“1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. 4 He 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.’
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ 6 And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.’ “
“12 ‘ Behold I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.’
14 Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.”
“20 He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”
I’ve been thinking quite a bit the past several months about relationships. There are several reasons for this pondering, but one is that I read a book recently called, Unfriend Yourself: Three Days to Detox, Discern, and Decide About Social Media by Kyle Tennant. I wrote a little about the book on my book list page, and I’m not writing a review of it here since it isn’t the final point I’m wanting to make today, but that book has done what it was meant to do and started me thinking a little more about how and why I use social media, which has also helped me continue thinking through relationships in general. What came out of reading that book for me is that I’m really trying to spend less time with Facebook - reading and posting. I think that we impose expectations on social media that it really isn’t designed or able to fulfill. Social media is helpful and can be good for networking and maybe staying in contact with people when, like my family, you have to relocate often. In that way social media has been a blessing and I’m not ready to completely give it up. But, on the other hand, social media can hold some dangers in that sometimes we can expect it to provide closer relationships than it is actually capable of delivering.
A couple of observations I’ve noticed along these lines to sort of lay some groundwork for the point I really want to make is that, first of all, we can be tempted to assume that if we interact often on Facebook that we have a close friendship, or that we’ve sort of done our duty to care for our friends. This an especially attractive temptation for those of us who are more introverted and not as naturally outgoing. The sad thing is that, though that kind of friendship is a type of relationship and sweet in its own way, it isn’t as close as real, face-to-face, in-the-flesh relationship. It just can’t be. Online communication cannot substitute for the more vulnerable, frankly messier but so much more fulfilling ultimately, nature of in-the-flesh relationship where we talk face to face and share life together. Mediated friendships allow us to carefully control how we present ourselves and how others perceive us. We can edit and delete posts that we think show something about us that we don’t want others knowing or thinking of us. Face-to-face, it’s much easier to know the real person, but it’s also a lot scarier because we may find out that we do not seem as perfect or flawless as we want people to see us, and we have a whole lot less control over that carefully crafted image while sitting across the table from someone than we do behind a computer screen. Another thing I’ve noticed is that because so many of us aren’t as careful as we maybe should be about remembering our whole audience of social media ‘friends’ and the varying levels of intimacy we’ve earned in those friendships when we post our every thought out there on the internet, sometimes we end up knowing more about mere acquaintances than we would without social media. We have a false expectation of intimacy because of this - and it opens the door for more hurt feelings and misunderstandings, in my opinion, because we assume a level of friendship that isn’t actually there because of how much we think we know based on what we’ve read on Facebook.
So, spring boarding from those observations, I’ve been thinking about relationships in general, beyond social media, because what I’ve been pondering is how even in ‘real-life,’ away from the screen, in-the-flesh, sitting-across-the-table, sharing life relationships, we still very often have a hard time really getting to know anyone else. I think part of the Curse, the Fall, is that we crave intimacy, but we also fear it and run from it even while seeking it. I think we all have walls and eggshells that we use as shields to varying degrees to protect our vulnerability. Some have huge walls, some have miles of eggshells, some have lower walls and fewer eggshells, but in the end, I think that it is very, very difficult to really know another person and truly relate to them in full fellowship.
This is one reason that marriage is such a precious gift from God to humanity. This is also why divorce is so hurtful and capable of inflicting such deep wounds, and why it is so important for a Christian to marry a godly spouse and seek to be a godly spouse. Marriage, and to a great extent the family, is the one human relationship where we should be able to really be ourselves and not have to hide behind our walls and eggshells. Marriage, as God designed it, is the one human relationship where we should be able to be vulnerable with each other and not have to fear that vulnerability. In our fallenness and sin, even the best marriages can only hint at that, but how kind of God to give us this glimpse of what relationship should be. Marriage is also a grand picture of the gospel - Christ so loving the Church that He laid His life down for her to make her a pure Bride.
So, what I’ve been thinking about this morning as I ponder various friendship mishaps and misunderstandings and brokennesses I’ve experienced and grieve over, I’ve been wondering if perhaps some of the tears that God will wipe away in the new Jerusalem just might be the tears I can’t help but think we will cry when we get to Heaven and we finally know each other as we are meant to and realize what we’ve missed behind our walls that we built between ourselves. That person we were so angry with, when we see their heart, when we know what we didn’t know here, what did we miss? What have I missed when I misunderstood a friend’s intent and chose not to assume the best but rather assumed the worst and was hurt and angry or bitter or distant and lost some of the intimacy that friendship could have had? What have I missed when I chose to remain hurt and hold a grudge? What have I missed when I was indifferent to someone I should have cared about? What have I missed when I’ve harbored prejudices? What have I missed when I was just too busy and distracted or selfish to share in friends’ joys and sorrows? What have I missed when my pride caused me to care too much about what someone else thought of me, or what I perceived that they thought of me, and I kept myself at arms’ length, unable to just be and not have to carefully guard my image? And the list could go on.
This is where the gospel gives such hope. Those tears WILL be wiped away. Wrongs will be righted and misunderstandings cleared away. But even here, even now, there is such amazing hope and grace. You see, in reconciling us to Himself, which is such amazing grace, God also grants us to be reconciled with each other. Understanding that I am, actually, just as wretched, no, even more wretched, than I suspected is actually quite freeing. Rather than having to carefully guard the notion that I’m all that and oh-so-wonderful, I can admit that I am a sinner, I am so very, very flawed, and so is everyone else. Jesus came to us while we were yet rebels, while we were ugly, pride-filled, self-centered, sinful people, and He came to redeem us and wash away our sins. When we repent of that ugly, ugly, ugly sinful wretchedness and turn to Him in grateful trust and faith, He washes us white as snow. We are freed to love others. We are freed not to have to carefully guard our image. If only I would learn this well.
I think on this side of Heaven, relationships will always have that tension of wanting intimacy, but fearing it and feeling tempted to run from it, not really being able to lower the walls completely. But, for the Christian, we ought to be growing in grace and the ability to lay down grudges, forgive each other more easily, share in joys, sorrows, and burdens - life, in other words, and learn to really be a friend and family member who chooses to assume the best, bear with wrongs, choose to overlook misunderstandings when we’re able, give much room for grace in other people’s lives, and trust our Savior to teach us ever more to walk in His light. We are the grace people! We are Jesus’s people! We ought to be growing in that light and walking in it ever more closely. The light has dawned in the darkness and we have beheld HIS glory.
That’s what I’ve been pondering recently.
In light of that, here are the words to one of the most beautiful, joyous Christmas hymns. Pay special attention to verse three in light of those thoughts. Jesus reigns, and He makes His blessings flow - far as the curse is found!
JOY TO THE WORLD
Joy to the World, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love.