by Kris Coffin Stevenson | 4 December 2019 |
I hate watching scary things. So it is surprising that I watched a zombie movie: “World War Z.” I don’t know what possessed me (poor word choice) to watch it. I can dream up nightmares myself that rival Stephen King and Hitchcock. But when the lights came on, I said, “This is reality.”
Stick with me here.
Quick plot synopsis so you can catch up (unless you want to be surprised by WWZ). In this movie, the main character—a compassionate, scientific Brad Pitt—notices that the hordes of teeth-chattering walking dead ignore certain people in their mad virus-fueled dash to infect living humans. Further research reveals these ignored folk already have a terminal illness, rendering them unappetizing. Not worth the calories, I guess?
So a vaccine is created to inoculate the living with a fatal pathogen that can be easily cured. Now they are immune to the herky-jerky hordes. The movie concludes with a sea of already-dead teeth gnashers milling around while the inoculated humans live peacefully elsewhere.
Right turn here. Let’s talk about joy. In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis expertly tells his autobiography by describing his search for joy as a thread and a teaser that leads him to a personal God. Growing up, Lewis tried to replicate his occasional feeling of blissful longing by reproducing the exact surroundings to find joy again or searching for it in various philosophies. He was not able to identify the source of Joy until he found it in Jesus. What Lewis came to realize was the stabs of joy he experienced were just unrecognized reflections of the Eternal. He called them signposts on the way to Jerusalem. In God’s character of love-life-giving, Lewis found his bliss.
Your eternal life begins when you open your heart to God. It is a trajectory that is interrupted briefly by death and continues on into the hereafter. Christians have often lived under the assumption that in order to achieve heaven, you have to slog through this ugly world of sin—“this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through”—in order to someday be “changed in a twinkling of an eye” and find true joy somewhere else.
But I believe that heaven starts now. Here. On earth. Those joy-filled moments we experience are our connection to a heavenly dimension, to being in the presence of God. Those moments and places of connection are everywhere, if you look for them.
Nature is a peek into God’s heart. The play of sunlight on aspen leaves, a whiff of jasmine-scented breeze, the perfect geometry of a camelia, and the soaring vista of Mt. Hood against a cobalt sky. God’s fingerprints are all over. Don’t eye roll and call me sappy. When did we get inoculated against reveling in God’s artistic creation? Joy is all around us if we choose to look for it.
Instead of focusing on eternity someday, we should enjoy what God has given us now and be joyful, curious, wonder-filled, interested in caring for our world and the people in it. Heaven on earth is seeing God moving in this world, sensing Him passing by us like Moses viewing Him from a crack in the rock. It’s a tear in the fabric of the universe, a time warp into another place—the place where eventually we will be able to experience God face to face. “With Jesus, heaven begins now. In fact, heaven begins now or never” (Sweet, Viola, Theography, 286).
The joy of heaven streams down my face when I step off the plane and run into the arms of my children, a whole perfect weekend filled with activities, conversations, gifts, meals ahead of us. It swirls through the animated conversation of my Bible study class as we debate, share, discuss the overwhelming love of God. It is there, subdued and bittersweet, as we pray over a friend whose body is being destroyed by a scourge, but whose spirit is still reaching for the Healer. It bubbles up in group text messages flying back and forth from my church board as people check in on members who are being evacuated in front of an inferno wildfire; who needs a place to sleep? Is there need for transportation? It prods me to bless others with my presence, a meal, a phone call, a prayer, flowers.
Joy sits beside me in the unfathomable warmth and trust of a small purring animal, or the excited barking of a dog headed out on a walk with her master. These surprising moments are connections to the eternal. They are the character of God being lived now—yes, in a sin-sick world groaning for redemption, but also in the reality that God and heaven are here walking with me because He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” That means Joy is with me, in me, around me, before me. Heaven now.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m really looking forward to the physical manifestation of heaven someday. But right now I’m living the spiritual manifestation of the kingdom of God that Jesus procured for us at the cross, and it shines out into our physical dimension like stars in the sky; light banishing the darkness. I expect that heaven with God will be kind of a déjà vu. I’ll find things that are familiar, like C.S. Lewis’ Narnia where the children find a bigger, better, grander Narnia inside the shed (The Last Battle).
