Categories
Theology

Heaven Is Not What You Think It Is

I’m a 90s kid. That means I watched a lot of TV. And one scene from a cartoon (Looney Tunes maybe?) is forever etched in my mind.

I can’t remember the context of the episode but it’s a picture of heaven. It’s portrayed as an expanse filled with clouds. A chubby little baby in a diaper is an angel seated on a puffy cloud playing a harp.

Apparently this is paradise for all eternity.

This image shaped my theology of heaven more than anything when I was a kid. It made me not want to go to heaven. Ever. I’m going to be a fat, diapered baby sitting alone for all my days? No, thanks.

If we’re honest, most of us would think of heaven to be some version of this boring, awkward scene. Maybe not the diaper part. But an ethereal, vague, and serious place full of light fog.

This isn’t the picture painted by the Bible. Even the idea of heaven as a location “out there” that we “go to” is foreign to Jesus and his apostles.

In the end, Heaven comes down, as the New Jerusalem, the New Creation, the New Heavens and New Earth. It’s the place God lives and where his people live with him as they were meant to originally in the Garden. This time, without the possibility of rebellion.

The picture painted of heaven in the Scriptures has more continuity with this world than we might dare to think. Does it feel a tad bit unspiritual to consider “heaven” being like this earth? Remember, God made us for this world. It is our home. And it will be our home (see Romans 8:22-24).

This world simply isn’t the finished product yet. Neither are we.

In the the last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21-22, we see the finished product. And it’s glorious.

There’s no need for security at the city gates. The very best of human culture is ushered in and celebrated. There’s no off-season for harvesting crops. God and his people dwell together in sweet intimacy. They see each other face to face. There’s no more sun—God’s brilliance lights up the world. And his people will reign with him.

It’s the place where everyone looks out for everyone else. Where everyone is more concerned for their neighbor than themselves. Where there is always perfect joy and delight and laughter. Where there is no pain or tears or mess-ups or accidents or disease or disaster or devils or death.

It’s a world of love, because the God who is love is there and we will finally be with him in his presence.

In other words, “heaven” is the place and society “that we long for, [but] that we feel so far away” from, this side of Eden. It’s what this world was meant to be. And will be…someday.

It’s way better than what the cartoons told us. And it can’t come soon enough.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Categories
Life

“Due to Covid-19…”

I’m trying to get my refrigerator fixed.

My wife and I bought a brand new GE fridge at the end of May. Not by choice. Our other one became a bit temperamental (bad dad fridge joke, I know). 

The new one’s problem? The digital screen went out. That means no digital buttons to push to get filtered ice or water. 

Normally, it’s not a big deal to call the manufacturer when a major appliance is under warranty and get a repairman to come out to do the job. 

But it’s 2020.

So, obviously, that means back-ordered parts. 

For weeksAnd weeks. And weeks. 

I’ve called GE several times. Every time, I hear this automated message, “Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, expect extended wait times when trying to reach a representative.”

I laughed as I tried to figure out how Covid kept me in line for another 40 minutes. (My family is not laughing. They really want the filtered water and ice back.)

Now, filtered water and a fridge digital display are pretty insignificant, I think we’d all agree. It’s really not that big of a deal.

I share the story not because GE is driving me nuts but because when I heard that automated warning I was struck with yet another reminder of how a virus has taken so much from us. 

An Invisible Thief

Covid-19 has single-handedly ruined senior years, freshman years, eighth-grade years, kindergarten years. Any school year.

It has delayed or canceled weddings and receptions and family vacations. It has kept funeral gatherings under 10 people. Ten

Let that sink in.

It has ripped away income from business owners and families. It has robbed job opportunities from college graduates and others in transition. It has forced bosses to lay off part-time workers who are desperate for that weekly paycheck. 

It kept that high school senior from running her last meet. It kept that young boy from seeing his grandpa one last time before he passed away. It kept the single mom home from work forcing her to wonder how she’d pay for groceries the next week. 

It has kept people from gathering to eat and celebrate and mourn and cheer and sing and dance and laugh and swing and worship and run and swim and do all the things that humans are supposed to do together

All this, not to mention the actual lives Covid has taken.

Scientists and doctors are still learning about this virus. Information comes out daily, even six months into the pandemic.

But if there’s one thing we know about this virus for sure, it’s this: Covid-19 is a thief.

I realized this again yesterday morning when a co-worker referred to a loss we experienced as a team due to Covid-19. He said, “We can’t do anything about it. To me, this is just another thing that Covid stole from us.”

