The Spirit Shall Return

Death is so final. One minute we’re taking a life for granted, and the next it’s snuffed out forever; only dust remains.

Or is it final?

Hoolah Hayes

Yesterday, a sweet old friend died, our 12-year old dog, Hoolah. She had a wonderful life; brought such delight to us and our children, as well as many, many others.

I’ll never forget – walking her one morning when a complete stranger pulled up beside us in her car and asked, “Are you Hoolah’s owner?” As I affirmed she said, “I just LOVE Hoolah! She brightens my day every time I see her. Look here! See?”, showing me her phone … Hoolah was her wallpaper.

That was Hoolah, not just cute — she was adorable; her fur was as soft as a stuffed animal toy, and she was so gentle she’d lay down in a crouched position when strangers approached so she wouldn’t intimidate them. People would exclaim, “Oh! How sweet!! How did you train her to do that?” We didn’t train Hoolah; that was just her temperament.

A 50-lb Great Pyrenees + Golden Retriever mix, Hoolah was the perfect family dog.  She was gentle but also fierce; when I’d roughhouse with my Down’s Syndrome son and we’d do our 7-step slap-bump-clap (which delighted him unto squealing), Hoolah would literally lunge into us barking and growling and body-slam me! She didn’t like anyone messing with Jonathan, not even in fun.

Yet when Hoolah saw a tennis ball or a frisbee all else vanished; she’d fetch until she dropped from exhaustion, rest a bit, and beg for more! She had a certain bark that simply demanded we play with her. She’d hike the frisbee back and forth across the back yard all day long — as long as someone was watching, but never by herself. She loved being noticed, engaging with her family.

And she had this uncanny ability to do what we called her bucking-bronco; whirling round and round like a wild bull in a rodeo, sometimes with a short, fat rope in her mouth, smacking it on the ground and into anyone who dared draw near, like she was killing a viper. She had so much energy at times she just didn’t know what to do with herself!

And there was the day Hoolah was nearly killed by a Pit Bull. Tough day! So thankful it wasn’t so much worse. (Ep 5:20)

Then, like many larger breeds, she developed hip dysplasia, which my wife Elizabeth carefully nursed for 6 long years, then finally laryngeal paralysis: yesterday Hoolah’s breathing finally became so labored the vet put her down. She didn’t suffer much, or for long, and showed her chipper, spunky, playful demeanor right up to the end.

I feel so privileged to have known Hoolah, to have cared for her and enjoyed her. My grief even has a bittersweetness to it because she was such a joy. She will be sorely missed; we’ve no hope of ever finding a sweeter animal.

Perhaps our lives are somewhat like this; life is so short, yet the death of the righteous is a blessing (Ps 116:15), and their memory is sweet. (Nu 23:10b) I see a lesson in Hoolah: live so I’ll be missed. (Ac 20:37-38)

But I’m finding that there’s more than mere memory here for me – like Hoolah’s not really gone for good, more like she’s just stepped away for a bit, still aware of her family. Is this an illusion? wishful thinking? or another window into eternal reality …

Scripture says all Creation is waiting for the Resurrection (Ro 8:19), for the restitution of all things; this includes Hoolah. If she was just a body, and didn’t transcend her physical life, this makes no sense. She’s a spirit (Ec 3:21) who’s now returned to God (Ec 12:7), still looking forward to the end of all things, what so few of us can see.

We have a body, but we aren’t just a body: we’re a living soul (Ge 2:7) with body and spirit (1Th 5:23); death for the believer is simply the shedding of the earthly body for the heavenly one (2Co 5:2); it’s a final transformation, becoming a new creation, as from a caterpillar into a butterfly. (2Co 5:17)

For those in Christ, there’s hope beyond the grave; we sorrow and grieve in losing loved ones in death (Php 2:27), but not as those without hope. (1Th 4:13) Whether I’ll ever reconnect with Hoolah again isn’t the point — maybe so, maybe not — but every precious relationship is a shadow of the fullness we’re promised in God. (Ep 3:19) That’s Who we’re ultimately after. (Php 3:8)

Heaven is beyond our wildest dreams, perfection (1Co 2:9); however God’s designed it, we know one thing for sure: our joy will be complete.

