The topic for the 2014 CCEF annual conference in San Diego is: Loss. It was not my idea. There is something about California that does not turn my mind in that direction. I would have voted for a conference on happiness and joy, or maybe the nexus between the beauty of creation and the beauty of God’s law à la Psalm 19. But after a brief sulk over being out-voted, I realized that my colleagues had hit on something important.

Loss is a matter for us all. It is so much a part of the human condition that it can fade into the background, and we only identify it when we experience life-changing events like death or disease. During those times, loss is like a hovering presence or a stalking shadow and we try to keep ahead of it.

The story of loss goes like this. We are people with affections. Our hearts are about the people and things we love and want to hold on to. Life, however, does not cooperate. A raise in pay is counterbalanced by inflation and more bills. A birth is offset by two deaths. The ledger of our lives always threatens to dip into the negative. We try to hold on to the objects of our affections, even when we know it is like grasping water. But, as people of hope, we are willing to bring a clear-eyed gaze to the losses of life because they do not have the last word.

These losses remind us that sin and death still have their say in this world. But though their intent is to reduce us to despair, the Spirit uses loss to inspire hope in us. We look forward to the time when sin and death will, indeed, be banished and our work, our relationships and our bodies will flourish. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, we will know we are in heaven when we can’t even imagine loss.

Meanwhile, as those losses point us toward a glorified creation, we set off to love Jesus more than anything or anyone else. That is one of the prized possessions of life in Christ—to love Jesus more than what he gives to us. No one really wants a relationship that is based on the goodies we get from another person because that is narcissistic and empty. The best relationships are those in which we love the other person simply because that person is just grand and who could resist loving such a person. Such love is unwavering and intrepid. That’s what we aim for in knowing Jesus. We want to love him amid earth’s blessings and tragedies.

When losses accumulate, they often reveal that we trusted in those circumstantial blessings more than we thought, so we respond with Asaph’s psalm.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Ps. 73:25-26)

The Apostle Paul used a ledger analogy when he made Asaph’s words his own: he was willing to give up everything he had on earth that he might gain Christ (Phil. 3:7-8).

Loss does not have the last word. God takes our losses to heart and speaks with compassion. He also sends us in a direction where we learn that losses and gains, as we usually calculate them, are not always what they seem to be.