When you lose something or have something taken from you, you experience sorrow. 

There’s a strange emotional cocktail of sadness, anger, and frustration. 

It all produces a sense of disappointment. No matter how big or small the thing you lost was, you just want to cry and scream, “This sucks.” 

It’s hard to describe, isn’t it? But you know it when you feel it.

Acknowledge the Loss, Embrace the Grief

Unfortunately, I think that many of us have become so numb to it that we don’t feel it any longer. Or, worse, we don’t want to.

It’s easy to say, “Let’s move on! Let’s get back to life.” Yes. I’m ready, too.

But getting back to normal doesn’t mean you can escape the sorrow. You can’t rush the grieving process, as much as I’d like to try. (ENTJ here—emotions are not my strong suit, and I’m working on it.)

You may have experienced, horrifically, a death in your family or physical pain as a direct result of Covid. More than likely, it has stolen something else from you, something that brings real joy to your life.

The reason I’m writing this is to tell you that it’s okay to grieve that loss.

You may grieve alone or with family or friends. You may grieve by journaling or running or camping. You may grieve by reading Scripture or prayer. You may grieve through tearful conversations with your spouse or best friend. You may grieve by getting out all the photos (if you have actual photos) or scrolling through last year’s Instagram to remind yourself what was taken from you. 

I won’t tell you how to do it. Just that you must

Why? At the risk of being reductionistic, here are three reasons you should grieve.

Grieving Connects Us to Our Fellow Humans

There are billions of people on the planet right now who have endured significant losses this year due to Covid-19. 

Think about that for a second. 

No two stories are the same, of course. But everyone in the world knows what loss is like because of the same reason at the same time. 

This hasn’t happened in our lifetimes. It’s an opportunity to embrace our shared suffering and shared grieving. We are human together.

This shared grief then allows us to move toward each other for comfort and community. In a world where no one grieves, no one needs anyone else. 

But we all need each other. And universal grief connects us.

That leads to the second thing.

Grieving Frees Us from the Pressure to be Bulletproof

I so badly want to be bulletproof. I want to show my wife, my kids, my friends, my boss that nothing can touch me.

But I’m not bulletproof. And, in my sane moments, I know it. 

Grief opens the door for me to say, “I’ve lost something. Something precious. I’m broken. I’m wounded. I’m not in control here and I’m scared.”

When was the last time you were able to admit that? 

When I actually get to this place, I become more empathetic to others. I’m ready to sit with them in the stink without judgment or the need to fix it (also hard for the ENTJs among us). 

I also receive love, care, and help from others without the feeling that I need to repay them or prove to them that I don’t need their help.

I’m broken. I need help. 

And that’s okay. 

Grieving Takes Us Places We Could Not Otherwise Go

This isn’t an article about why bad things happen. Philosophers and theologians have been writing about that for millennia. And I have my own opinions. 

Let’s at least agree on this: bad things do happen and we have to learn to live with the world we’ve been given.

If we lived in a static, happy-go-lucky world without any problems, we would never grow. We’d be…well, static. This isn’t trying to silver-line the pain. It’s the exact opposite: pain has a purpose. 

We grow because of grief. It’s painful and we kick and scream to avoid it.

But we can’t take a detour around it.

When someone grieves a loss from Covid, we need to resist saying, “At least…” or “It’s not as bad as…” or “It’s the agenda of _____!” or some other comment to deflect from the pain.

It may be a well-intentioned attempt to make someone smile, but it stunts their growth, and ours, and makes us both something less than fully human.

As a Christian, I’m reminded of the Scriptures that sum up Jesus’ humanity like this: “A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.” 

Christianity provides deep resources to deal with grief, though not because of a system or propositions. 

It’s because of a Person.

A Person who identified with humanity. Became breakable. Endured tremendous sorrow, pain, shame, and grief, only to come out on the other side, fully resurrected and restored. 

I want to get to that place, too. Do you?

Covid has stolen so much from us. It may be a while before the world gets “back to normal,” whatever that means.

In the meantime, let’s grieve our losses. Together.

It’s the most human and normal thing we can do.

Categories
Life

Packing Up the Boxes Again

I remember sitting in my college dorm room, circa 2005 trying to figure out XangaXanga! That’s when I first started blogging.

I didn’t stay at Xanga long. It was like a drafty apartment. I quickly moved on to Blogspot. A nice townhouse. But then I realized the people in the WordPress neighborhood were better off.

I was keeping up with the blogging Joneses. I moved in.

