Love story – “happily ever after”

“And they all lived happily ever after…”

The majority of stories and the majority of films finish with a happy ending. Some form of adversity is overcome and better times are ahead. When they don’t end this way it can be disturbing – perhaps we even feel a little cheated. We expect things to end well, so when they don’t, the story shocks us and leaves us uncomfortable.

Why do we tell ourselves these “happily ever after” stories? We seem to feel instinctively that obstacles are meant to be overcome. Life is meant to be good and not full of hardship and struggles. Somehow, everything is moving towards what it should be, despite the blips along the way.

Broadly speaking, this echoes the message of the Bible. We have stories with terrible tragedies, loss, trouble, war, death and all the difficult and nasty aspects of life in our world. But, underlying it all, looking beyond it all is the expectation that one day there will be a grand “happily ever after” for the whole world.

So, what is this “happily ever after” that we are looking forward to? Various parts of the Bible portray it in terms of cosmic renewal – like a new creation. It is something that follows judgement and is to last forever. But, what will it look like?

We might want to be given a precise account of what the future life after resurrection will hold, but we don’t get one. The pictures of peace and prosperity are painted using imagery familiar to those of the ancient world – almost an idealised version of what their life looked like. Not surprisingly, when we start guessing we also portray an idealised version of our own life now.

Impressionist Sunrise over the Sea


The picture of “heaven” is blurry – it doesn’t offer a clear view, but just a teaser. It entices us, but not enough is revealed for us to be sure how things will be. There seems to be something more important at stake than describing a renewed physical world; heaven is more important than this, it seems. So, what is at the heart of it all?

Behind the lack of detail of the place where we will be, what we will look like and do, etc. is a more fundamental “happily ever after”, which is at the core of all our future hope. At the heart of all of this,  what matters most, what we are most looking forward to is not just a new world order; we are waiting for a person. We wait for God. We yearn for God. That is what salvation is really all about – not just a pretty, peaceful world, but being with our God.

The restlessness of every human heart will be met when we are with God, when our Saviour comes to us. We don’t just trust in God so that we can enjoy certain gifts, we trust because we want to enjoy the presence of the Giver Himself.

In many films and books we find powerful love stories where two people overcome adversity in order to be together. Perhaps the setting may be a war, where one of them has had to go overseas. They are kept apart, given only fleeting reminders through the letters they send.

The lovers wait, they yearn for one another. They want to be together again, but will they both make it? Through twists and turns the story takes them, temptations to give up arise along the way – possible new loves come and go. They hold fast, trusting that in the end they will live together happily ever after. In a way, the final destination, the final place where they are to live isn’t really important. Their love is what matters.

Could this be your story? Could this be our story – the story of God and His people? Could this be the ultimate love story? If so, we can look forward without fear, knowing that we will live happily ever after, knowing that in many ways the place and details are immaterial.

© Joe Lenton, January 2014 – image © Original Art Photography by Joe Lenton, 2013

Loving like Jonathan

It is easy to get the impression from the stories told by our contemporary culture that love is essentially about sex – that is, if love is mentioned at all. However, it is possible to love someone deeply, to have an intimate bond with another human being without it having to be sexual at all. In fact, according to Jesus, the greatest expression of love is to give oneself for others:

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

We are to be self-sacrificial, not self-centred. Followers of Christ are to love their neighbours as themselves – to do so is to keep God’s law (Galatians 5:14).

The story of Jonathan and David found in 1 Samuel is a great Old Testament example of these principles in action. In 1 Samuel 18:3 it says that Jonathan “made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself”. Jonathan is an example from the Old Testament of what the New Testament people of God are to aspire to.

There are several specific aspects of the story of David and Jonathan that reveal Jonathan’s incredible love for David. The following examples are taken from 1 Samuel 20:

1.      Jonathan put himself at risk for David’s sake. To find out precisely what Saul’s attitude to David was, Jonathan risked not only upsetting his father, but becoming a target for his anger himself. Asking probing questions when David had warned him of Saul’s angry, vengeful attitude was a real personal risk.

2.      Jonathan relinquished his claim to the throne for David’s sake and out of obedience to God. Although he might have expected to inherit the throne from his father Saul, Jonathan knew that God was with David and wanted him to be king. Rather than stubbornly oppose this, Jonathan stepped to one side, even supporting his friend.

3.      Jonathan didn’t just let David go so that he could escape Saul, he encouraged him to do so. It must have been terribly hard to see David leave. Jonathan wouldn’t know if or when he’d see David again or how Saul would treat him went he went home to his father. Jonathan watched his best friend leave, putting aside his own wishes to be with him for the sake of David’s safety.

4.      Jonathan is also faithful to his family and remains with Saul. He could have fled with David and taken sides against his own family, but he didn’t. He drew the line when he had to, but that didn’t stop him being loyal at other times. Clearly, he also loved others as well as David. Having one good, loving relationship to which he was loyal was not enough.

