by Eugene Higgins
Panes and Pains
It was one of the most poignant pictures I have ever seen. It was a photo of a pane of glass. A husband and wife stood on either side. Even for someone who did not know the couple involved, the emotions would be palpable. That I know them well, and that they are dear friends, only added to the pathos. For a number of years, that heartless disease, “Alzheimer’s,” had been stealing away the women from her family. It is a cruel affliction, often taking the real “person” and leaving the body; unlike death, it leaves its victims animate, but often so changed. I have heard children, and some adults as well, pronounce it as “old-timer’s” disease. I don’t know whether that is an “eggcorn” or said that way on purpose; but, lately, the “old-timers” it strikes down have seemed to be younger and younger.
Some days prior to the day of the photo, after agonizing over the issue, the family had concluded that for her safety and the health of others involved, the best course was to obtain professional care for the woman they loved. As you can imagine, it was a painful decision for a number of reasons. The pain was somewhat mitigated when the family discovered that the woman who, initially, would be responsible for her care was herself a believer in the Lord Jesus. So the inevitable moment came when the parting took place – she entering what she thought was rehab, and they turning to go home without her. Although neither she nor her family had the virus, she was entering a facility that was in isolation. Visiting her would not be possible for quite a while. This is what led to the picture at the pane of glass. The husband, dutifully masked, is on the outside, forehead pressed against the glass. The wife, on the inside, has her forehead pressed against the glass at the identical spot. How thick is a pane of glass? How can such a thin barrier be a wall between people who very much love each other, and very much want to be together? And do you have those you love who have gone to Heaven? What about the “veil” between us and them?
However you wish to interpret the apostle’s words in first Corinthians 13, it is certainly true that “we see through a glass, darkly,” when we try to envision what Heaven is like. In fact, it is apparent that, in God’s estimate, the best way of explaining Heaven’s bliss to us is to tell us that it is the opposite of what we know and experience here – the opposite of what we know and experience here that is the result of sin. This is the reason for the repeated, “no more … no more”; no more death, no more sorrow, no more pain, for the former things are passed away. It isn’t love or joy that will cease when we reach Heaven, it is the pain and suffering and tears – all of the deleterious effects of sin that will be gone forever. That grieving widow who buried a husband after three-quarters of a century of married life, the heart-broken couple that interred a fiercely-loved daughter, those mourning children who entombed a mother or father – where the grace of God has been known, all that separates us from those who have gone before is a barrier as thin as that pane of glass.
How so? In ministering on the book of Daniel, the late Mr. Harold Paisley used to tell us, half-amusingly, how long it takes for an angel to come from Heaven to Earth. He based this on Daniel’s prayer in chapter 9. Gabriel was dispatched when Daniel began praying; so Mr. Paisley would tell us that the length of Daniel’s prayer gives us an estimate of the time it takes for an angel’s one-way flight from Heaven to Earth. While he was, perhaps, speaking light-heartedly, we are told, authoritatively, how long it will take for us to go from Earth to Heaven. God does not so much direct us to the thinness of the veil as He does to the shortness of the time. He tells us, that it will be “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”
Believers often wonder what the resurrected body will be like; since we are going to be recognized, and will recognize each other, (remember that the disciples on the Mount knew it was Moses and Elijah, even though they had never seen them before), the question is what age, or what point of our life on earth, will our glorified bodies resemble. (I’m hoping for the thin years).
While we may not know many things about the resurrected body, we do know what it will be like for the believers’ mind – and what it is like even now in Heaven. When Paul was caught up into the third Heaven, his mind was fully active, registering all the incredible things he was witnessing. If, as scholars tell us, this may be the occasion when he was stoned by the angry multitude, then it is significant that the experience he had just endured on Earth had no impact on his percipience in Heaven. The problem was not in perceiving but in expressing what he saw. For a man as acuminous and articulate as Paul to be lost for words says more than the words he might have used to describe the experience! So while there are many unanswered questions about the resurrected body, there is no question about the mind. Disease only afflicts us during our earthly sojourn. However clouded or confused or conflicted a believer’s mind may be at the point of death, one moment later that child of God is seeing and thinking and perceiving more clearly than ever before.
Come back for a moment to that pane-of-glass photo. If the glass had been opaque rather than clear, and had eliminated all sight within, would it have lessened the pain of the separation that it was symbolizing? Not likely. The view inside was typical of a thousand such places – Formica countertops, a coffee stand in the corner, easy-to-clean hardwood floors, comfortable sitting chairs. But, other than the presence of one whom you loved, there was nothing inside that would make you want to be there. Instead, you would want her or him to be outside with you, to be “home.” The fact that one could be so near and yet so far away; that you could see the person and yet not be with him or her, would only add to the sorrow. Is it not then a kindness from God that the calm and rest and bliss of Heaven, enjoyed by those who have gone before us, are hidden from our eyes? If we saw what they are enjoying and where they are, instead of, (as we often do), wishing them back here, we would be impatient to join them there; we would be impatient for us, as well, to be “home.” We would suffer from a dissatisfaction with life here, an inability to dutifully serve others and to serve the Lord in a world of suffering and sin.
You may be familiar with these words:
If we could see beyond today as God can see,
If all the clouds should roll away, the shadows flee,
O’er present griefs we would not fret,
Each sorrow we would soon forget,
For many joys are waiting yet
For you and me.
One of those soi-disant poets, that keep popping up among us, has written a little-known 4th verse to the 3-verse hymn:
If God should lift the veil between and let us see
What peace is theirs in Heaven’s ransomed company,
Our hearts would have but one request,
Not that they leave that Home of rest
But that we soon with them are blest
With Christ to be.
A finer poet has put it in finer words: “Some from earth, from glory some, severed only ‘Till He come.’” And when He comes, that will be the end not only of the pains that distress but of the panes that divide us as well.
“For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven … For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life” (2 Co 5:1-4).