It’s been the perfect home for the past 13 years. So perfect that, by mid-2018 (11 years of publishing on that platform), I had posted at least one blog in every month except seven. Seven. In eleven years. And most of those months off were taken off by design because of various seasons of life or travel.

It’s been a good run. But the time has come to pack up the boxes and move again.

Over the next few months, my website here at jamespruch.com will be repurposed into something new. I’m excited about it, so watch out for changes this fall.

In the meantime, that means no more new writing here. All my posts will continue to live at jamespruch.wordpress.com, however.

Think of that space like the National Archives. Except way less cool, way less old, and way less precious.

But still awesome. And I hope those 13 years of posts are helpful to you.

So, what’s next?

Enter Substack.

Substack is like a blog, but more like a newsletter. Once you subscribe (just like here on WordPress) you’ll get new posts in your inbox. Are you subscribed to my blog here? I’d appreciate you subscribing at Substack.

I’ll continue to write about the things that have always intrigued me: theology, the life of faith, and culture. But I’ll include other topics I’ve grown to love over the years, especially recently, like leadership, strategic thinking, finances, and more. (I have a lot of interests, okay?)

It’ll be a junk drawer newsletter. Weird, I know. But life’s kinda like a junk drawer, isn’t it? And we all know that the best treasures are found in the junk drawer.

Head on over to Substack and subscribe. It’s completely free. What do you have to lose? (Hint: probably nothing.)

As always, thanks for reading.

Categories
Life

From the Valley of Tears to Springs of Living Water

As Jewish pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem to worship Yahweh in the temple, they would travel through hard, dry terrain. This journey through the rugged Judean wilderness become illustrative of their spiritual life with God. Psalm 84 is one place where this pilgrimage is poetically captured.

In that psalm, we see worshipers who passed through a valley named “Baca,” which means “tears.” The wilderness was a dry and weary place, a sad place. A place to lament. No one should live there. Or ever want to.

But because the Jews were on a pilgrimage through this wilderness, this place that brought tears became to them “a place of springs.” This sad place was an occasion to look forward to the joy that awaited them when they appeared before God in the temple. Why? You cannot know the true joy of Jerusalem if you have never endured the deep sorrow of Baca.

We, too, are on a journey. Not to a physical temple, but toward a new creation. And doesn’t it feel like Baca? I struggle to literally cry (ask my wife). But I’m learning to mourn the brokenness in the world and in me.

Jesus, of course, leads the way. He has walked through Baca—death itself—so he might be for us Living Water. He is our Place of springs in the wilderness. And one day—I can’t wait for the day—he will bring us to the New Jerusalem where Baca will dry up and the river of the water of life will flow forever.

Categories
Life

Day 20: Let There Be Sight!

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” (John 9:39)

Have you ever been frustrated at someone who cannot see what you see? Perhaps it’s something in a sports game, a movie, or a math problem. It can be maddening. But what if it’s something more serious, like their character? The truth is that we all have things about ourselves that we do not see. That’s the nature of being human. We are blind to our most glaring personal deficiencies.

In John 9, Jesus heals a blind man. Echoing the creation account of Genesis 1-2, the one who said, “Let there be light!” now says, “Let there be sight!” and takes mud and rubs it on the man’s eyes to help him see. But that’s not the only point of the story. There’s more going on than what meets the eye (see what I did there?). There is a group of people called the Pharisees who are angry that Jesus did this so they cast this healed man out of the synagogue. Jesus goes to find the man and says, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Jesus was born for judgment’s sake. You might be thinking, But I thought Jesus came to save us? Of course he did. But he cannot save without simultaneously judging. In other words, he draws a line in the sand. Those who do not see—that is, those who realize they are in the dark because of their own spiritual need—will be given the light of eternal life. On the other hand, those who see—that is, those who self-righteously think they are righteous on their own—will actually become blind.

The physically blind man in the story gets healed, but he is representing a greater reality. He illustrates that we are all spiritually blind and need to hear Jesus’ gracious word, “Let there be sight!” May he open yours eyes and mine this Christmas.

Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read John 9:1-41

  1. What surprises you about this passage? What disturbs you? What encourages you?
  2. John, the author, is trying to make a bigger point than just a physical blindness being healed. What is it? Why does it matter for you?
  3. Why are the Pharisees so angry? How would you feel if you were in their shoes? How would you feel if you were in the blind man’s shoes?
  4. Read v. 39 again. Are you one who “sees” or do you know you are blind and need healing?
  5. Jesus is clear that he came for judgment’s sake. How does this change your view of Jesus? How should this make you appreciate his grace more?

From We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent