I’ve never really bought into the notion of “heaven on Earth”. The phrase gets tossed around flippantly, describing everything from perfect vacations to post-intimacy euphoria to a good burger.
When we enjoy great moments – rare and temporary harmonies of circumstances, events, or emotions – and liken them to heaven, there are subtle but damaging implications. Our innate Tower of Babel mentality risks exaggerating elements of life on this terrestrial ball to the level of the divine in our minds, tempting belief that things only need to be properly combined in time and space to reach heaven’s greatness. Love, health, pleasure, beauty, contentment, and other good things take on an unbalanced significance. God then grows smaller, His scope understandable, and His kingdom within reach of our efforts. We forget that He is not merely a larger and better man, with a hidden and flawless formula for happiness, one that can be solved with a bit of skill or luck. Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, a gift that cannot be earned or constructed by man’s efforts, must be received for one to know God’s forgiveness, to live freely and with purpose as His child here on Earth, and to ever see Heaven. Even after that, Heaven must remain a future destination, beyond the pale of this life.
But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” – 1 Cor. 2:9
Although we may accept this truth as God’s word, it is still comforting to experience revelatory moments in the course of our lives that draw us heavenward, away from this earth and its ordinary affairs. In much the same way that confirming signposts aid a driver on a long and uncertain journey over unfamiliar roads, encounters with God help us navigate confusing stretches, spur us to cover more ground, and reassure us that we are still heading to our desired destination.
With few exceptions, spiritual encounters like these have primarily inspired my writing on this blog over the last 4 years. Absent the unexpected joy of personally witnessing God’s power on display at Naomi’s Village and Cornerstone, I would likely have never begun to write. I had not discovered the joy of using this creative form of expression, nor had I ever been moved to describe prior life experiences with such passion and regularity.
For emphasis, here are two recent examples when God shifted my focus from the everyday to the glorious, to glimpses of Home beyond the shifting sands of the visible.
Lately, Julie has speculated that David might be a bonafide angel, rather than a mere human, because of the consistently sweet aura he exudes to everyone. To her, he personifies blessing. Running down the hall at NV when baby naptime is over, I remember her words. My heart rate goes up as I kick off my shoes on the cold plaster walkway outside that special room, preparing to scoop him up and feel his silky cheek against mine. The door swings open and I find him, our beloved one, ambling across the colorful rug unclaimed. He picks up his pace and hurries my way, reaching up with chubby arms. His smile rewards me, reconfirms my calling, and echoes the timeless Redeemer who dissolves brokenness into joy.
I picture this baby becoming a boy, becoming a man, helping countless others escape from their pits, living a gospel ending to his story, before fading to join Heaven’s celebrating crowd. Somehow in a brief flash, I grasp David’s long transition from a narrow and dark latrine to celestial streets, glistening with gold, and never tears. I can make out a picture of the former place where it all began, but the latter blurs. My mind is void of proper shapes and even the hues needed for me to form an image of that otherworldly place. I have not yet seen Home, after all. I sit in the gentleness of the baby room, just as I am, and take a rest stop for a while. Jesus did this 2000 years ago, when he wore skin, and knew my trials. I thank Him for David, a reflection of baby Jesus, the parallels and lessons too vivid to ignore.
There are other times, when the dining hall at Naomi’s Village almost bursts at the seams with love, as our kids and staff sing on a Sunday morning. I join in, hoping that Heaven’s song will someday sound like African children, whose voices bounce off a perfectly pitched cypress ceiling like this one, and reverberate around every neuron receiving joy signals inside me. Paying closer attention, I see individual faces, caught up in worship, as free as children should be. Bittersweet memories of their prior sufferings randomly flood my cerebral cortex, brief flashes of those days before the gates opened and they finally had a place to belong. As my spirit reaches out for Him while in this mix of emotions, I wonder how He must feel about this scene. A vision comes – big kind eyes looking down, beaming at what has become, and not dwelling on what was. I thank Him for this room, and for the thousands of days we have spent within its walls, with people He joined together in love.
I could write pages, sharing personal stories about how I found comfort in meeting God briefly in the midst of the ordinary. Yet I’ve still wished for all of it, the rest of Heaven. Perhaps that is the point. Nothing here should fully satisfy the children of God, for even the best highlights remain soft and shadowy hints of what is to come. And while there may be no heaven here below, God still reminds us of what awaits, when the yearning is over and we run through those final gates to live with Him forevermore. I think Bono felt the same way I do, when he wrote his great anthem of holy discontentment, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.
Remember the words to this song as you continue to manage life’s hills and valleys. Enjoy these numbered days, by keeping your heart set on an unending stay with your Father in a Place beyond the margins of your own mind’s concept of beauty, a Home perfect enough to defy all description. That is my hope. If you believe, then sing it with me, with a voice as loud as your life.
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I’m still running.
You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
– U2, The Joshua Tree, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, 1987
By Bob Mendonsa