In many ways, this past year for my family has been a year of goodbyes. In our recent move to Montana, we had to say goodbye to our church family and dear friends. But when you move, it’s more than just the people you say goodbye to. When you move you say farewell to your home and the streets you drove on and the places you went to for years. In short, you say farewell to all that is familiar, all that, for however long you stayed there, you had learned to call home. Just recently, we travelled to Kentucky to drop my older brother off at college. That was a goodbye too. And with my brother going to college we are entering a new season of life, which means saying goodbye to the old.
In truth, all of us are familiar with saying goodbye. We live in a world of impermanence, where nothing lasts and nothing holds. In some cases, this is how it is meant to be, like welcoming new seasons of life and saying goodbye to siblings at college. God has designed this world to work in cycles, each with its own purpose in our lives and lessons to be learned. But in other cases, we are all too aware of how unnatural it is, of how wrong it feels, to lose a loved one in a car accident, or to say goodbye to brothers and sisters in Christ when moving to a new place, or to have our body wither away from disease.
Yes, I said unnatural.
In one sense, the painful farewells that we so often experience are the most “natural” thing that could happen when living in a sin-cursed world. But, in another sense, sin is not the natural thing that has always been here and always will be. It, and the pain it brings, is the invader, the alien, the very epitome of all that is unnatural. Why? Because there was once a time when there was no sin, when all was good and perfect.
You know what I’m talking about. The Garden. Eden. God’s paradise made for man to dwell in. There was no death. No withering of bodies. No breaking of fellowships with man or God.
There was a time, once, with no farewells.
So what changed? Why do we say goodbye?
The First of all Farewells
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’? And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said … “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw … she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.Genesis 3:1-6
Once upon a time, Adam and Eve, the first humans on earth, had an unbroken, beautiful, and intimate relationship with God that mirrored the close ties they had to each other. They didn’t fight or argue. They never hurt each other’s feelings. They never sinned.
What’s more, they lived in a beautiful place in harmony with all living creatures. Even the most frightful of beasts were gentle.
The lion lay down with the lamb.
Everything was right.
But it didn’t stay that way.
The serpent, sly, lying, crafty, slithered his way into the garden and convinced Adam and Eve to disobey God by eating of the tree God had told them not to partake of. In that moment, they proclaimed what every man and woman born onto this earth since have said: “God is not enough for me to be happy. I want more. I want to be god. I want to have the knowledge of good and evil.”
The repercussions were massive, and they still affect us today. Because when Adam and Eve chose to raise their fists against God, they brought on a torrent of goodbyes, all of which were consequences for their sin.
Just read Genesis 3.
They said goodbye to their innocence, to a perfect and intimate relationship with God and one another, to the Garden, to a beautiful world that existed in peace and harmony, and to life, spiritual and physical.
That, ladies and gentlemen, was the first farewell. That was the day the world broke and sin spread like a virus. All the pain we experience today, all the unnatural farewells, are a result of the broken world we live in.
What is Broken will be Fixed
Understanding that the world is broken could be a depressing realization– and it is, if you stop reading your Bible after the first half of Genesis 3. But lucky for us, God did not freeze the narrative of human history at Genesis 3:8 where Adam and Eve were hiding themselves from God in shame. Instead, the chapter keeps going, and among all of the frightening pronouncements of the curse as a result of their sin, there is a brilliant shard of hope. Speaking to the serpent, God says:
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.Genesis 3:15
Some translations say “crush.” The offspring shall crush the serpent’s head. I think I like that one better.
In one glorious verse, God promises that the serpent, better known as Satan, will be defeated. He will be crushed. As the narrative of Scripture continues, we learn that the offspring promised in Genesis 3:15 is none other than the Son of God Himself, Jesus Christ, who won’t just crush Satan, but who will quench all evil, conquering sin and death, righting the world and making a way for all of humanity to be right with God in an intimate, Eden-like relationship if they only believe in Him.
Our God, in his mercy and love towards undeserving sinners, has purposed to purge our hearts and the world of the disease of sin and bring all of creation back to the natural order that it once conformed to in the Garden of Eden.
What is broken will be fixed.
And every farewell we experience now, will be resolved. It is not goodbye forever. Though we may lose our health, we will one day live in gloriously resurrected bodies, invincible and free of sin. Though we may lose loved ones, if they believe in Christ, we will be reunited with them again, and this time, nothing will ever separate us.
Though we may move from our home and say goodbye to brothers and sisters who share with us something stronger than blood, who share with us the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit, we can be comforted that even if we never see them again in this life, there will come a day when all of God’s people will be with Him together. We will no longer be exiles, but instead we will live as citizens of a divine kingdom that will go on, and on, and on, and on.
There will come a day when we never have to say goodbye again.
This is the comfort that I would like to offer you, dear sister, dear brother. What you experience now, what you feel now, is not going to last forever. Even the most permanent of goodbyes, death, will be utterly undone by the invincible power of our Savior to no longer sting you or the ones you love.
But until then…
But what about right now? you may say. This is still painful! This still hurts!
I know, dear friend, I know.
Don’t be afraid to feel it.
I am excellent at stuffing my emotions and pretending I am okay. Don’t be like me. Don’t stuff it. Feeling the pain is part of being human. It’s natural, and, in fact, it is right. Even Jesus grieved when the greatest farewell of them all, death, took Lazarus.
But don’t stay there.
Give yourself space and time. Be gentle with yourself. Talk to others about how you feel. Better yet, talk to God. Embrace pain for a little while, but then… let go.
Because as much as goodbyes can be painful, to stay in that pain, to stubbornly cling to grief beyond a time that is healthy and good, is to act like there is no hope. And that just isn’t true. There is hope. In fact, there’s lots of it!
The promise that one day all things will be fixed is, at its core, a promise that all pain we experience is being worked to a good and glorious end. The fullness of this good and glorious end, of course, will be experienced on the day when our Lord exterminates evil once and for all. But there is still good that God is working in our circumstances right now. Just read that verse in Romans. You know the one. There is truly good in our goodbyes.
If that was not the case, then God would have never let us go through them to begin with. He, like any good father, gives good gifts to his children. This means, then, that there is a future beyond our farewell now just as much as there is in eternity. There are good things, Christian, that are waiting for you even now, even in your life here on earth. There is hope.
But perhaps you are like me. Perhaps you can struggle to trust that God’s way is best. It is not always easy to believe that our goodbyes are truly good byes. In fact, most times, it is achingly, even painfully hard to look beyond the breakings of our heart and trust the works of our Savior. But take heart, Christian, because not only is God here to help you, but, whether you trust him or not will not change the fact that he will be faithful to you and use even the most piercing of farewells for your good.
It’s been a few months since our move, and I’m doing a lot better now. There are still times when I miss my friends, of course. There are still transitions to be made. There is still a little pain. But, I am asking God that he will help me trust Him and the purposes He has for me.
I know, however, that there are still many of you who are in the thick of your pain, grieving from farewells far worse than mine. If you are experiencing that right now, my heart breaks for you. Truly it does. I wish I could reach through this computer screen and give you a hug. But since I can’t do that, I would like to at least leave you with a few encouraging words. First, you are going to be okay. I know it may not feel like it, but I promise you, you are God’s child and He never let’s go of His children. Run to your Savior. Don’t run away from Him. I know it can be tempting, but don’t do it, if not for any other reason than that He is your only hope. There’s nowhere else to run. He is your greatest comfort, He is your greatest comforter. And He has promised that there is a future beyond your farewell, in this life, and the next.
Take heart, friend, there are good things coming.