And maybe, since the Bible uses types and symbols of heavenly things, like the tabernacle, “What if everything we see is only an imitation of a heavenly model we will one day behold?” (Tomlinson, “A Hungry Heart is Sharing”). So Yosemite’s grandeur, Niagara’s power, and Lake Tahoe’s calm waters might just reflect a heavenly reality. And the community we develop as “the body of Christ” will also exist in the eternal physical kingdom.
Back to Zombies. Hell on earth begins now too.
The Crazy. It’s creeping in everywhere. You hear reports on the news of unfathomable acts of cruelty. You see it in the homeless wreck of a person who has wasted their eternal spark. You swerve to avoid it on the highway. You avert your eyes when the pictures sweep across your news feed. There is a sea of zombie creatures around us who are engulfed in the Kingdom of Insanity and are infected with fright, wretchedness and anger. Just moments after I wrote those words, I heard emergency sirens and spotted three helicopters hovering close by. It was another school shooting: two dead, four injured, my community in shock and mourning like 179 other school communities before us. The shooter was just a child filled with rage and despair who added to the horror by turning the gun on himself. It was his birthday (#SAUGUSSTRONG).
Just as the light of the eternal kingdom juts into our dimension with glimpses of joy, hope, and love, the kingdom of shadows seizes its victims in the chaos. The Crazy preys upon the weak, the indecisive, the lazy. It nips at our heels. Its ugly fingers poke into our brains through our eyes and ears and our choices. It speaks through the voices of friends and family, church and political leaders. It is everywhere. Every choice made based on fear and fury, selfishness and insatiability, is another step into the dimension of madness where the virus injects The Crazy deep into your cells.
Hell right now shreds relationships and brings despair for the future, self-loathing, sociopathic manipulation, lies upon lies, selfishness, arrogance and self-righteousness.
Judas was proud of being right about his conception of God, but he was infected with the ideas of the kingdom of this world and in the end he betrayed his friend and Savior. His motives were complex, layered; not just the greed for 30 pieces of silver, but the desire for recognition from perceived peers, a feeling of superiority to the other simple 11, a temptation to be the King-Maker, to be smarter than God, to be right at any cost. And ultimately, he refused to be inoculated with The Remedy. He chose the door to outer darkness which swings open, a total immersion into The Crazy, a place marked by the absence of Light where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12).
Jesus descended into this darkness. “The light shines through the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John 1:5, NLT). Jesus broke through into this zombie-controlled world with a plan for rescue. In all his interactions, others were trying to infect him with the cray-cray. When He died, it looked like The Crazy had won. But instead, Jesus entered hell and ripped open an escape portal. He gave us immunity. “In dying, Yeshua put to death all of the insanity found in the knowledge of good and evil, and made a way for us to know our union with God in Christ” (Dekker, Way of Love, 99).
Jesus went into hell to rescue us; His church also goes into hell to rescue those still suffering from the infection. On this Rock (myself) I will build my kingdom, Jesus said, but “the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Our prayers and intercessory actions for someone may open up the portal before them, give them hope and light and help them journey towards Joy.
We too have died in Christ and are raised 100 percent into new life in the Kingdom of Heaven now if we choose to accept it. The Kingdom of Insanity is throwing up everything to keep us blind to the reality that we are overcomers in Christ now. Those of us living in the dimension of life-love-giving are immune to The Crazy because we are dead already, dead in Christ and raised to new eternal life in another kingdom—dimension—economy—polarity. We are not “dead men walking” anymore. We don’t operate from fear. We operate from love. For the jerky hordes, “The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction” (I Cor 1:18 The Message).
There is no protection from The Crazy except to die to self, surrender, and walk through the portal into fellowship with God. Even in the midst of insanity, the Joy is there—a glimpse into God’s love. Two days after the shooting at my local high school, I walked behind my house to the place where I had watched the helicopters hovering over the atrocity. At the top of the highest branch of the highest tree perched a beautiful snow-white egret, a spot of beauty, hope, and healing silhouetted against the same cobalt sky, a gift from the Creator.
Choose each day in which kingdom you will live: The Kingdom of Insanity with the teeth-gnashers, or The Kingdom of Life with the joyous. Choose now. There’s no fence-sitting. It’s 100 percent one way or the other. Today, right now, this moment, you are either living in Heaven or Hell. Literally.
Choose Heaven. Choose Joy.
Kris Coffin Stevenson is an author, teacher, editor, and scopist. She loves living her eternal life starting now. She and her husband reside in Santa Clarita, California.