Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Somewhere Beyond

Not only is death the enemy of humanity in general (1 Cor. 15:26), but many of us go through periods where it seems to hold a personal grudge against us. Recently, I've gotten to the point I dread answering phone calls from relatives: half a dozen of my parents' old friends, plus three family members, have passed on since 2006; and as many relatives again are struggling with serious health problems, at least one potentially terminal. For all that, I suspect that many people--faced with the senseless murder of a child, or a vehicle crash that took an entire family in one blow--would willingly trade places with me.

Many people react to death by wanting to die themselves; loss of a loved one is a frequent motive for suicide. Others don't need that much of an excuse. The ultimate escape can start to look attractive for the most trivial reasons; more than one suicide note has said something to the effect of "I can't take all this stress anymore" or "I failed and I can't live with it." Psychology Today reported in 2005 that perfectionists have a high suicide rate because "They think that if life isn't perfect, then it's worthless. Get rid of it." One mark of perfectionism is the feeling that we can get everything under control if only we try hard enough, and that if life is a disappointment in any way, we must be guilty of the sin of sloth and have to do penance by trying harder. (I can state from personal experience that it's even possible to be a perfectionist about getting rid of perfectionism; if you laughed at that without also being tempted to cry, I envy you your lack of perfectionism!) Since we aren't God, we're trying to do the impossible and will eventually break under the strain.

The craving and striving for perfection, whether in ourselves, others, or life in general, will invariably disappoint us because this world hasn't been perfect since the day of the forbidden fruit. We tend to see God's promising Adam and Eve lifelong hardship in return for that snack (Gen. 3:16-19) as pure punishment; but perhaps it was also an act of mercy. Had they continued to live in comfort once their souls were tainted with sin, they might never have returned to God because life might not have seemed so bad without Him. It's the prodigal who's been reduced to living in the pig pen, not the playboy who still has money nor the dutiful son still at home, who realizes the full depths of the wages of sin and can finally experience the Father's embrace of love.

The ultimate experience of that embrace, of course, waits for the life beyond this one where things finally will be invariably, unspoilably perfect. Though we may not yet believe that with all our hearts, it's far greater consolation in pain than is feeling guilty because we can't "fix things" ourselves.

Somewhere beyond the sky above there is a Heavenly land
In which our loved ones gone before have found eternal peace;
And someday when our years are done, we'll go to be with them
In that bright world beyond our world when pain will finally cease.

Somewhere beyond this world of time there is a Heavenly land
Where all who dwell are ever strong and beautiful and young;
And someday when our bodies end their work, they'll be remade
In that bright world beyond our world where all the blessed come.

Somewhere beyond this world of toil there is a Heavenly land
Where all the work is purest joy through service to our Lord;
And someday when we rest at last, we'll worship Him alone
In that bright world beyond our world where endless grace is poured.

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