Happily ever after...
The other night my family and I watched Tangled, a Disney animated movie starring Rapunzel. The story was fun to watch, and as most fairy tales go, ended "and they lived happily ever after." Of course, we all know that fairy tales don't really exist, but it is a comforting thought to think that maybe in some other world, some other dimension, there could be a life that goes on forever, happily. And in truth, eternal life lived in God's presence with fullness of joy is the greatest hope of the Christian faith. Jesus saw "the joy set before him" - that is, he knew what was coming and wanted the joy of seeing it happen, of seeing our relationship with his father restored - so he "endured the cross, despising its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2) When we see him, our joy will be complete and we will live with him in glory - "happily ever after".
It's interesting though, how that happily ever after desire lives in the hearts of people, whether they acknowledge the God of the Bible or not. People might not believe in a real heaven or hell, but eternity is in our hearts, whether we like it or not. And stories like Tangled, whose villain is after her own version of the fountain of happily ever after youth, will always abound. We want to live forever, and we hope we're happy doing so.
Perhaps our hopes are so high for the future because in the real here-and-now world, life is not easy. Things do not always go as we had planned - goals go unmet, dreams go unfulfilled, potential goes unrecognized, and life eventually ebbs away. God does not always answer our prayers the way we ask them. Even the earnest, heart-felt kind. One good example of that fact comes from Acts 12, where the church prayed earnestly for Peter to be released from prison. Days earlier, the apostle James (brother to John) had also been arrested and imprisoned. I have no doubt the church prayed for him too as Herod (the guy who had him arrested) was not known for doing the right thing. His whole family had a history of murdering people for no good reason.
God did release both men, but not as the believers who were praying would have anticipated. James was killed with the sword. Peter was set free by an angel. The church was surprised by both answers.
Sometimes life is like that. Jesus told his disciples, "in this world you will have tribulation." You will. Hard times were coming. Persecution of the church was on the horizon, and trials like they had never known before were headed their way. The days of walking with Him, of watching Him heal the sick, feed thousands, raise the dead, were swiftly coming to a close for them, and Jesus spoke words to encourage them, while at the same time warning them to expect the changes. He said, "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." John 16:33
There is a happily ever after, but it's not in this world, not in this life. Here on earth, we are going to struggle. Even for those who love Jesus, who know God, who are seeking after His heart. Sometimes, all we can do is hang on to hope, hang on desperately to Him, and trust Him when He says that He has overcome the things that try to overwhelm us.
It is the best, the only thing we can do.