By Mark Davis Pickup
[During this time of] Lent, I am struck by one of the great problems I have faced throughout my Christian walk. It is impossible for me to begin to grasp the enormity of God’s love. Quite simply, I cannot internalize or understand the immense love that lies behind and beyond the cross. For Christ to willingly suffer and die to save someone such as me is too much for my puny mind to comprehend. I must simply accept that it is true, but it is a confounding mystery!
Easter breaks my heart. How can I possibly repay Christ for what He has done for me? It is impossible! All I can do in response is surrender to Christ’s perfect love and try to love Him in return. That brings me to a second problem: My love is so poor, so shabby, and so fickle that it’s not even worth having—and yet Christ accepts it. It makes me think of a loving father accepting the shaky and indistinct scribbles on a piece of paper drawn by his small child and pretending it is a masterpiece of art. But this simple analogy quickly breaks down. The small child’s drawing is the best he can do—it was produced in the purity of innocence. The love I offer back to God has been jaded by ego, tarnished by life, and is not pure. (On the matter of love, small children are better than I.)
That is when I catch an inkling of the extent of my spiritual poverty: All I have to offer God is not worth having. Even my pitiful and wretched version of love requires Christ’s generous love to be accepted by God. The transforming love of the cross is what will change my understanding of the true nature of love and will draw me closer to truly loving God and my neighbor.
In the 17th chapter of John, we find Christ’s great high priestly prayer just as His Passion was about to begin. Christ prayed for His disciples and those who believe in Him through their word (verse 20). Jesus prayed that believers would be brought to perfection through Him and be with Him in heaven and see His eternal glory and know God’s perfect love (see verses 23-26). Throughout His prayer, Christ made clear that although spiritual perfection is our future state with him, the transformation begins in this world.
We do not know what this perfected transformation will be like. Saint John said, “What we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Saint Paul told us that Christians can be transformed into the “same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” That image is Christ.
This transformation of spiritual character is still a mystery that often involves pain here on earth. Paul told us that if we share in the sufferings of Christ we share in his glory. He said that our sufferings here on earth are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us. This transformation begins to occur when we unite our sufferings with the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.
And when we do this a strange and wonderful spiritual transformation begins. Our spiritual poverty is absorbed into the glory of Christ’s sacrifice. Our pain united with His pain begins to produce in us a “weight of glory,” to use St. Paul’s words, that will only be fully realized in eternity. He said that “although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”
Surrendered pain in union with Christ is a refining instrument, if the sufferer allows it to be. God will raise us up (just as Christ was raised) and place us with Him.
For me, decades of suffering intensified my spiritual longing to be with Christ and see Him as He is in heaven. This yearning is for the ultimate reality that lies just beyond the door of temporal reality. I am reminded of my Lord’s words to the thief as they were dying on their crosses: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”
My longing is not so distant at all. The mystery behind Easter is the key to satisfying my deepest desire. God put eternity in my heart—and yours too (see Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Mark Davis Pickup has lived with aggressive multiple sclerosis for over 34 years. Although electric wheelchair dependent, Mark has spoken across the United States and Canada promoting the sanctity, dignity, and equality of all human life. He has addressed politicians and legislative committees (both Canadian and American), university forums, hospital medical staffs, religious and denominational leaders, community groups, and organizations about the critical importance of protecting all human life from conception to natural death. Mark is also a widely published writer on bioethical and Christian issues. Mark is the recipient of numerous awards including the Monsignor Bill Irwin Award for Ethical Excellence, the William Kurelek Award for fostering respect and appreciation for the dignity of human life (Canada), and a Governor General’s Medal for Community Service.
This article has been reprinted with permission and can be found at humanlifematters.org/2020/02/ultimate-reality-just-beyond-door-of.htm.