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Count It All Joy

Pain and suffering, whether physical or emotional, is so unpleasant that it’s difficult to understand how God can command us to count it all joy under various kinds of trials. (Ja 1:2) Does God expect us to disconnect from reality and not feel the normal, healthy emotional response that trauma typically evokes in our lives?

No, it isn’t actually the pain and suffering itself that God wants us to glory in; we’re to rejoice in the midst of our suffering, confident that God will produce patience in us (Ja 1:3): the ability to endure difficulty without losing hope.

If we value patience, and God works patience in each of us through suffering (He 12:6), then we can rejoice in the outcome of godly suffering. It’s through suffering that God matures and completes us; it’s necessary (1Pe 1:6) for our growth in godliness. (He 12:11b)

Patience seems to be the primary goal in suffering: it’s the tendency or ability to experience distress in hope: the confident expectation that God’s working it all out for our good (Ro 8:28) and for His glory. (1Pe 1:7)

Patient endurance of suffering produces a wealth of practical, life experience with the faithfulness of God, as we see how He works so brilliantly through chaos and pain to accomplish His purposes. And such experience produces hope (Ro 5:3), the knowledge that God will ultimately be wondrously glorified through whatever He allows. (Re 15:4)

And such hope makes us unashamed in our suffering, as the love of God shines forth from us by the Holy Spirit. (Ro 5:5) It is in the midst of suffering that our love for God and others shines most brightly, when it’s clear that we aren’t seeking God out of selfishness, but even when it hurts, even in persecution. We’ve nothing to lose and everything to gain by rejoicing in God and knowing He’s at work; we abound in hope through the power of God in the midst of our suffering, knowing God does all things well.

So, it’s appropriate to be in heaviness as we’re suffering (1Pe 1:6), to weep and grieve and struggle (He 12:11a) – this is perfectly healthy. (Ro 12:15) But this sorrow and heaviness should not be the whole of our experience; we should not suffer like the world does, without hope. (1Th 4:13) We must also look beyond our suffering in faith, rejoicing in what God will eventually accomplish in and through our suffering. (1Pe 1:7)

We can be thankful in our suffering (1Th 5:18), and also for our suffering (Ep 5:20), knowing there’s a glorious purpose in everything God allows. (Ep 1:11)

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The Books

God has a library: He’s having it all written down, everything we do and say. (Re 20:12) Every idle word we speak, all our feelings, motives and thoughts, things we aren’t even aware we’re doing … it will all be publicly scrutinized. All is recorded here, in the books; nothing is forgotten, and we’ll answer for all we’ve done. (Mt 12:36)

This must be an immense work, The Encyclopedia of Humanity, precisely documenting every nuance of every act of every person who has ever lived. As our minds capture everything we experience, making the more significant events available to us for our inspection and reflection, these volumes perfectly preserve all the same data, but make it all available for everyone to peruse. (Mk 4:22) Nothing will be hidden (Mt 10:26); secrecy is an illusion, a temporary one. We’ll all be participating in judging each other, thoroughly apprised of all the facts. (Lk_11:31)

Yet there’s another book, The Book of Life (Php 4:3), or The Book of the Living, listing those who are righteous before God. (Ps 69:28) Some names are engraved into this book before Creation (Re 17:8), others are evidently penciled in afterward, only to be finally blotted out (Ps 69:28) due to their ungodly lives. (Ps 69:26)

We should all rejoice, at least for now, that our names appear in the Book of Life (Lk 10:20), the precious token given to every one of us that there’s a place set aside for us in God: God is graciously willing to receive any soul that turns to Him in faith. (2Pe 3:9) Those who do so, who seek Him until they find Him (Is 55:6-7), the elect chosen from eternity past (Ep 1:4-5), are counted righteous (Ro 4:3), and will never be blotted out of the Book of Life. (Re 3:5)

The only way to survive this searching, exhaustive, judgement, to avoid an eternally fiery end, is to be found written in The Book of Life. (Re 20:15) Only those written in the Lamb’s Book survive; everyone else is corrupt, polluted, unworthy to enter Paradise. (Re 21:27)

Let’s be diligent to make our calling and election sure. (2Pe 1:10) It isn’t so much what we know, as it is Who we know. To have eternal life is to know Him (Jn 17:3), to be known by Him (Mt 25:12) and transformed by Him (Ep 2:10), inscribed indelibly into God’s Book of Life.

