“This is too good to be true.”
I thought it the night my then boyfriend and I made our relationship official. I thought it at new years 2020 when we got engaged. I thought it on our wedding day. I thought it the moment I found myself in a hospital bed with our sleeping firstborn cuddled against my chest.
There are some things in life that prompt a kind of otherworldly happiness, a transcendent delight that seems somehow out of place compared to the rest of our human experience. That’s why so often we describe such things as “too good to be true”. We are natives to a world full of brokenness. Our expectation for existence itself is shaped by our rather uncomfortable familiarity with pain, disappointment, fear, guilt, grief, and conflict, among a host of other wrongnesses. It isn’t just romance that prompts such moments, but let’s use it as an example.
We are very aware that even the most amiable of earthly romances have not escaped the enevitable, tragic ending that all human relationships face, that is of separation in death. All earthly relationships, no matter how special or intense, come to an end. Even if two people proclaim their undying love for one another, and live it out, they themselves are not undying creatures, at least while they dwell on Earth. This is why we have tragic love stories, like those in the classic dramas or Shakespeare. With the existence of transcendent joys comes the potential, even inevitability of profound sorrow.
There’s something very wrong about that, though. The reason we have such phrases as “undying love” is precisely because we feel that love is something that should last, something eternal, something that doesn’t quite make sense in the context of a world full of betrayal and death. So, too good to be true? Yes, in one sense, it is.
And yet, it is true.
Perfect love stories untainted by sorrow are a thing only of fiction, but beautiful love stories do exist, and it begs the question why?
I am from the eastern US, a place that at one point must have been completely forested, and even now is full of trees. I grew up walking wooded paths in all seasons, and always loved looking at the patches of sunshine that filtered through the canapy above, pooling in warm golden puddles on the forest floor. There was one particular place, a thick pine grove at the top of a steep rocky hill beside the Patapsco River, where even in brightest daytime it was always dark and full of shadows. The top of the trees had become so thick that the lower limbs were no longer living, and many of them had fallen onto the ground and tangled themselves into shrubs growing up between the trunks. The gnarled scaly branches seemed to reach out sometimes to snag clothes and hair, and crackled menacingly underfoot.
It was not an inviting wood. I often imagined the sorts of dark-dwelling creatures that might be lurking in the underbrush. Those lovely pools of sunshine were very rare there, and were thus all the more precious to me. There, they weren’t just pretty, but a sign of hope, that light still existed somewhere beyond my gloomy surroundings.
Things we call “too good to be true” can be like that. They point to something else, a world beyond our present reality that is full of goodness and light. As Christians, we call that place Heaven, and the source of the light is the king of Heaven, that is, Jesus. Our world is dark, and we in some ways only expect dark things because of that, but there are beautiful things because there is a beauty that exists eternally outside our realm of space and time. Like the sun glimmering through the branches of the trees, Jesus shines into our somber reality in every lovely or joyful thing we have on earth.
So, too good to be true? No, only too good to be earthly, and it is a sign of God’s grace that we can see it. Even when the world was corrupted by our sin, God did not abandon us entirely to it. He preserves such good things out of his own goodness so that we can see him, and be lead to worship him. It is like Psalm 19, which says that the Heavens declare the glory of God. So it is that every otherworldly beauty beckons us to kneel in reverent awe of the one who made it, and when we rise to carry on, we have hope, knowing that they point to a time to come, when those things that seem “too good to be true” will be the only truth. The sun puddles of the forest will expand to engulf every bit of the wood, and there will be no more shadows.