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This side of heaven

March 2007 | by Peter Barnes

In 1971 Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminisced on Welsh radio: ‘I shall never forget travelling in a train back from Plymouth to London. We arrived at Newton Abbot and a woman with two small girls came into the compartment … It was obvious that the children were returning to a boarding school after the holidays. After placing the children in their seats the mother got out and stood on the platform …
‘As the carriage began to move slowly away the smaller of the two little girls kept on looking after her mother longingly with tears filling her eyes. And then the elder sister told her sharply – and she was near to tears herself – “Don’t look at her, you fool!”
‘I am not ashamed to say that I lifted the book which I was reading to hide my face and I cried with the little girls. I was back in my lodgings at Tregaron once again, and it took me a great deal of time to recompose myself. I believe that I shall never totally recover from this until I reach the country where we shall meet never to part anymore’.

Satisfaction is elusive

Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ story is just another reminder that this is a fallen and disappointing world. We seek happiness but never grasp it for long. We cannot bottle it and sip from it whenever we feel the need.
We know that eventually all that we have in this world will be taken from us. We came into this world with nothing and we will leave it with nothing (1 Timothy 6:7). Ecclesiastes reminds us that the world has ‘vanity’ or ‘meaninglessness’ written all over it. Ultimate satisfaction is elusive; here we only ever catch glimmers of it.
Most people think in evolutionary terms – millions of years ago we emerged from some primeval sludge, and it has been onwards and upwards ever since. Such an outlook makes for misery because it ignores the reality of the Fall.
The entry of sin into the world means that we no longer experience unsullied delight either in God or in his world. Before the Fall, all was very good; now it is a mixture of good and evil. As William Blake put it:

Man was made for joy and woe;
And when this we rightly know,
Thro’ the world we safely go,
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.

A difficult world

Actually, we were not made for joy and woe, but that is what we now experience. In sin mankind knew shame for the first time. We all experience an alienation within us. The world is not right because we are not right. Adam was also alienated from Eve. He blamed her for his sad predicament: ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate’ (Genesis 3:13).
Where there was once love and joy, now there was mutual recrimination and selfishness. The world became a difficult place. Eve must submit to a sinful husband and bear children in pain. And Adam must toil and sweat among the thorns and thistles of a fallen world (Genesis 3:16-19). All this comes from being alienated from God.

The goal of all our longings

Such is this world. At best we are strangers in a strange land. In every flash of light there is a shaft of darkness; and in every shaft of darkness there is a flash of light. Plato compared human beings to jars that leak and are never filled.
Only the gospel can transform everything. Sin, misery, alienation and death are all overcome in Christ. Here we see through a glass darkly, but in heaven believers will see with undimmed eyes. Augustine concluded his magisterial work, The city of God, by referring to the beatific vision:
‘He will be the goal of all our longings; and we shall see him for ever; we shall love him without satiety; we shall praise him without wearying. This will be the duty, the delight, the activity of all, shared by all who share the life of eternity … For what is our end but to reach that kingdom which has no end?’


The author is minister of Revesby Presbyterian Church, NSW

Condensed by kind permission of Australian Presbyterian