This morning I woke up and saw exactly what I expected to see. But why does a thick down blanket of freshly fallen snow always make me feel surprised, no matter how much I expected it? Perhaps: a sign.
It will be no less odd in the end if Christians do in fact discover that what they have always believed to be true turns out actually to be true. I am a Christian, and because I am a Christian I have a responsibility to orient my entire life toward the resurrection of my dead body and the dead bodies of those around me. This is odd enough, but not half as odd as the reason I am supposed to do so. Do I really believe that God is going to raise the dead, and more pointedly, to raise me from the dead? All it takes is trying to imagine what that would look like to at least give rise to a little chuckle at yourself over just how unlikely this whole ordeal that guides your life actually is. In any case, I doubt that for even the most devout believer to have ever lived it will come as anything but a surprise.
I can hardly imagine waking up that morning and being only as surprised as I was to wake up this morning. Is the fact that I am expecting to be raised from the dead going to make rolling out of death feel like something I had really just been expecting to do all this time? What if my first instinct on that morning turns out to be the same as my first instinct every morning? Are there even snooze buttons in eternity? And if not, should I be worried about getting up on the wrong side of the dead? That could make for one very long bad day.
In truth, I think if we should anticipate any experience of that morning that can be put in a word, it should be surprise, perhaps also awe, more likely just speechlessness, and maybe even terror except in a good way.
But I don’t think we will be surprised about the morning itself as much as we will be surprised when we remember how we got there.
However memory will work on that day, I suspect it will be quite different than how memory works today. Of course, we live in a culture that has oriented itself wholly toward a one-person-long future. If we live only for this life, we should eat, drink, be merry, build a privacy fence (guilty), and spend our lives toward retiring in a comfortable deathbed. Memories, especially ancient memories that we have to take on loan from some other people’s lives—like the Bible—are parasitic to our progress, especially in the case of the Bible. It is simply inconvenient to remember that all towers eventually go the way of Babel (Gen. 11) and that even the most successful kings discover the meaninglessness of every kingdom built on the sands of time (Eccles.). So we’d be better off living under the illusion that our progress is actually moving us closer to our satisfaction, even though that illusion is the only universal truth that is so damningly and self-evidently an illusion.
But even for those of us who attempt to use the memory of ancient history and poetry as the medium of divine truth, and thus as the abiding context of human life, have to admit that we remember salvation history like one of those memories you aren’t sure comes from a dream or something that actually happened. I know that any time I talk about anything that ever happened, there is a good chance I am remembering something that happened only at night, and it probably happened right after I took off my cape and walked out of the wardrobe. So when the Son of Man comes with the clouds of heaven and every eye sees him whom they have pierced (Rev. 1:7), I find it hard to imagine that all of our memories of his life and death will be anything like they are today.
However it is Jesus will appear to us—[just a logistical question about that: if every eye will see him, just how big will Jesus be? And will I still only be 5’8”? Will he be so big that I will be able to see him from across the curved earth? Or will I be so big that I’ll be able to see everything? Or will God be the light and the Lamb his lamp and I have no idea what that means? (Rev. 21:23)]—there is no way that when he does I will not only be surprised by what I see, and that I see; but most of all, I will be unutterably surprised by what I have always remembered about the One as white as snow with the furnace face and eyes of flame:
The daily news of salvation. There is no greater news. There is no greater surprise. Never, ever forget.