had an odd thought today: When I get to heaven, how will I recognize Jesus?
I realize that my present understanding is puny and that I am patently unable to comprehend eternity, so I’m not one to anguish over heavenly questions. Someday I’ll find out if there will be pets in heaven, if we’ll need to polish our crowns, and just how many saved sinners can stand waiting to greet loved ones by the tree of life at one time. Those things don’t worry me. But I am curious.
Ellen White once reminded us that we’ll recognize each other in heaven.* Something of our personality, our uniqueness will shine through, our personal identity preserved in the resurrection. But that’s because we already know one another by sight here on earth. Although I’ve met Jesus, I haven’t met Jesus, if you know what I mean. And if Mary could walk with—and love—Him for several years and still not recognize Him in the postresurrection garden, well, how will I? I know He is love, but what will Love look like? I’m not sure. But two things I am sure of: He’ll know me, and I’ll know Him by His scars.
More than almost any other single contributing factor, we bear the marks of the trials we’ve endured. Show me a mother’s stretch marks, an old man’s wrinkled brow, a young girl’s bitten nails, and you’ve shown me something of their stories, a mini-window into what they’ve been—or are going—through. Our experiences yield not only the facial character of line and expression, but character itself. They make us stand out, distinct from others. They make us who we are.
I was noticing this recently as I drove a familiar stretch of highway. During the summer months, that roadside is a continuous canopy of green. I couldn’t tell you where one tree left off and another tree began, all leafed out in one gorgeous contiguous aerial carpet of green. But it’s September in the Midwest, and fall is creeping near. Here and there, branches are turning gold or orange, and I know that soon each tree on that drive will stand out in sharp relief from the others—clear, colorful, and distinct.
This individuality isn’t spurred on by summer sun and rain, by times of ease and plenty, but by the approach of winter, as trees each react to their preparations for hardship. Based on their kind, their health, and their roots, their foliage will change. Some will stay green long into fall. Others will go gold all at once, as if on fire, and then stand shivering in the autumn cold. Still others will flash from gold to russet to crimson, branch by branch. And some few brave leaves will hang tenaciously on through all the winter winds.
What I can tell you is that during this season of shifting light and temperatures, each tree will be recognizable from the others. They’ll resemble trees drawn by chubby child hands, a trunk with a ball of color on top, each one separate and distinct.
People are like that. We grow all together, and seem much alike. Till trial or pain force us to make the changes necessary to handle hardship. That’s when we come into our own, as it were. When we show our true colors. When we are gloriously distinct from every other creation.
Because of our hardships. Because of our choices. Because of our scars.
I don’t need to worry about finding Jesus in heaven. He’ll find me. He’ll know me and I’ll know Him, by our glorious scars.
*Ellen G. White, Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 1093.
Valerie N. Phillips is the associate director of the women’s residence hall at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she has ministered to collegiate women for more than 25 years.