People sometimes ask me what my favorite passage of scripture is, and I usually have a hard time coming up with an answer. However, this morning I finished my 2009 Bible Reading Plan by reading the last three chapters of Revelation, and I think this might just be my favorite passage:
I usually only read Revelation once a year, but this morning as I was meditating on this passage (and its wider context of chapters 20-22), I was deeply encouraged by this glimpse of the end of the story. A day is coming when everything from this life will finally make sense; a day is coming when suffering and sorrow will end for those who are found to be in Christ, and we will be floating on streets of pure gold.
This passage also reminds me how much of the story we simply will not know or understand fully until the time comes to actually live it out. What does it mean that there will be a first and second death? What does it mean that death and hell will give up their dead, and then be cast into the lake of fire, and that everyone who is not written in the book of life will likewise be thrown into the lake of fire? I have so many questions as I read these passages - there is so much we can only guess at.
Unlike some of my contemporaries, I do believe in a literal heaven and hell, and I do believe that there will be eternal gladness for those who are in Christ, and eternal suffering for those who are not. I believe this because, having thoughtfully and humbly investigated several faith systems, having been willing to be convinced otherwise, I have only been all the more pursuaded that the Bible is the only trustworthy and reliable source of revealed knowledge of God. And there is no way to read the Bible and dismiss eternal gladness with Jesus or eternal suffering apart from God without taking a scissors to many passages from both old testament and new, both red and black letters. Some of the hard questions make me wish I could do that, but I'm not prepared to start cutting out the bits of the Bible I don't like. Interpret them? Yes. Disregard them altogether? Nope.
Certainly, nature and humanity tell us a tremendous amount about God; the heavens declare the work of his hands, and humanity is made in his image. But there is much vital knowledge about God that can only be found through reading these scriptures, and as I closed the book this morning and reflected on the past year as seens through the lense of scripture, I find myself muttering, "truly, I am further up and in than I was one year ago."
I have several goals for the coming year, which I plan to share here tomorrow. But for the past decade or so, my goals have been rooted in the same thing: to know God better, primarily through the study of His word and the humble acknowledgement that God's word and the world around us are both necessary for knowing Him. Someone who reads scripture diligently but neglects to likewise study his fellow man in the pursuit of God will fail to know God truly. Someone who reads studies the Bible daily, yet does not take time to gaze at the stars or observe an animal's dependence on its master for provision will not know God. Sometimes, knowing God must come from experience.
By the same token, someone who studies man and beast and the stars, but rejects the written word of God, will be in grave danger of missing out on the most important aspect of why Jesus came: not just rebirth, but new birth, which does not happen in nature - only in divinity. Ex nihilo nil fit.
So one of my goals for the coming year is to gain an increased appetite for scripture, as well as divine illumination in my mind, so that I might see God and know him more in both the written word of God, and God's reflection in all of creation. The thing that I am most encouraged by, as I sit here thinking about the pursuit of knowing God, is the revelation that God wants to be known. Everything he does seems to be aimed as us knowing him. The more I think about it, the more it occurs to me that knowing God is less like playing Hide and Seek and more like playing Tag.
And this morning, I have a giddy sense that God just touched my shoulder and said, "You're it!"
Ready or not, here I come.