The “Charlotte Event”
We found her in the ditch on the side of the highway on a gloomy Sunday afternoon, not too far from where she ran away. Her body frozen and lifeless, but preserved enough to hold and cry over her, to feel her soft fur one last time, to embrace this sacred creature whom God gave me to enjoy, protect and care for; this fun-loving companion, a personal “fur-therapist” of sorts, this Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Charlotte who captured my heart as intensely as her death ripped it out.
We only had her for three months, but it felt like forever. The search for Charlotte was intense and daunting, at times despairing and doubtful, but we never gave up. For hours and hours on end we searched. We put in hundreds of kilometres walking through bush and trails and driving down nearby roads where she vanished, we posted hundreds of lost dog posters within a 20km radius, we received hundreds of shares on Facebook, we put her kennel in various places with items linked to her scent and ours, my wife event tented out one night close to where she left us hoping she would somehow be drawn to her scent and voice. We tried everything.
I remember praying relentlessly for strength and help, and for Charlotte to be warm, safe and well-fed during the long and dangerous winter nights. I’m sure she found some shelter and food. Mercifully, the temperatures at the time were mild, giving us hope that she could survive long enough for somebody on the search team to find her alive. But in the end we found her in almost the same place she disappeared. She was hit by a car and passed away.
The search was over. We buried her within an hour of finding her. We did find her though, and this brought some closure. But not in the way we had hoped for. It was a crushing experience to find her that way, especially after such an intense search fuelled by the faith, hope and love of so many caring people. I thought for sure–and I think we all thought for sure–that we would find her alive. Hope fuelled us, and the sense of joy that we were on the cusp of being reunited with her kept us going…kept us in this defiant chase of love.
And then it suddenly hit me…is this how God feels when he is chasing us down, “leaving the ninety-nine,” (Matthew 18:12) because His heart beats with deep, daring and defiant love for us when we are lost? I think so, or at least, this is what sacred Scripture teaches us.
Jesus said: “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18: 12-14).
An “Apocalyptic” Drama
I love when the sacred teachings and stories in Scripture are affirmed in reality through our personal experiences in life with the living, triune God. When we experience, in reality, the concrete existential effects that Scripture tells us are possible, it can embolden our faith and allow us to grow more confident in Jesus and to clarify and strengthen our identity in Him. When we move from the visceral (sacred words in a book to be understood) to the existential (words that are alive and concretely effect our lives in the “here and now”) that’s when transformation can occur, but only if we act upon our newly found revelation, which for me means these days a confrontation of God in the real and messy spaces of our life, or what I call our own personalized “apocalyptic” dramas, where God confronts us in Christ, not to destroy or enslave us, but to reveal Himself concretely and to mercifully set us free and right, so that we no longer live in slavery to self-destructive tendencies or our egotistical certainties, and so that we can begin (or continue) to walk in the new humanity that Christ enabled through his own apocalyptic drama on the Cross and in the Resurrection. In these real life apocalypses, Christ mercifully (and sometimes painfully) unveils our “shadowy sides,” so that we can truly experience a resurrection from the dead in His name and walk more vigorously in our new humanity.
‘Apocalypsis‘ is the the Greek word for “reveal” and “unveil,” and helps us understand how God works within existence’s paradoxical realities (through defiant love), and how He calls followers of Jesus to live (through defiant love) within a world that is paradoxical (includes nuance and rejects binary thinking) by nature and sometimes hostile to the message of Jesus. This definition directly and intentionally contrasts with the popular cultural understanding of “the apocalypse” or “Armageddon” which teaches, wrongly, that Jesus will one day come back to earth to destroy God’s enemies, instead of to liberate and restore the cosmos and all of God’s creation, as integrated theology, rightly, teaches us.
Christianity is no misty, other-worldly spirituality, but an earthbound, existential reality that centres upon the fact that God became concretely human in Jesus and entered into the paradoxical reality of existence as the cruciform Word (Logic) of the cosmos. Christ comes from outside of human existence to make Himself known to real human beings as One who can relate with (and thus be relatable to) human beings and our paradoxical experiences and struggles. He comes as the One who concretely reveals, embodies and enacts the love of God in a contradictory world where human beings experience joy and sorrow, healing and woundedness, tragedy and blessings, life and death, light and darkness, death and resurrection, and judgment and redemption. Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity, is not only the One who reveals God’s essential nature as love, but is Love fully and concretely Personified. Jesus is the concrete manifestation and cosmic source of God’s love for human beings, and he helps us navigate “the dark wastelands of a fallen world, and cope with the deep anxiety of existential and metaphysical uncertainty,” states Alister McGrath.
