Whenever someone is passing through a difficult or painful challenge it seems that there are always a large number of Christians who incorrectly focus at the end of the tunnel because they see the victory in overcoming and entering into the calm waters while fighting to ignore the actual struggle. Obviously, no true follower of Christ should go out seeking trials and tribulations. However, just as true, is the fact that we are intimately partaking in Christ when we follow in His footsteps (1 Pt. 4:13), and when we try to overlook these painful times we are actually robbing Jesus’ invitation for us to know Him deeper along with ourselves. For an untested faith is a weak faith. Charles Spurgeon wrote "No faith is so precious as that which lives and triumphs through adversity. Tested faith brings experience. You would never have believed your own weakness had you not needed to pass through trials. And you would never have known God’s strength had His strength not been needed to carry you through.”
Now let us take a look at what God’s Living Word tells us. I have always told anyone who is willing to listen and truly dive into the deepest of Scriptural waters with me that no greater depth exists than what can be discovered in the Bible. That being said, there is also no superfluous word or letter contained within it. Every detail and verse reveals a new perspective on our realities…or opens a new window for our souls. When passing through the great dark times in our lives, I have yet to find more beautiful and comforting words to aid me and heal my wounds than those word’s John records at the end of Revelation.
In only one verse, John’s vision puts all of our suffering into perspective. After carefully recording numerous details about the New Jerusalem he shares one specific detail which needs to grab our attention (Rev. 21:21). In verses 18-20 we read about different kinds of precious stones used in its construction. We even read about “pure gold, like transparent glass” (v.18, 21). He begins verse 21 by writing that the Gates were each made of pearl. More precisely, each door was made out of a single large pearl. I always wondered about this strange detail. Most people would think that the “entrance to heaven” could be made out of something far more valuable than pearl. Yes, pearls have great value but when compared to transparent gold or diamonds they fall short. But, remember, God sees thing much differently than you or I see them. Why then pearl?
The Lord is always revealing Himself to us in the natural word. Theologians call this type of revelation as general revelation, or natural revelation and the apostle Paul mentions it in the first chapter of Romans. This is what He has done in Revelation 21:21 and it is ever so beautiful and encouraging once you see it.
Have you ever looked at an oyster? I do not know about you, but as for me, the simple oyster reminds me of myself. It is nothing spectacular to behold. Many would even say that an oyster is actually pretty ugly. It is hard and small and dark with a rough and irregular surface. But something miraculous occurs on the inside…just like within us. This miracle begins with how it forms a pearl. When the oyster is still quite young, a small grain of sand enters its shell. This seems like nothing to the human eye. But to the oyster, the crystalline structure of the sand is like a ball of outward pointing knives against its insides. A single grain of sand brings an incredible amount of pain to the soft insides of its flesh. The same happens to our own flesh when the pains of life and a fallen world enter inside us. It does not really matter how the pain enters us, wither through the acts of others or our own brokenness. All that matters is that it’s deep within us and it provokes the greatest of pains.
The oyster is all alone under the water dealing with and fighting in private against this great pain emanating from its center.* And yet, the oyster perseveres. However, we are not alone, we have the Savior of the universe who has promised to take all our pain and all our tears (Rev. 21:4). I feel that the Lord has revealed to us, in this humble little oyster, a great key to life which goes against everything the world tells us. The world tells us that we need to be perfect, healthy, wealthy and beautiful along with a host of other superficial things. But the Lord tells us to relay upon Him. He tells us that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” To which Paul replies, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9). How wonderfully inspiring and counter-cultural!
Obviously, a follower of Christ should never seek something which will cause him or her to suffer…the world will force pain upon your soul without you or I looking for it. But do not lose courage or faith. The simple fact that we know this suffering is not “right” is confirmation that our natural citizenship is not here but in the Lord’s kingdom to come.
Looking at the oyster once more I have to ask? After an entire lifetime of slowly excreting mucus to cover the knife-like edges of the grain of sand what is its end? The oyster has produced a hard and smooth pearl but has lost its life. When we persevere through faith through depending upon Christ to take away those razors of pain in our lives, how do we end up? We receive our entrance into the New Jerusalem as we pass through its gates made of peal which are our award for persevering the great trial and pains of this fallen world.
Or looking from another perspective, I believe that if one does not pass through the pains and hardships of this life-while depending utterly upon Christ, then they will never gain citizenship in the Heavenly City in the next.
*(Special thanks to Dr. Warren Gage for opening the connection to me via his OT studies course at KNOX Theological Seminary)