I once thought it was a bit strange that most of us think of “heaven” as being “up.” Since pretty much 100% of us who are still breathing (minus a few astronauts now pitifully reduced to hitch-hiking skyward with the Russians) live on a round planet, how can a place called “Heaven” be up for all citizens of this globe?
Now I’m a little embarrassed by the lack of biblical/theological understanding my perplexity betrayed. My ignorance on the subject is still vast, and unlikely to be cured much in the two hours I have before this column is due (the cure for ignorance is reading, and that takes some time). But I think I know a smidgeon more about the matter now than I once did.
Why should I have been surprised that most of us think of heaven as being “up”? The “heavens,” as in “the sky and the celestial objects hung there” are always for all of us here quite literally “up.”
And now, when I think of “heaven,” as in Heaven, I’m thinking less in terms of geography, earthly or celestial, and more in terms of what the Bible writers tantalizingly refer to as “the new heaven(s) and the new earth.” I’m trusting that our God, the Master Builder and Great Architect, the Consummate Artist and only True Creator, has at his side a palette of color and beauty and even dimensions dwarfing our accustomed three.
I don’t pretend to understand exactly what our Father is preparing for his children, but the hints and metaphors he has scattered around in his written revelation glitter like flecks of gold inviting us to dig deeper, live more joyfully, and with a purer longing for the completely unalloyed Joy found in God’s eternal Presence. As C. S. Lewis, drawing on Plato, reminds us, it’s not less real than the “heavens” we see here; it is far more real.
We can be sure that the essence of all that is truly good and joyful here will be found there, magnified a gazillion times. What do you love most purely, deeply, and joyfully here? None of what makes that truly joyful will be lost; it will be forever found and experienced completely.
Here everything from the color of the sunset, to the hugs of your little ones, to the smell of coffee, to the warmth of a well-laid fire in the hearth, to the sunbeams splashing through mountain aspens, to whatever you truly love that is good, be it great or small, brings genuine joy. That joy is real and beautiful and created by our Father to be received by his children with open hands and thankful hearts.
But the deepest joys we ever experience here are penlight joys compared to the full sun of Joy that awaits. Here such Joy would be too much for us, like trying to route Victoria Falls through a half-inch plastic pipe.
But our Creator is preparing a place for us, and preparing us for that place, where the unceasing torrents of cascading Joy washing over us lift us up to everlasting praise and complete fulfillment, utter contentment, and genuine life that here is only a fraction of the stuff of our best and highest dreams.
We won’t have to wait and dream there. Shadows will have given way to real, unfiltered, and eternal Joy.
Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.