Safe in God Rev Dr Durrell Watkins All Souls Day 2014 Part of enjoying life is to acknowledge that it is as fragile as it is resilient. Human life begins with the trauma of birth and after 9 or 10 decades, if we’re lucky, it comes to an end, hopefully peacefully and surrounded by warmth […]
Safe in God
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
All Souls Day 2014
Part of enjoying life is to acknowledge that it is as fragile as it is resilient. Human life begins with the trauma of birth and after 9 or 10 decades, if we’re lucky, it comes to an end, hopefully peacefully and surrounded by warmth and love. It is pointless to fear it, since it is inevitable, but as people of faith we do dare to imagine a reality beyond the physical experience of human life. We tend to think of our lives as being part of a spiritual reality that is without beginning or end, and that is part of the Source of life that we call God.
I remember once getting a call from a fundamentalist mother of a young man who was dying. She had raised him in a very homophobic church, and, being a gay man, he left the church never to return. It was the mid 90s and he was in the final stages of AIDS in a nursing facility. Even though he hadn’t been to a worship service in many years, the message that he was a vile sinner condemned to everlasting damnation was still very much present in him memory. He was too sick to live and too afraid to die.
The mother knew that her pastor would offer no comfort. So she called me.
The young man told me about his pursuit of pleasure, his renunciation of faith, and his fear that God would abandon him forever for being who he was.
I told him about how much his mother loved him and how she had sought me out to comfort him. I asked if he knew that his mother loved him so very much. He did.
I then said, “Here’s a bible verse you may never have heard. Isaiah 42 has God saying, ‘Like a woman in childbirth, I cry out [for my children]…I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools [of tears]…I will turn darkness into light for them and make the rough places smooth…I will not forsake them” (14-16).”
“God loves you at least as much as your mother does,” I continued. “God will not let you go. Your mother is with you until the very end, and God, like a mother, will hold your hand throughout eternity.”
He looked perplexed. So I quoted another verse from Isaiah: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (66.13).
I said, “Think about how much your mother loves you. How your pain is her pain. How she wants more than anything for you to be comforted, to have peace, to feel safe and loved. And then imagine God loving you infinitely more. God has to be at least as good as your mother.”
I said, “I’m a stranger to you and I want you to feel better, to be comfortable, to know that you are, just as you are, a child of God. Can you dare to imagine that God is kinder, more loving, more concerned for you than a stranger who just walked into your room?”
And then, I told him the writer of the 1 John affirmed repeatedly that God is love.
Love would never punish him or abandon him for seeking to be loved in the way that was true for him.
And then I quoted Acts 17.28, “It is in God that we live and move and have our being.”
That verity actually predates the New Testament, coming from the ancient Greek pagan poet Epimenides, but none of that would interest a dying, gay fundamentalist. So I simply quoted the verse, “It is in God that we live and move and have our being.”
I assured him that he was already in God, there was no place else to be, and that he would forever be in God, held by God, loved by God, never, for any reason, to be abandoned by God.
Finally I prayed with him, hugged him, and left, and I hugged his mother outside his room.
That night, he peacefully died, his body finally experiencing a well earned rest, and his soul healed of the fear that abusive religion had instilled in him.
Maybe you are afraid that God isn’t with you in the midst of your trials, or that at some point God might just give up on you. The psalmist felt that way once.
Psalm 22 begins with “My God, why have you abandoned me?” The psalmist then recounts the many times that the divine Presence has revealed Itself in human experience, and finally affirms that the future will offer blessings as well. Basically, the psalm is a question and answer: “Why have you abandoned me? Oh yeah, that’s right, you haven’t. You never would; you never will.”
How could omnipresence ever abandon us? To be omnipresent is to be everywhere fully present, and that means that we cannot be separate from God, not in this life-experience or any other.
No wonder when Jesus was feeling abandoned, betrayed, alone and in physical and emotional pain, he prayed that psalm. He only had the breath and energy to utter the first words, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me.” But silently, in his memory, he must have allowed the rest of that psalm to comfort him. God, why have you abandoned me? Oh that’s right, you haven’t, you never will.
Matthew 27 says that Jesus quoted the first line of Psalm 22, fell silent for a bit (perhaps meditating on the comforting message of the psalm), then he cried out once again and “gave up his spirit” (v.50). In his moment of pain, he admitted he felt afraid, he comforted himself by choosing to remember that God could not ever let him go, and then he let go and entered into his rest.
Omnipresent, eternal Love is our life, without beginning or end. Divine Life is living Itself in, through, and as us. Our bodies have a shelf life but the I Am that we are is limitless and endless.
God will never let you go. God is Love, everlasting Love, omnipresent Love…there is nowhere to go beyond God. If we could ever be separate from God then God would not be omnipresent. If God would ever give up on us, then God would not be Love. You will forever be held in the heart of God.
I hope that each of us at the moment of transition can feel loved, comforted, courageous, and assured that we are held by a loving Presence that will never let us go. But guess what? We don’t have to wait until that final moment. Whatever you are facing today, whatever the challenge is, whatever the uncertainty is, you can know that God is omnipresent Love and that means you can never be separate from the loving Presence that God is. There’s not a spot where God is not.
In your health challenge, in your job search, in your grief, in your recovery, in your depression, in your disappointment, you always have the power to recall the wisdom of the psalmist, “Why have you abandoned me? Oh, that’s right, you haven’t and you never will.”
Throughout our lives, until the very end (knowing that there is really no end), we can pray the affirmative prayer we heard from Isaiah 25 this morning: God will wipe away the tears from all faces…Let us be glad and rejoice in God’s safe-keeping (8-9).
And this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
God will never let me go.
I am in God’s presence now and forever.
God is present to wipe away my tears.
And so it is that I rejoice in God’s safe-keeping.