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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Sea

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea (Revelation 21:1).

John! How can you write it so calmly! And there is no longer any sea. With one line, that fabled arena of adventure, love, and lore is wiped away. It is consigned to oblivion.

John! Did you resent the sea, even though it fed you in your youthful days as a fisherman? Were you often seasick, or did you fear the sea? How can you give up the sea in a single sentence?

I love the sea. I miss it. It tugs at me, and my heart aches with the elves in the ancient stories who felt it calling them away from field and forest to sail toward the western lands. One of the happiest times of days gone by was the two years I spent at the San Diego campus of the University of California where I was within easy walk of a long and lonely stretch of sea and sand.

An unknown poet wrote some twelve hundred years ago,§

Liveth no man so large in his soul,
So gracious in giving, so gay in his youth,
In deeds so daring, so dear to his lord,
But frets his soul for his sea adventure,
Fain to try what fortune shall send.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
This life on land is a lingering death to me,
Give me the gladness of God’s great sea.

No longer any sea. That seems like a great loss to me. But will there truly be no sea in the new heavens and new earth? Earlier John saw a vision of God’s throne room in heaven, “and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal” (Revelation 4:6). A little later he saw “something like a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and the number of his name, standing on the sea of glass, holding harps of God.”

These passages seem to combine the bronze sea that stood in front of Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 7:23-25) with the crystalline platform that supported the throne of God in Ezekiel 1:22-28.

What does it all mean? I think it means this. The sea that calls out to me on earth is a dim shadow of the true sea before the throne of God. There will be no longer any earthly sea, but its heavenly counterpart will call out even more strongly to my soul and in its call will be the answer that my soul seeks. The sea on earth is good and beautiful, wild and powerful and dangerous—just like God. I shall not miss the sea. I shall instead find it.

That, I believe, is what all of us shall find. The things that we fear to lose will be more grandly, gloriously, and satisfyingly present there than we can now imagine.

§ From “The Seafarer” in Old English Poetry, translated by J. Duncan Spaeth.