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To Reconcile All Things

When two accounts of the same thing differ they must be reconciled. Whether it’s numbers that are off somewhere, wrongs that haven’t been righted, or truth that’s not yet been told … to have perfect closure everything’s gotta make sense. ‘Til then there’s waiting, anticipation, unrest … hope.

Olympic National Park, WA
Ted Gore: Olympic National Park, WA

Like a Cosmic Accountant, Jehovah’s keeping track of everything, and as of now, things aren’t adding up. There are vast gaps between what should be and what is. The former is grounded in God’s nature and will, the latter in the free will of Man.

But this present conflicting experience is temporary: one Day it will end. God, the great Reconciler, is “pleased … to reconcile all things unto Himself.” (Col 1:19-20) One way or another, everything and everyone will eventually align with Him. (Ro 14:11)

“Everything will be alright in the end; if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.” Only God sees the end from the beginning and He, for One, is pleased with how it all turns out. For now we endure, believing God is good; we patiently await that Day, when justice will prevail, when all will finally be well in the universe. Our hope will be sight; our anticipation reality.

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God Is Just

The human heart longs for justice, to see evil punished: we say, “Don’t get mad; get even!” We demand that wrongs against us and our loved ones be righted, that sin be paid for, that the crooked be made straight. Our sense of injustice, that evil goes unpunished in this life, can be maddening, driving us to both wrath and  bitterness.Lightning

Our instinctive longing for justice is beautiful; it’s God’s image at work in us, even proving His existence, but there’s a problem: we’re unjust. We seldom see our own sins rightly, and our response to evil is usually warped; we exact more than we should.

So God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” (Ro 12:19) He wants perfect justice more than all the rest of us combined, but only He knows what it looks like.

God is perfectly just, and only God is perfectly just; He will make all the crooked places straight (Is 40:4); He will right all wrongs … even our own. It’s an awesome mystery how God’s justice and mercy work together (Ps 89:14), how He can offer eternal salvation to sinners, His own Son taking our place and satisfying His own indignation against us. We do well to receive His mercy rather than the second death, and to rejoice when others do … especially our enemies(Mi 6:8)

How and when God makes everything right is up to Him; when He does it will be supremely satisfying, beautiful beyond thought! (Re 15:3-4) Enjoying it now in hope, before He does, glorifies Him and gives us peace.

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Saved by Hope

Hope: an expectation that something good will happen, the delightful foretaste of blessings not yet seen, the heart’s response to God’s faithfulness. Hope is a cornerstone of spiritual life, intrinsic to all godliness. (1Co 13:13a) Life can be unbearable without it; Jehovah says we are saved by it. (Ro 8:24)

Hope saves by rescuing us from anxiety, worry, despair and despondency, giving us strength to live joyfully, to walk worthy of Him, with purpose and dignity even in the midst of our afflictions.

Knowing God is just and good keeps hope alive in this broken world. We must remember that YHWH has a glorious purpose in allowing evil and suffering. His Day will come: He will right all wrong; He will judge all in righteousness and truth. (Ps 9:8) In the end, as surely as we are, God’s children will exult in Him.

The Almighty makes no promise lightly; He puts His name and character on the line in every single one. He need not do so for Himself: He is giving us an ultimate opportunity to honor Him, to trust His heart before seeing His hand.

Will Heaven see any promise unfulfilled? to even one person? What have we to lose in acting out His faithfulness? Is there a better way to glorify Him? Or any other way … is it even possible to honor Him without trusting Him?

Let the world go its way, heedless of glory and judgment to come. Keeping our eyes on the heart of our King, let us count on Him; expect Him to fulfill His Word. Let our story be the joyful anticipation of heavenly reality … an abiding witness of God’s eternal faithfulness. “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.” (Ro 15:13)

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