Preaching the Beatific Vision in a Nursing Home

27 February 2023

On most Tuesday mornings, I find myself among a beautiful community of the aged and infirm. It’s a privilege that I sometimes take for granted, though I try not to. These dear friends can’t easily get into a car and attend church on Sundays. The little liturgy we provide is the closest they get to “normal church.” They joyfully show up week after week, but they’re normal people too. Some days they’re in more pain than usual; some days they’re mourning the recent loss of a friend; some days they’re just worn out; some days they feel forgotten and unloved. What is able to put a smile on the face of someone in the twilight years of life? The answer is a vision of what’s to come. 

Reflecting on the nature of love, the apostle Paul wrote, “For now we see only a reflection [dimly] as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known. Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:12-12 CSB).

A person in the first century only had a vague sense of what they looked like. Mirrors were often cloudy and warped. What they knew was dim. It wasn’t a false knowledge, but a partial knowledge. This is our experience regarding love. The human experience is one of yearning for love and loveliness. From our earliest years we desire embrace. We’re captivated by the lovely. A little child making snow angels who feels like time stands still; lovers who can’t say goodbye; moments of being deeply known and loved that elevate us to another plain of existence – these are the high peaks of our lives that we chase after.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us that eternity is written on our hearts. These moments of love and loveliness feel like time stands still for a reason – they are pointers to the eternal God who is love. Like beams from the sun, they fill us with warmth. Yet we shouldn’t mistake them as the final goal of our existence. We learn quickly that these moments don’t last forever. Not only that, but we experience moments of deep heartache. Disappointment, rejection, hurt, divorce, and death invade time. The love we thought we had gets shattered, and we try to pick up the pieces. 

We know in part. 

The good news is that the God who is love came down to us. John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son who is himself God and is at the Father’s side – he has revealed him.” Love put on flesh. The timeless Son entered into time so that we could one day know God’s love fully. Yet, God did this with full knowledge of us. We are “fully known” to Him. Tim Keller wrote, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is a lot like being loved by God.” Christ knew the worst about us, but still He came (John 1:14-17). Christ fully knew us and truly loved us by laying down His life for us (Gal.2:20). Now God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Rom.5:5). As we await the return of our Savior, we receive love letters in the pages of Scripture that thrill our hearts; we worship with our beloved church family delighting in God and experiencing His delight in us (Zeph.3:17); we pray and encounter eternity in communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are like separated lovers. These love letters and experiences are only a knowing in part the One who fully knows us. One day we will fully know. 

One day we will see God face to face. Theologians have long called this the beatific vision. We will know fully the love and loveliness of God. It will be the deepest experience we could ever comprehend, even beyond comprehension! It will be the substance instead of the shadow. It will be the sun beyond the beams. 2 Corinthians 4:6 says that right now we behold God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ and are being transformed from one degree of glory to the next. That is the Christian life – beholding Christ by faith and being changed. But one day we will actually see Him as He is and we will become like Him (1 John 3:2). We will behold the face of God (Rev.22:4). This beautiful vision will flood our hearts with love and joy unspeakable forever. In the words of Jonathan Edwards: “There this glorious God is manifested, and shines forth, in full glory, in beams of love. And there this glorious fountain forever flows forth in streams, yea, in rivers of love and delight, and these rivers swell, as it were, to an ocean of love, in which the souls of the ransomed may bathe with the sweetest enjoyment, and their hearts, as it were, be deluged with love!”

I preached about the beatific vision in a nursing home, to people who could be weeks away from such a sight. As I preached about it, I saw the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen before. For some, it looked like the love of God was being poured into their hearts before my very eyes – as if time was standing still. After years of loves lost, of heartbreaks and heartache, these dear brothers and sisters caught a glimpse by faith of what is to come. Their response proved the reality. 

When we reach that beatific vision, faith won’t be necessary anymore; for faith will become sight. Hope won’t be necessary either; for hope will be fulfilled. But love will be known and love will never end. God is love, which is why heaven is a world of love. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! 

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