by David Doty
I have had one distinct experience in my life that I would call a vision from God. It did not last long, maybe a second or two, but the visual image of what I saw and the impact of what I felt will, I am sure, never leave me.
This event was triggered by a very particular set of circumstances. My wife, Teresa, and I were relaxing in our living room, she sitting on the sofa, I in a recliner. We were listening to the Christian music CD, Freedom, by Darrell Evans. We had only had it for a week or so and I was still somewhat unfamiliar with the lyrics. But there was one song that had already touched me, though, up until then, I could not explain how.
As that particular song started, I told my wife there was a special moment in the tune when I almost felt as if I could reach up and get hold of God. As we listened, the song proceeded through the first verse or two and came to the beginning of the chorus. It was at that point that, sitting back in my recliner with my eyes closed, I actually did reach up and grasped the empty air above me, as if I could get hold of God. What followed I will never forget.
In my mind, I was suddenly at Calvary. But it was the combination of the words of the song coming to life, specifically in accord with the perspective I had of Christ on the Cross. I was peering along the length of Jesus’ right arm, looking toward his bleeding arm where the spike secured it to wood. It was as if my perspective was precisely seeing the scene unfold through his own eyes.
The oddest thing about the experience was what, in that briefest of moments, I felt, and the emotional rush that was my undoing. One would expect to feel the physical pain, or perhaps to have some notion of confusion – Why hast Thou forsaken me? But there was none of either. No, what I felt was an overwhelming sense, an electrifying jolt, of the most intense joy, beyond any I could ever imagine or expect or even describe.
In that instant of the lyrics of Evan’s song mixing with the scene before me, I was undone. Teresa can attest that I was unable to speak and literally sobbed for twenty minutes. It would take a long while to calm down enough to begin reflecting on what had just happened to me. In retrospect, I can understand some of that “getting my head straight” simply because the event was so vivid, so starkly real. It was if I was there, as real as the living room, the recliner, and the house around me in the very same moment.
But it was the lyrics of Evan’s chorus that drove home to me how Jesus ultimately felt when he said, “It is finished,” and passed into the presence of his heavenly Father.
To quote the first two lines of Evan’s chorus:
Spread wide, in the arms of Christ
Is the love that covers sin.
Now, and I am getting chills again, remembering even as I write, I understand the sentimental power of what those words mean in relation to Christ’s atonement for our sins. But three things occur to me whenever I take a moment out to reflect on what I experienced.
First, I felt, I mean really felt what Jesus felt. I saw through his eyes and thought what he thought, even being overwhelmed by sharing one aspect of his awareness and heartfelt reflection on exactly what was transpiring in those last moments of his earthly life. I cannot explain it, but I was there, firsthand, inside his head! It is a bold claim to make and I am sure there are those who will accuse me of grandstanding or blaspheming or whatever as such a claim may deeply offend them. But, I saw what I saw, I felt what I felt. That cannot be taken from me.
Second, that overwhelming joy! Jesus could only have felt this as he experienced his Father’s love washing over him for the depth and breadth of his obedience. Though there was that singular moment of despair, in the end he knew he had accomplished what he was sent to do: to atone for the sin and sins of all humankind. Jesus found himself, amidst all the very real pain, perfectly centered in the redemptive plan of salvation. I am convinced that at the very end he knew, in great depth, exactly what was transpiring.
And finally, there is that universal reach of atonement, not just in the temporal realm as we understand it. This was the central event in all the history of the cosmos. This event would not only make the way open for the reformation and restoration of the entire universe to God’s original intention and design, but it would lead to the most compelling demonstration of the power of God’s love: the Resurrection, the very defeat of death itself. That’s the ultimate goal of atonement, the eradication of death that would otherwise separate God’s creation from its Creator. Jesus’ sacrifice reached into the spiritual realms to “set right” even the heavenly places that had been corrupted by the sin of Satan, to the end that the utter destruction of death heals even the heavenly (spiritual) realms of creation.
Is it any wonder, the joy he could experience knowing that through his suffering, he would ultimately bring an end to all suffering? We still see his atoning work working out in our world but we can be assured that for his obedience, his prayers will be answered – that we all would ultimately be one as he and his Father are one, that God’s will would be fulfilled on earth as it is heaven. We may not see all those things accomplished in our lifetimes. It has already been many generations since that dark day outside Jerusalem. But sharing in such joy as could only emanate from the perfect holiness of the heavenly throne, Jesus knew . . . and he asks simply that we trust and obey, believing and acting according to his new commandment, to love one another.
It may be still many generations before he returns but we know this, that following Christ, growing in him in grace and mercy, showing the world by serving it sacrificially, witnessing in Word and deed, we can share in his joy.