A few days ago, I received a letter from a close friend from college. He was quite literally the first person I ever met at Berkeley, and we've stayed in touch ever since that first day on campus. In his letter, he brought a memory back to the forefront of my mind.
Nearly a year ago, we sat down for a meal before he moved away from Berkeley, and he proceeded to tell me that he had decided to walk away from faith in Jesus. That conversation was difficult and emotional, it was raggedly beautiful, it was quiet, it was slow.
As I think back to that summer afternoon which turned into night, I remember the pain. I remember the two of us sitting on my mattress which lay on the floor as I prepared to move into a new apartment as well. We listened to a song on repeat, we talked about life, and hurt, and victimization, and triumph, and personal victory. The song we listened to that night still causes me to breathe deeply when I hear it.
To be honest, I didn’t blame him for his desire to walk away. The hurt and pain he endured due to broken churches, religious groups, and other close relationships would have been more than most could bear. I absolutely would not have been able to bear the things that he went through. I probably would have run away from my hometown, dropped out of college, or lost the will to continue moving forward. But not him. He was never one to throw in the towel because of a difficult circumstance. He could stand his ground with the best of them. That’s just who he is. He is steadfast. He is immovable.
When we spoke to each other that night, I tried to strike the balance between wanting him to know I loved him and wanting him to know the lies he was believing were dead wrong. He left that night thanking me for reducing some of the damage others had caused. I was glad God kept me from becoming part of the problem.
Even so, I wish I could have done more.
I wish I had the power to show him a glimpse of heaven. I wish I could have told him that his suffering had not been in vain. I wish I could have told him that eternity could never be limited by our temporary wounds. I wish I could have told him that he was looking at the finger of God rather than the thing to which the finger was pointing. I wish I could have screamed the truth into his ears and showed him that all his life, he’s been listening to the voices that tell him what he isn’t instead of the One Voice who can tell him who he really is.
But I didn’t.
I just told him that I loved him.
And I listened as deeply as I could.
I’m not sure what I’ll say when I write him back, but I do know this: Jesus made a way for our suffering to not be in vain. One day, the perishable parts of us will be clothed with imperishable, and every dirty and broken piece will be swallowed up in victory. In the deep, dark places of abandonment and isolation, the passion of love flows through the one who rose from the dead to conquer it all. Every process that drives disconnection will be replaced with the steadfast and immovable love of Jesus.
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15: 51-58)
Until that day, let’s remember that sin and death still sting. Let’s remember that we are all affected by incomplete relationships in a fallen world. Let’s remember Who has the last Word. This life is only an incomplete preview of the one that is to come. Some say that “Love is not a victory march, It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.” But it’s still a Hallelujah. Jesus proved that on the cross. He brought Hallelujah when he rose again.
Lord, paralyze the parts of us that are tempted to believe there isn't room for Hallelujah. Teach us to dance over the cracks in the pavement of our lives, and always move toward the final victory. One day, the pain that turns passion into passivity will be a distant memory. You sent Your son to suffer and die and save undeserving sinners like us. Remind us of Your victory. Keep us living in the Hallelujah. Amen.