This Momentary Goodbye

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Last week one of my co-workers retired. The day was bittersweet, with both excitement for them and yet sadness for the end of our time together. When the hour finally came to say goodbye, the office dialogue featured the typical “Stay in touch” and “I’ll still come visit” lingo I’ve heard countless times between departing neighbors, friends and church members.

Isn’t it funny how we say things like that? When I talk with an old friend on the phone the conversation never ends with, “It was nice talking to you, bye!” but usually something along the lines of, “This was great, we’ll have to talk again soon,” or “Let me know next time you’re in town and we’ll grab coffee.” We can’t just say goodbye. There must be the hope of something else to come. Our farewells are laced with the anticipation of future reunion. And when tragedy strikes–when we lose someone we love–not seeing them feels like the most unnatural emptiness in the world. We know that such a void is surely not the way things are meant to be.

But that isn’t limited to our interaction with people. We hope our favorite movie will get a sequel so the story we care about will go on. When our favorite sports team’s season ends we say, “Just wait until next year!” If someone bakes a delicious dish we ask for the recipe so we can make it again later.

We don’t believe that good things in life should come to an end. There must always be some flicker of hope that somehow, in some way, we will encounter them again. That they must continue. When good things come to a close we don’t use terms of absolute finality, only terms of postponement. To think that such things can really and truly end is too heartbreaking.

But perhaps there’s more going on than just the materialistic hope of re-experiencing pleasure. Perhaps this tendency reflects a deep spiritual truth embedded in the soul of every man. When we use this kind of language we’re expressing an innate (yet dimmed) awareness of what heaven already knows: what is good is meant to last.

God is good. Not “good” in the sense that He adheres to some higher standard of goodness outside of Himself, but that goodness is the overflow of His very nature. Goodness is not what He does, it’s who He is. God is also eternal, without beginning and without end. God has always been, and God has always been good. Which means that goodness has always been, and goodness will always be. Since goodness is wrapped up in the person of God, goodness itself is unending.

It’s no surprise, then, that Scripture identifies countless goods that will never end such as beauty, grandeur, joy, love, and life itself.

Heaven is a place of inexpressible beauty and grandeur (2 Cor. 12:3-4) where the water never dries, the fruit never sours, and the light never goes out (Rev. 22:1-5). Its untold depths will never cease to awe us or fill us with newly discovered wonder. I think about fiery sunsets, colossal mountaintops, or mighty oceans, and I think about how they’ve taken my breath away. These feelings are not fleeting–they’re a taste of the eternal wonder we’ll have in the presence of God.

Love, also, will last long after the mountains are dust (1 Cor. 13:8). My most cherished memories are filled with the faces of those I care about and our times of laughter and fellowship together. I would contend that most people, regardless of culture or worldview, agree on the significance that loved ones play in our life. We all care about someone, and we all know how important that is. Yet Scripture tells us that such fellowship is not meant to end in death but is the very fabric of paradise, where we’ll enjoy unbroken fellowship with God and one other (1 Thess. 4:17).

Life itself, which we may think of as only a small window of biological functionality, is meant to be forever. It is not simply the duration of our heartbeat, but a wondrous and continual state of existence. Resurrected believers will be more alive than they could ever have imagined on earth. Life as we see it now is but a fragment of the true, full life that awaits believers in the presence of Christ (1 Cor. 15:51-57). As Gandalf put it, “End? No, the journey doesn’t end here.”

As a final example, consider how many billions of people find fulfillment in the worship of God, a god, or at least some cause or campaign they deem to be of the utmost significance. Many of them are (sadly and damnably) misguided in their worship, but the point is that faith in some higher good is the pinnacle of human hope. It swells our hearts with purpose and gives us something to live for. That feeling is not a religious invention to suppress our mortality, but it tickles at the passion, celebration and fulfillment that God’s people are meant to continually experience as they worship in His presence. In the new heavens and the new earth, the full and glorious presence of God will be the dominant reality, filling His people with the utmost satisfaction (Rev. 21:22-23; 22:3-5). This true joy, this thrill of the soul, is what the Psalmist had in mind when he wrote, “In Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).

All these good things, which we experience in fragments here on earth, are not meant to end. And I think everyone knows that must be so. Deep inside, we all want to believe that goodness will endure. We need to believe that–we need to believe that these things, which we intrinsically know to be important, have real value beyond the here and now.

By contrast, notice how we discuss unpleasant experiences: “I’ll never do that again!” “I never want to hear that song again!” “I’ll never step foot in there again!” Whenever we see, hear or encounter something “bad” we have no problem dismissing it to the category of total annihilation. This, I think, reflects an equally strong belief that bad things can and should come to an end. While good things must somehow go on, bad things must surely cease.

This resonates with Scripture’s teaching that all wickedness will meet its eternal end in the fires of judgment. Immoral men will be cast out forever (Rev. 21:8). Sickness, pain and sorrow will be banished once and for all (Rev. 21:4). Even death itself will die (Rev. 20:14). Just as good things are meant to endure, evil things are meant for destruction. As Digory told Uncle Andrew in C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew: “You’re simply a wicked, cruel magician like the ones in the stories. Well, I’ve never read a story in which people of that sort weren’t paid out in the end, and I bet you will be.” If we didn’t believe this were true, justice would seem a hopeless cause.

Goodness is not meant to end. The common grace we now experience is but a foretaste of what believers will continually experience in Christ’s kingdom. Evil, meanwhile, will be cast out from His presence, never to be duplicated or relived. Even if we don’t realize it, we profess our faith in these truths in ways as simple and ordinary as telling a friend, “I’ll see you later.” We feel the need to do so. And no wonder, for those desires are created by the eternally good God Himself.

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