Life can be worrisome to an 11 year old. It was to me one night as I lay in the top bunk staring up at the corner of the white ceiling. Outside lights came faintly through the blinds, striping the walls. I was thinking of people who weren’t speaking to each other and of how families could be splintered by distance and misunderstanding, and my child heart hurt over it.
But, I thought, they will all be in heaven. And they will have eternity to patch things up and live in peace. Separation in this life isn’t so bad. They’ll have eternity — forever.
I traced the length of the ceiling with my eyes, corner to corner, and imagined that length stretching as far as another ceiling and another and another and another and another. And somehow, in the stripy darkness of that bedroom, I touched eternity. I dove under the covers with my heart pounding, wrapped myself away from the frightening vastness I’d only just glimpsed.
My heart pounded for a long time.
* * *
I was a teenager, gathering in a room full of believers while a friend strummed a guitar and began to sing “Let God Arise,” and the people broke into singing and dancing. Someone sang, “The Lord is here.” And He was. My hands shook, and I knelt — not on the worn carpet of an old room, but in the throne room of God. His presence stayed with me, forever transforming my longings with its vivid beauty and compelling truth.
* * *
Night again, in another bedroom. Light from street lamps casting the faintest of glows. My friend wanted to talk about Jesus before we went to sleep. Singing, hands lifted to heaven, tears ran down both our faces. I told the story of Jesus in the boat, how He was asleep when the storm was raging, asleep because He was tired. That’s how human He was. And as the story came to us, so did the Man in it. Now hours later we still sang, with tears running down our faces and with light in our eyes.
Touching eternity again. Joyful and trembling, for how do we dare come so close to God?
* * *
Touches. Glimpses. People as lowly and sinful as you and me can encounter God, for “though he was in the form of God . . . [he] made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6–8, ESV).
In Guy Gavriel Kay’s fantasy novel The Summer Tree, one character gives her life for another, for someone she barely knows all because she realizes that other character must fulfill a purpose no one else can. In giving her life, she passes on power and knowledge to the one for whom she has sacrificed. And as that character realizes what has happened, Kay writes,
There are kinds of actions, for good or ill, that lie so far outside the boundaries of normal behaviour that they force us, in acknowledging that they have occurred, to restructure our own understanding of reality. We have to make room for them.
We, who live our lives on the edge of eternity, who sometimes glimpse the Lord of glory himself, who walk around bearing His name, washed by His blood, have to restructure our understanding of reality to make room for the cross. So often I go through my days without thinking about it, without realizing that the Son of God has sacrificed His life for me.
I ought to be aware of that every time I pray, every time I think of God. Peter says to me,
And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed…not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:17–19).
* * *
Would I treat you differently if I knew that someone had chosen to die in your place? When I look in your eyes across the breakfast table, when we sit and talk at the coffee shop, when we read the Bible together, when you and I disagree. Would you be changed in my eyes if I believed that you were so precious to someone that He had willingly laid down His life for you?
Would it shake me to believe it?
Would I tremble to believe the same thing about myself?
And what if I knew, down to the depths of my soul, that the sacrifice was undeserved? Paul says, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die” (Romans 5:7). What if I had always been a snob and a mocker to the One who died for me, if all my life I had been ungrateful and ungracious toward Him, if I had flaunted His wishes every time He made them known and lived in deliberate antithesis to everything He stood for?
That passage from Paul finishes, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Should this reshape my reality? Has it?
“Jesus died for me.” Easy words. They roll off my tongue; I’ve confessed them since I was 4 years old. But have I thought about them, really? Jesus — the Son of God. The maker and sustainer of the universe. The vine from whom every living thing draws life. Jesus, of whom the Philippians passage goes on to say, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–10).
Paul walks us through the reshaping of reality in this passage. He tells us first that Jesus, who existed in eternity as God, made himself as nothing to become one of us. He took on flesh and blood and humbled himself, because of the love of God, to die. To die in horrible suffering. To die in mockery and loneliness. To die, not like man, not even like an animal. Like a symbol of unjust victimhood stripped of humanity and dignity.
And then Paul reminds us of who Jesus is and of what has happened to Him since. God has exalted Him and given Him a name above every name, that all should bow, that all should confess, that nothing should remain outside of His rule and His jurisdiction and His judgment.
And he finishes:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12).
I have touched eternity sometimes and trembled. I have glimpsed depths of love so great they can make me afraid. They should make me afraid, for the depths of God’s love are more than the sum total of who I am as a mortal being. Whether I always recognize it or not, reality is changed. It is reshaped. I am redeemed by the precious blood of God himself.
Salvation is mine, a gift freely given, and all I need to do is walk it out. Work it out. Live it like it’s real, with fear and trembling at the magnitude of this: that God has placed such a value on my life and that I now dance on the edges of eternity.
Copyright 2011 Rachel Starr Thomson. All rights reserved.