I’ve been collecting memories over the years, placing them pristine within the cupboards of my mind for later perusal. Excited by my collection, I’ve looked forward to going back to re-experience them: trekking through the jungles of Papua New Guinea, touring Spain with my father, holding my newborn child or the first time I felt God’s presence.Those memories, every one, are precious to me–a treasure.
The problem is that though I’ve lived my life with the expectation of remembering—the joy in remembering is limited. In fact, most of my memories, including my very good ones, are downright painful. Memories of time with my father highlight that he is gone from me. Pictures of my children, younger, me holding them with a dazed, exhausted look in my eye, remind me that those young days are gone for them and for me.
Memories meant to give my life depth and value instead remind me of its brevity. They hurt now. Not only that, but my memories are not as sharp as I thought they’d be. Names and faces slip through my mind like a child balancing precious items. I feel my limitations—my shallow observations; my narrow experiences bound by my culture, status, time period, and race. I am hopelessly viewing life, even my own, through only a pinprick of understanding.
The Limitlessness of God
It’s in these moments that I stand back to see the vastness of God, this God who sees (Genesis 16:13). He, unlike myself, is not limited by culture, time, physical limitations, or blurry memories. Instead, in Him is a truth so real that we can scarcely understand it. In the Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes a kind of after life where people choose whether to live in a hell of their own creation or to go to heaven. Our protagonist finds himself in line for a bus going to heaven. He describes what he sees when the bus arrives:
I got out. The light and coolness that drenched me were like those of summer morning, early morning a minute or two before the sunrise, only that there was a certain difference. I had the sense of being in a larger space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got “out” in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair. It gave me a feeling of freedom, but also of exposure, possibly of danger, which continued to accompany me through all that followed. It is the impossibility of communicating that feeling, or even of inducing you to remember it as I proceed, which makes me despair of conveying the real quality of what I saw and heard. 8
He further explores this world that feels so big, and somewhat dangerous, realizing how overly physical this world was in comparison to him.
It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison. Moved by a sudden thought, I bent down and tried to pluck a daisy which was growing at my feet. The stalk wouldn’t break. I tried to twist it, but it wouldn’t twist. I tugged till the sweat stood out on my forehead and I had lost most of the skin off my hands. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like diamond. 9
When the heavenly inhabitants come out, their flesh also seems more real than the ghostliness of the protagonist and his companions. This other world is too real and too dangerous, so the ghosts run away choosing instead to go back to their own worlds, no matter if it is truly hell.
Lewis attempts to communicate here that God’s world is more real than we can imagine on this side. We think we know truth. We think we see things as they really are, but we actually see so dimly now (1 Corinthians 13:12), but with a hope of seeing as He does.
I hope that, in this day, we will see history as it truly occurred. Perhaps on the agenda will be a retelling of the events of the world where every person gets to tell their story. For the very first time, we will understand people’s experiences that have been so different from our own. Not just history will be made clear, but scientific wonders. I imagine the world’s secrets laid bare for us to explore, the mysteries of space and Earth broken open. What I really look forward to expectantly though is seeing the truth of God in all His glory, in one moment silencing thousands of years of theological debate.
This reflection moves me to humility. I will still search for truth, but I will discuss it humbly, knowing my sight is limited. This humility will hopefully enable me to value my neighbor who thinks so differently from me. Because I am confident that one day all truth will be known, the pressure is off of me to make sure everyone thinks like me. Hannah Anderson captures this so clearly in her book, Humble Roots:
When we believe our righteousness comes from having the “right” opinions or taking the “right” position of an issue, we can never move from that position…If God accepts us based on our being right about every issue, then we must fight to prove ourselves right; but if God accepts us based on our being right, then none of us have any hope.If, however, God accepts you based on Jesus’ being right, then you are safe.
My life’s meaning is not wrapped up in my opinions or even my memories, however meaningful. My time here is short and limited, so I must put my hope in something greater than myself, something Real. I look forward now, instead of backward, knowing that what comes ahead will be the real life with an eternity to explore.