The Finish Line
When we talk about education, or really anything in life that requires planning and preparation, we like to say that we need to begin with the end in mind. It terms of school, we design the process to achieve a certain goal; wise and virtuous young people. When we plan to build a house we design and construct the foundation based on what the rest of the house is going to be like. Our life as Christians, really as human beings, should be directed by the hoped for end result.
In her collection of essays, Introductory Papers on Dante, Dorothy Sayers writes of Purgatory, "When all penitence and all purgation are done, in this world and the next, where exactly does mankind find itself? The answer - a disappointing one perhaps for those who make a fetish of progress - is that it finds itself exactly where it originally set out from." Here she is referencing the fact that in Purgatorio Dante reaches the top of Mount Purgatory only to find himself in "the Earthly Paradise" - in Eden. This points to one of the beautiful truths of Scripture and redemptive history, God is restoring his people to that state in which we were designed to live from the get-go. Sure, it will not be exactly as if Adam (or you and I for that matter) had not sinned, Sayers reminds us, "for with God nothing is ever lost or wasted. The innocence is now enriched by all the bitter experience..." However, God is in business, and indeed the process, of redeeming it all for his glory and our good.
With that end in mind, we have to ask ourselves, "How am I to live my life?" What are the things that are going to best prepare me for a blessed eternity in Paradise with Christ and his redeemed? How do I begin to be readied for the "eternal weight of glory"?
The first, and most essential, step is the fear of the Lord. Over and over again in God's Word we are told that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. That is reverent awe and wonder, it is also the knee-knocking terror that is due to the great God of the Universe. Truly, if a human being cannot find reason to be awestruck and terrified by God Almighty, there is little hope of any useful wisdom taking up residence in him. Perhaps this, coupled with a healthy revulsion of sin is part of Dante's purpose in writing Inferno.
Secondly, and herein lies the message of Purgatorio, The Great Divorce by Lewis, and perhaps Pilgrims' Progress by Bunyan, is a mortification of self and sin. We are redeemed and forgiven of our sins by grace, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ...period. However, since we are not immediately translated to heaven upon salvation we are left to deal with the fleshly desires that remain. Enter the Holy Spirit and the process of sanctification. Again, this is what is pictured for us in some of these great works of literature. Dealing with our disordered affections is the story of our lives. Bringing them in line with God's design, will, and precepts is the difficult work of this journey of life as Christians.
Finally, I believe it is incumbent upon Christians to learn about, love, and appreciate God's world. The end of the story is not an ethereal existence in the clouds eating cream cheese and playing the harp whilst bedecked in white togas. No, the final future for the Christian is the new heavens and new earth - a return to a restored paradise with Christ at the center. Our preparation for that involves all the true, and good, and beautiful learning that we do here that will continue on into eternity. The more we learn and discover about biology, the more awe we stand in of the God of life. The more we understand about history, the more we are astounded by the God who wrote and directed it. The more we appreciate literature, the more we come to relish the creativity of our God, and on and on.
There is a future awaiting each and every one of us. For the Christian, that future is one of blessing and peace in paradise. Let us put our full effort into preparing for that future, with every aspect of our lives.
Soli Deo Gloria,