Day 19: The Haunting of Heaven
Updated: Feb 24, 2021
So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made.--Genesis 3:23
You don't know what you got till it's gone.
I don't feel like Joni Mitchell plays fair here. This is the happiest most depressing song I know. It grabs me right in the gut with its bitter irony and cynical acquiescence wrapped in a sweet and happy sounding tune. It's the paradise lost story told through the voice of a little girl who speaks the wisdom of sages as she watches her father leave in a taxi. It's excruciating.
It has been so long since anyone has ever seen paradise (i.e. Adam and Eve) that we either don't believe it ever existed or we wouldn't know it if we saw it. But we have whispers of it. It haunts us with its unattainable glory. C.S. Lewis talks about it as a desire for our own far off country. We are haunted by "the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."
It hurts to talk about heaven. When we do, we can’t help but feel how far we are from the reality of heaven and God's kingdom, the realm where God is the one in charge and his rule and reign is one that brings life and wholeness and peace.
So we settle for our "mud pies in alleyways", as C.S. Lewis put it. We are content to inoculate ourselves to the unbearably painful reality of what went wrong. We feel can't let our imagination go there or else the despair will be too much. We do what Joni Mitchell does and we make it a happy song. But even that seems to make it worse.
No, our hearts should cry, "This better be worth it!" with a holy, defiant bellow of lamentation--and let the Spirit respond to our lament…
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.--Romans 8:18
So we need to lean in toward the haunting of heaven and not just make do with what we have now. We need to recall the memory of the thing we have not yet fully seen but long for deep in our bones…and let the longing for heaven enchant us.
It's not enough to say, "It shouldn't BE like this!" We have to also be able to say, "It should be like THIS!" and point our imagination toward the glory that resurrection produces, the magnificently humble grandeur of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
It takes a big imagination to think about heaven beyond the normal harps, clouds and white gowns (do you see how anemic that is…and not even biblical!). Story of the Bible is one of a good creation that has been marred and needs to be renewed. It’s not a story of a creation that we are going to jettison for some ethereal, otherworldly kind of realm. This is how Isaiah takes about heaven and it is more "earthy" than we'd first think…
Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth,
and no one will even think about the old way of things anymore.
Be glad; rejoice forever in my creation!
And look! I will create Jerusalem as a place of happiness.
Her people will be a source of joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and delight in my people.
And the sound of weeping and crying
will be heard in it no more.
No longer will babies die when only a few days old.
No longer will adults die before they have lived a full life.
No longer will people be considered old at one hundred!
Only the cursed will die that young!
In those days people will live in the houses they build
and eat the fruit of their own vineyards.
Unlike the past, invaders will not take their houses
and confiscate their vineyards.
For my people will live as long as trees,
and my chosen ones will have time to enjoy their hard-won gains.
They will not work in vain,
and their children will not be doomed to misfortune.
For they are people blessed by the Lord,
and their children, too, will be blessed.
I will answer them before they even call to me.
While they are still talking about their needs,
I will go ahead and answer their prayers!
The stories of Jesus are so riveting because they are stories of a man who does things that look like the way heaven should be. Jesus was in the business of making Isaiah 65 a reality on earth as it is in heaven. Something deep in our gut affirms water being turned into wine, or a blind person receiving sight, or a prostitute being shown mercy, or thousands of people being given more than enough food, or a killer storm being stilled, or the bullies being put in their place, or the sufferers being comforted. True, you don't know what you got till it's gone, but Jesus goes around putting things back where they belong.
We love these the things he does not because it proves that Jesus is God (or rather that we are proved right) but because what Jesus does is just how things SHOULD be. All the things that Jesus did in his ministry were meant to demonstrate that this is what heaven is like. THIS is what life is like when God is in charge. THIS is the glory of God's kingdom. THIS is the good news…God is making all things new.
Is your heavenly imagination big enough to contain the kinds of glories pictured in Isaiah and personified in Jesus? Or is your understanding of heaven more like a "sitting on a cloud with a harp surrounded by a church choir" kind of heaven or is it more earthy? Jesus' view of heaven was pretty earthy!
I confess that I don't know what I got till it's gone. I am haunted by something glorious and I see it only dimly. Show me the glory of a world where you are in charge and may I be a person who participates in your kingdom come, here on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.