“When people read the Apocalypse, they get frightened by the earthquakes and locusts and famines and scorpions. But the only reason God would allow these things is because He loves us. The world is good- make no mistake about that- but the world is not God. If we’ve allowed the world and its pleasures to rule us as a god, the best thing the real God can do is to start taking away the stones that make up the foundation of the world.”[The Lamb’s Supper]
But the only reason God would allow these things [earthquakes and locusts and famines and scorpions…and disease and loss] is because He loves us.
As a Christian, how can I say to a family who has lost everything to the destruction of an earthquake, or maybe wildfires, that God has allowed this to happen because He loves us? How can I say to a homeless person who hasn’t eaten in days that God has allowed this poverty because He loves us? How do I comfort the suffering Covid patient and their family by assuring them God loves them and is omnipotent and, also, allows the suffering?
As a daughter, how do I ease the pain of the loss of my father by knowing God has allowed it because He loves me? Surely, if God is a father, He knows the damage a father wound can inflict? In the book, The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel is a reporter and an atheist. His wife becomes a Christian, so he sets out to find the facts to disprove Christianity and bring her back to earth, as he believes it is more fantasy and feel-good sentiment than a possible reality. In his quest, he visits a psychiatry professor at Purdue University to consult her opinion whether the five hundred witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus all could have had the same hallucination. She says this would have been a bigger miracle than the Resurrection itself. Before Lee leaves, Dr. Waters asks him about his relationship with his father. The resentment is palpable in his response. “Complicated.”
Dr. Waters goes on. “Let me guess. Cold, distant, doesn’t give much affirmation or express love.”
Unveiled, Lee relents. “Guilty on all charges. Why?”
“As a skeptic, I’d imagine you’re familiar with history’s great names in atheism, Hume, Nietzsche, Sartre, Freud?”
“Of course, some of my greatest heroes.”
“Did you know that all of them had a father who either died when they were young, abandoned them or was physically or emotionally abusive? In the world of therapy, it is called a father wound.”
“No, I was not aware.”
I am aware, though I wasn’t very young when you died, dad, I have a father wound. And I know, now, the wound formed before you died. I hid from you. Didn’t think I needed your love. Didn’t want intimacy with you. By the grace of God, reconciliation began before you died, and I am learning it needs continuous healing. But can I still say I am okay with your loss because I believe God loves me? He loved me before you died, didn’t He? Was I loving Him before you died?
“I know you deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore, remember from where you have fallen, and repent…” [Revelations 2: 2-5]
I have toiled. I have persevered. I have endured. But have I left my first love? How can this be? Who is my first love?
In the beginning of a relationship with a boy I was interested in getting to know, we went for a hike. A pretty perfect uninterrupted way to ask questions and learn about someone. Of course, I think we both had a few top priority topics we wanted to hit on. I was a bit nervous about what kind of questions to ask because this was a new realm for me. How deep do you get early on? What is too much? Too far? I played it safe and more so let him lead the way. At the end of quite a beautiful walk, I felt good about the conversation. Then, before saying good-bye for the day, he dropped something on me I wasn’t ready for.
“Have you ever been in love?”
I don’t think my jaw dropped but my stomach did. Like when you’re on the peak of the climb of a rollercoaster and a second later hit the down slope. This was definitely not on my list of questions. It seemed too intimate. Maybe it was just me being guarded or not wanting to give away too much too early. But being in love is a big deal. The end game. If I had been, I wouldn’t be here right now. Right? Wasn’t that the way it worked? Being in love was the fairy tale ending. One time. Forever. Did he mean have I ever loved anyone? What is the difference between loving and being in love? The world offers quite a few ways to define and distinguish the two. I think every romantic story I have witnessed, read, or watched flashed through my brain in the ten seconds it took me to form a response. All of a sudden, my thoughts on the subject didn’t seem so clear. The newfound confusion stunned me for a moment, but I told him what I thought was the truth.
No, I have never been in love.
I made good grades. I was nice to people. I helped my family. I went to church. I worked hard in sports. I took care of myself. But have I loved? Had I left my first love?
“The term apokalypsis, usually translated as ‘revelation,’ literally means unveiling. In John’s time, Jews commonly used apokalypsis to describe part of their week-long wedding festivities. The apokalypsis was the lifting of the veil of the virgin bride…and that’s what John was getting at. So close was the unity of heaven and earth that it is like the fruitful and ecstatic union of a husband and wife in love. St. Paul describes the Church as the bride of Christ- and Revelation unveils that bride.”