In 1 Samuel 20:14 – Jonathan asks David to show him the “faithful love of the Lord” (NRSV) – hesed. As Jonathan has protected David and his dynasty to come, he requests that David reciprocate the covenant faithfulness and love and protect Jonathan and his family. This hesed is a mixture of love, loyalty/faithfulness and other such qualities as exhibited in God’s relationship with Israel.

Like Jonathan requested David to, we are to show the “faithful love” of God, being like Him in relationship with God and others. This is what Jonathan had already been doing for David, of course. Their relationship was one of mutual love and concern, not just one-sided. We cannot expect healthy relationships to be one-sided either. Yes, we might expect others to look out for us, but we also must play our part and support them.

Jonathan’s love for David is costly, it comes with personal risk and a willingness to lower himself so that David might become the person God intended. It is a self-sacrificial love, giving of himself for the sake of the person he loves. Jonathan theoretically laid down his life for David – he didn’t know if Saul would kill his own son or not.

Jonathan shows what Jesus told us and later did himself – “greater love has no one than this: that they lay down their life for their friends”.

Jonathan and David aren’t “lovers”, but this is certainly a story of deep, deep, love in relationship. This is a story about God-like, godly relationship – a man who chose to give himself self-sacrificially for his friend rather than try to play God and put himself at the centre of the universe. He is an inspiration to all of us.

© Joe Lenton, August 2012

Praying with Scripture – Part Six – What about our enemies?

What are we to do when people make our lives a misery? Can we ask God to “smite” them?

Christians are not immune from difficulties and we are certainly not immune from having enemies or people who take pleasure in seeing us fall. In fact, 2 Timothy 3:12 suggests that all of us who attempt to live a Christ-like life will suffer some form of persecution for our faith.

In the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms, there are many instances of God’s people responding to being oppressed, attacked or persecuted (see also Part 3 – “Negative” Emotions). They sometimes didn’t just pray for help and rescue, but for the downfall of their enemies:

  • “Let the heads of those who surround me be covered with the trouble their lips have caused. Let burning coals fall on them; may they be thrown into the fire, into miry pits, never to rise… may disaster hunt down men of violence.” (Psalm 140:9-11, NIV)
  • “May his days be few… May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. May his children be wandering beggars… May a creditor seize all he has… May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth.” (Psalm 109:8-15, NIV)
  • “O daughter of Babylon, doomed to be destroyed, blessed shall he be who repays you with what you have done to us! Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!” (Psalm 137:8-9, ESV)

These are strong words and rightly make us feel very uncomfortable. They are full of raw emotion and show the ugly side of our humanity; evil behaviour so often results in a spiral of evil thoughts and the desire for revenge that can then lead to other evil acts that perpetuate the cycle.

Some verses in the New Testament seem to take a different attitude:

  • “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44, NLT)
  • “Never take revenge, my friends, but instead let God’s anger do it. For the scripture says, I will take revenge, I will pay back, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, GNT)

So, can we still pray for our enemies to be punished? Jesus certainly seems to have wanted to soften the attitude of God’s people towards their enemies. Yet, Paul appears to suggest that the only thing that would be wrong would be actually carrying out revenge ourselves – praying for God to take revenge on our behalf looks (according to Romans 12:19) to be ok.

How might we reconcile these apparently divergent views? We might say that those who wrote the Old Testament were still on a learning curve – they hadn’t yet realised that God wanted them to be different to other nations by not demanding horrific revenge and reprisals. But, that doesn’t really account for Paul’s advice.

An alternative possibility might be to recognise that we do get wronged and are angered by it and the best way to deal with this is to vent before God, telling him what we would (in our anger) wish on others. This avoids taking revenge ourselves and puts the matter in God’s hands. Indeed, the New Testament still suggests that some will unfortunately be on the receiving end of some form of punishment from God – punishment for wrong is not simply an Old Testament idea.

Leaving matters with God involves us trusting him to do the right thing. It involves a long term commitment on our part to divine justice rather than a quick tit for tat. God can take our angry, twisted wishes for violence and translate them into true justice and in his timing – maybe soon, maybe a long time off, perhaps not until Christ returns.

Yet, although this “venting” may be more healthy than taking matters into our own hands, it still falls short of where we can aim to be – following the example of Jesus. Once we have dealt with our negative feelings, we can be transformed by God as we release them into his hands and allow ourselves to see our enemies in a new light.

God can transform our anger into a loving concern for those who have wronged us. Like Jesus, we can come to the point where we can pray for their forgiveness, because they do not know what they are really doing.

Our anger can serve a positive function by indicating that injustice has been done – we have indeed been wronged and God has been sinned against. Yet, it is not up to us to remedy things. We are right to notice sin and injustice and right to voice it to God. The right thing to do then is to leave it with him and pray for our enemies in love.

What do you think? Can you vent your anger before God or do you just hope it goes away? Can you find ways to pray for your enemies in love whilst also praying for justice?

© Joe Lenton, July 2012