Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sojourning in Sodom

I've been reading about heaven. In particular, I've been reading about the characteristics of the blessed ones who dwell there. I've also been busily going about my days here on earth.

Yesterday desperation finally drove Paul and I to make a trek to a certain grocery store in town where prudence demands I shop for certain items. "Desperation," I say, because my husband and I leave there every time feeling as though Sodom is the only place with an affordable bulk food section. I'm sure all but my wealthiest readers have experienced such places. Whenever we leave, one or the other of us will comment: "Life wasn't like this when we were kids." And to some extent that is true. Social custom used to dictate certain behavior patterns of which the last generation (or two) of parents apparently neglected or forgot to inform their children. We called them "manners" or "common courtesy" back in the day. It is always a good hour (or two) before the scent of malice, hopelessness, and death, that clings to us when we leave that place fades away.

We live in dark times, of that there is little doubt. Are they getting darker? I believe so. But last night, when I settled in for some devotional reading I found that times have been dark and getting darker for a very long time. Jonathan Edwards preached these words in colonial America in 1738:
"Is not what we have heard of that blessed world [Heaven] enough to make us weary of this world of pride, and malice, and contention, and perpetual jarring and jangling, a world of confusion, a wilderness of hissing serpents, a tempestuous ocean, where there is no quiet rest, where all are for themselves, and selfishness reigns and governs, and all are striving to exalt themselves, regardless of what becomes of others, and all are eager after worldly good, which is the great object of desire and contention, and where men are continually annoying, and calumniating, and reproaching, and otherwise injuring and abusing one another- a world where justice, and oppression, and cruelty- a world where there is so much treachery, and falsehood, and fickleness, and hypocrisy, and suffering, and death- where there is so little confidence in mankind, and every good man has so many failings, and has so much to render him unlovely and uncomfortable, and where there is so much sorrow and guilt, and sin in every form.

"Truly this is an evil world, and so it is like to be. It is in vain for us to expect that it will be any other than a world of sin, a world of pride and enmity and strife, and so a restless world. And though the times may hereafter be mended, yet these things will always be more or less found in the world so long as it stands. Who, then, would content himself with a portion in such a world? What man, acting wisely and considerately, would concern himself much about laying up in store in such a world as this, and would not rather neglect the world, and let it go to them that would take it, and apply all his heart and strength to lay up treasure in heaven, and to press on to that world of love? What will it signify for us to hoard up great possessions in this world; and how can the thought of having our portion here be pleasing to us, when there is an interest offered us in such a glorious world as heaven is, and especially when,if we have our portion here, we must, when the world has passed away, have our eternal portion in hell, that world of hatred, and of endless wrath of God,, where only devils and damned spirits dwell?

"We all naturally desire rest and quietness, and if we would obtain it, let us seek that world of peace and love of which we have now heard, where a sweet and blessed rest remaineth for God's people. If we get an interest in that world, then, when we have done with this, we shall leave all our cares, and troubles, and fatigues, and perplexities, and disturbances for ever. We shall rest from these storms that are raging here, and from every toil and labour, in the paradise of God. You that are poor, and think yourself despised by your neighbours and little cared for among men, do not much concern yourselves for this. Do not care much for the friendship of the world; but seek heaven, where there is no such thing as contempt, and where none are despised, but all are highly esteemed and honoured, and dearly beloved by all. You think you have met with many abuses, and much ill-treatment from others, care not for it. Do not hate them for it, but set your heart on heaven, that world of love, and press toward that better country, where all is kindness and holy affection."
It has been almost 300 years since those words were penned, but the struggle, the ache, the yearning is the same. The challenge, too, is the same. What are we to do in this world of darkness, we whose new birth has granted us eyes to see just how dark it truly is? We have been born this time as citizens of a new kingdom, heirs of an inheritance which is located in another country. It is that kingdom our heart yearns for, that country for which we must strain with all the might we've been given. This world is not our home - it is enemy territory. We are to shine as the bright beacons that we are. To that light will come others who are being called out of darkness. From that same light others will recoil. Some will hate the light with a hatred that seeks to extinguish it. This is all to be expected - not railed against. We are to love our enemies, understanding them and remembering that we - before our eyes were opened - were one of them. We are to honor everyone as we travel through their country on our way to the home that awaits us. We are to take our great Gospel and our bright, shining light wherever we go, not striving with the natives or attempting by bullying, flattery, or compromise to win their friendship. Know that if our earnestly proclaimed Gospel and the light of sincere Christian love do not win them, there is nothing more to be done but more of the same until we reach our Homeland. "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Rev. 2:10)

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