“This apocalypse, or unveiling, points back to the cross…the sanctuary of God was ‘apocalypsed,’ unveiled, His dwelling no longer reserved for the high priest alone. Jesus’ redemption unveiled the Holy of Holies, opening God’s presence to everyone. Heaven and earth could now embrace in intimate love.”[The Lamb’s Supper]
It seems odd to name a book like Revelation something that also refers to wedding festivities. I think this would be the farthest thing from the events taking place in the last book of Scripture. But this is often what happens without valuing and treating the Word of God as the Word of God. Knowing apokalypsis means unveiling and was commonly used to describe wedding festivities unlocks the reality and romance of the book of Revelation. In my walk of faith, there have been significant beliefs that have rubbed me the wrong way. I have deemed them Christian clichés. They are very important truths, all of them, but what makes me cringe is how poorly or partially we understand them. We fail to capture the wholeness, as faulty humans, and it leaves our soul wanting. This is what I think of with commonly quoted parts of Scripture.
Be still, and know that I am God. [Psalm 46:10]
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. [Philippians 4:13]
Love the Lord you God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. [Matthew 22:37]
These truths stand alone. This is the Word of God. However, I am afraid I use them and hear them much too causally. Cutely, even. Like a passing fancy.
“God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from…Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger- according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.”[Mere Christianity]
Considering the truths of Christianity as nice sentiments is to miss the fullness and meaning completely. Like believing Jesus is just a moral teacher and not the Lamb of God. It is not an option. Consider taking the verse from Matthew above when Jesus is speaking of the first and greatest commandment (to love God), while reading a few more verses from Deuteronomy, regarding the covenant God makes through Moses with the Israelites.
Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. [Dt 30:6]
…for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; if you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statues which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?’ But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it. [Dt 30: 9-14]
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live…I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life… [Dt 30: 15-16, 19-20]
For me, after reading the covenant from Deuteronomy and the words of Jesus in Matthew, there is a weightier sincerity to the command to love God with all my heart and all my soul and all my mind. It is no passing fancy or cute religion. It is life or death. My life or my death. I wish I could absorb the fullness of this truth and treat it with the sanctity it ought to be treated with. Unfortunately, it often takes seasons of life, and God circumcising my heart to know it as it ought to be known. It often takes unveiling.
What I didn’t realize at the end of that walk when the boy asked me if I have ever been in love is how much being in love changes you. It now makes sense why he would have asked so early on. Love unveils you. It asks you to unveil yourself. A first love transforms you. Reveals things about yourself that you didn’t know. Good and bad. It is the greatest comfort and the greatest terror. It is not fun or cute. Fun and cute things can be a part of a loving relationship but the loving in the relationship is a whole other thing. The real thing.
Entering into the Holy of Holies in the Temple for the priest was a matter of life and death. Gazing on Absolute Goodness was not something taken lightly. Jesus unveiled this opportunity for all of us. He unveiled the dwelling place of the God who called Moses to tell the Israelites of the covenant He would make with them, for them to love Him and return to Him, to choose life. Not for life far away in heaven or across the sea but right there before them, in their relationship with the Lord their God. He wanted them, and He wants us. And He has equipped us to make this choice for ourselves to experience love and life.
“Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord…” [Isaiah 55:6-7]
Though the wound of losing you can ache like no other, dad, I can say it has unveiled to me my first love. It is a severe mercy. A cross of redemption and intimacy. The Lord is my first love. His love is life and loving Him is my life. Thus, I do believe suffering from a father wound can be okay because God loves me. It can even be good. This is the weight of the truth of loving God. He is near and intimate. He is unveiling. He offers us nothing less than the intimate union of heaven and earth through the redemption of His Son’s death on the cross. He offers us forever as His bride.
I, indeed, have left my first love. Often. I have let the world flash fleeting loves as fairy tales and fallen under their spell. This is what I was thinking of when asked had I ever been in love. I was looking for the fairy tale ending and missing the embrace of the Lord right before me. Forgetting my first love.
“Cuz when the storms out on the ocean and the violent wind gets to blowin’, oh take me back, back, all the way back, oh take me back, back, back, back, all the way back, oh take me back to my first love.”
“there’s a fresh start and its right here right now…”
“Take me back to my first love.”[Take Me Back_Maverick City Music, Dante Bowe]
I love you dad,
PS- Highly recommend checking out this song and others by Maverick City. Doesn’t do it justice just to read it.