Thursday, 20 February 2014

Neither, nor, nothing

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39

Living on the "heights", means looking down on mist dragons advancing from below, see thunderheads loom close overhead. Even the sunset seems a touch away. The stars stretch a lighted dome at night, giving you a sense of being afloat on a dark ocean, with only the heavenly lights to steer by. At times it feels as if I could simply stretch out my hand and lift the roofs from the little houses afar, to get a peek of life inside. Or that I could move them at will, like in a board game. And then at other times, when thunderstorms rage overhead, it feels as if someone is trying to do just that to our home. I have lived through the depths of despair in this home. I have thought of death in this home, have given birth to a new life, witnessed a life changed through His grace, sensed the angels on guard at His command, demons at work at the devil's. I delight in the present, though at times feel a slight tinge of fear for the future, the powers of darkness always on the prowl. But I have a rock solid certainty, that none of these, nothing in all creation, will be able to separate me (us) from the love of God that we have in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

One of the greatest, if not the greatest, motivations to live for God is absolute assurance of eternal life. If Christ be God and died for me, then there is nothing too great that I can do for Him. Once a part of the family of God, nothing, absolutely nothing, now or forever, can separate you from the love of God in Christ. Some may think that a saved person can "lose" eternal life by ceasing to believe in Christ or by straying into a life or moral impurity. But this verse in Romans shouts it from the rooftops - Hear ye, hear ye! - you fear life? I Am it, you fear death? I have overcome it. Angels and demons and all powers are under My command. I am right there in the present with you, I have mapped out your future into eternity. You soar with Me on high and I will carry you through the deepest valley back into My grace. My beloved child, My grace and love are boundless, beyond human understanding, but nonetheless real and true.

Paul uses a figure of speech called "merism", the combination of two contrasting words, to refer to an entirety. At times I feel like my life has been made up of examples of this. After the heights and depths of a failed marriage, I came to a point where I literally stepped over a taped line in a Vineyard church meeting, leaving the past behind and recommitting my life to Jesus. I signed up for a mission trip to Morocco, saved up like crazy and finally had enough for the ticket and expenses for the trip. At the height of expectation over the oncoming trip, already mind-walking the cobble-stoned alleys of this exotic destination, I literally plunged from another height...

My faithful feline friend was stuck at the top of an avocado tree in the garden of the home I lived in at the time. At home in the branches since childhood, I was about six meters up, before I even gave it a second thought. She was just out of reach, her cries becoming more urgent, the closer I got. I felt my hand close over a stiff paw, and as relief flooded through me, the branch under me snapped and I was falling, falling. I hit solid earth like a cat, feet first. A searing pain shot up my spine and then I was down, flat on my back. Much later, as I was being pushed down a long bright passage, prodded and x-rayed amongst whispers and scribbles on upturned clipboards, I remember thinking: "They'd better hurry up with all this, I have a suitcase to pack". But with the eleventh vertebrae of my spine shattered into tiny shards, and many bones in my feet broken like discarded toothpicks, I was not going anywhere for a long time yet.

I felt utterly pushed out of God's embrace, as if I'd been measured and was found wanting. A dark night descended over my spirit and I did not see a way out of it again. In the strange silence of a hospital ward, my self-pity peaked. Towards midnight, I opened my eyes and saw a shape next to my bed. It was not an angel, coming to rescue me from my fate, but close enough. Our young pastor and friend was sitting next to me in that strange silence and with him there, it seemed less threatening. The days, weeks and months that followed were both the hardest and most beautiful times of my life up to date. The surrender was sweet and I found myself praising God for the trial he placed on my path and then wondering if I had truly gone mad.

"Peculiar", yes - but not mad. Leaning on those Everlasting Arms as I tentatively took each measured step back to physical recovery, I felt my spirit soar to heights I had never experienced before. For the first time in my life I felt completely embraced, utterly defenseless and wonderfully loved. Family and friends completed the circle that hemmed me in from all sides. His love carried me through more dark nights, when sleep would not come and pain would not go.

Since then there have been many more roller coaster rides. At times, I myself felt that I had now fallen so far from His grace that I could not bear looking up into the loving face of Jesus ever again. Expecting to see disappointment or even disapproval there. My own anguished and repentant heart knew that I had hurt Him with my foolishness, but my tears were His tears also, as He opened His arms to welcome me back.

By using three pairs of opposites Paul could not be any plainer or clearer. Eternal life is eternal. No one or nothing, at any time or place, can ever separate us from God's love.
Just like we can't cease being the children of our earthly parents once we are born, so too we can't cease being children of God once we are born again. We can no more be unborn spiritually than we can go back and be unborn physically. When we trust in Christ for salvation, by His grace, at that very moment we become members of God's "forever" family.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin.

When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall;
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call;
God’s love, so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.