bren invites you to his blog at BrenHughes.com. Follow him @brenhughes.