A Loving God?
But love is such a loaded term, especially as human beings who carry around the interpersonal wounds, existential disappointments and heart-breaking experiences of life. The narrative of Christianity, which God invites us to enter into, is that God loves human beings and is willing to pay the highest cost to bring us home, back into rightful home within the heart of God. But what does that really mean and how can we understand the love of God as something we can actually begin to experience and rely on as opposed to just reading about it in sacred Scripture but not personalizing it in ways that effect us in reality? Because let’s face it: Christians and the Church have not always done a great job at exuding Christ’s love. And also, so much tragedy and injustice happens in our world to the point where some have given up on any notion of a loving God existing, let alone a loving God who can be experienced in every day life with all its paradoxical angst, including existential crises like COVID-19.
While there are many appropriate adjectives we can use when describing God’s love, I believe one stands particularly helpful for understanding and experiencing God’s love as an answer to some of humanity’s troubling existential questions.
God’s love is defiant.
God loves His children, animals and the earth He created so very dearly. He is a good, good Father. At the Cross of suffering love, where God welded Himself permanently to human existence, it is revealed to human beings that God will spare nothing to chase us down and provide safe haven to be healed and restored through the power of the Spirit. The Spirit, whom is best perceived as the Nurturer-Counsellor within the Trinity, will always find a way into our apocalyptic dramas, and in some cases will hasten our fall, so that we are led back to God’s deep and daring love in Christ when we lose our way in the darkness and doubts of human existence.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
– Psalm 139: 7-12
God’s defiant love reveals God’s relentless pursuit of us, His dearly beloved children, and that within God is an inherent unwavering and unfailing faithfulness, tuned to our own beating hearts within the realm of the Christ-reality, where Jesus rules as the transfigured and present One, through the existential paradigm of death and resurrection, and the Spirit of life that chases down God’s own not matter what the cost.
“Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending
Reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down
Fights ’til I’m found
Leaves the ninety-nine
And I couldn’t earn it and I don’t deserve it
Still You gave Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending
Reckless love of God, yeah“
– Cory Asbury, Reckless Love
He will always find us, whether in sadness, self-destruction, depression, darkness or ills, God is not afraid to enter into existence’s hell. Christ is the victor. His love is defiant. The love of God, concretely manifested in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, faces down the troubling and contradictory realities of human existence, “God marches right in” (Bonhoeffer)– He confronts us, and will never cease to be chasing after the human heart, for He became human and now understands our existential dilemmas, traumas, doubts, wounds, grief, struggles, and our “shadowy sides,” — but nothing, it seems, can stop Christ chasing after us, especially when we are self-destructing, or experiencing and existential (or faith) crisis.
“There’s no shadow You won’t light up
Mountain You won’t climb up
Coming after me
There’s no wall You won’t kick down
Lie You won’t tear down
Coming after me”
– Cory Asbury, Reckless Love
God’s love, defiant as all hell against anything that would seek to destroy His creation and creatures, is lavish, prodigious, oceanic, all-embracing, all-encompassing, all-forgiving, merciful, unfailing, unbreakable, unstoppable, never-ending, always present and available; it is tender-hearted, gentle, kind, unfathomable, impenetrable, superlative, death-conquering, extraordinary, and relentless.
“As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.”
– JFX O’Connor (Commenting on the classic Christian poem, “The Hound of Heaven”
God’s love is so defiant against the existential consequences of sin that He can do nothing else but to take upon Himself the effects of sin so that His creation (humans, animals, and ecosystems) can find deep and everlasting shalom once again. God’s love in Christ defies sin, death and pain. When God became human in Jesus and absorbed the existential consequences of sin, the end of the world began. But the end is not the “end” – but only the beginning of God’s mission to restore the cosmos and set the world to rights. In the end, Christ’s love wins.
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
– The Apostle Paul, Romans 8: 38-39
And as for Charlotte? Well, I believe, along with history’s most integrated theologians, that she is in fact with Jesus and all the creatures and people that have passed into the other side of existence where God is fully present. There she is warm, safe, and well-fed. And one day everything that is lost will be found, restored, and renewed. Until then, we miss you “Sharlie” girl. Thanks for giving us a glimpse of the Father’s heart, the Spirit’s relentless pursuit of us, and Christ’s defiant and victorious love.
“It’s been a long day, without you my friend, and I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again.”
– Charlie Puth