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033  When God Shows Up, You Get All of Him

Last time I took a quick look at eternity from atop Mt. Stupid, and backed down before I could say anything too stupid. But the truth is, I did get a look at eternity a few years back, and I want to tell you about it. There's experience here from which we can all benefit.

My first marriage was troubled for a long time; we separated in 1998 and finally divorced in 2005. My wife had serious mental health issues that went undiagnosed for a long time and from which she had no apparent desire to recover. I had Attention Deficit Disorder which made me reactive and angry, and a significant sexual addiction that led me to flirt and to engage in damaging and immoral activities on-line. Between the two of us, we caused each other and our children a great deal of pain, and probably caused Jesus and the Church some embarrassment as well.

In early 1997, my wife fell into a deep depression that caused her to spend about four days out of five lying in bed in the fetal position, too depressed to move. Because she needed care and our children needed attention, I was unable to work full-time. Fortunately, my employer understood the situation and allowed me first to take short-term disability, and then gave me work to do part-time from home so I could continue to pay the bills. I stayed home, played Mr. Mom, and cared for my family.

It's not easy to explain what happened to me while that was going on. The shorthand version is that God showed up and stayed with me the whole time, turning a searchlight on my inner life and sin habits. It wasn't just one, remarkable event; He gave me dozens of revelations, instructed me to make lists of things I had done, and basically lifted the manhole cover from off the sewer of my moral life. This went on for about six months. I likened it to a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, the one where they found a secret room in the Egyptian desert and the entire floor was covered with snakes; it was as though God had lifted the lid on my soul and showed me all the snakes down there, for months. It was extremely painful for me, and I was not always sure that I would survive it. (Meanwhile, my wife was in her own painful world, oblivious to my situation. I'm sure that was very difficult and painful for her, too.)

Remarkably, though, while God was shining a bright light on my failures, He was close to me in a way that I had never experienced in that measure before, nor have I since. I saw the love of God everywhere. I would be washing dishes in the kitchen and looking out the window at the maple leaves outside, and I would hear God saying "I love you" in the motion of the leaves. I would be mowing the lawn and I would hear God saying "I love you" in the heat of the sun on my neck. While I was being called to set a dozen things right, I was also privileged to spend months in the presence of God hearing about His enormous love which permeates everything.

After about five months my wife's psychiatrist sent us to a specialist who prescribed the right treatment for her. About three weeks later, she was back in the land of the living, we began to function normally again, and the grace and pain that I had been living in began to subside. I prayed fervently to keep it, but it faded and disappeared.

You might think that having my sins exposed in that manner would have left me wounded and frightened, but it did not. Sure, it was painful and embarrassing, but I regretted deeply the subsiding of the Presence, and I've longed for it ever since. I would rather have Him close and exposing me than to live safely in the ordinary silence of our fallen world. I deeply appreciated and benefited from getting sand-blasted by the Truth.

I suspect that I got a small foretaste of what it's going to be like for all of us as we enter heaven. God's presence will overwhelm us as He addresses the brokenness and imperfections of our human souls, and we'll all undergo sand-blasting while bathing in His love. I think the Catholics call this "purgatory" and think of it as a separate place, but I don't think it's separate from heaven. What else could possibly happen when fallible saints look God in the face for the first time? The love will be there, and the healing, but so will be the Truth.

Dallas Willard, the great theologian who died a couple of years ago, observed once that he didn't think that God would refuse heaven to anybody who could stand to be there. However, he added, "...'standing it' may prove to be a more difficult matter than those who take their view of heaven from popular movies or popular preaching may think. The fires in heaven may be hotter than those in the other place."

I'm with him. The fires in heaven are very hot indeed, and no sin in any soul is going to survive that first, face-to-face encounter with the Holy One. But don't be afraid of that fire. It's better by far to stand in it and get clean than never to experience it.

When God shows up, you get all of Him. You get the searchlight, and you get the love. You may think you're afraid of the first and eagerly desire the second, but I'm telling you, covet them both. 

Phil Weingart

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