KNOCKING (ON HEAVEN’S DOOR)
Some days, writing, I feel like Jack Torrance, Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie The Shining: deranged beneath a guise of charm, playing a game of brinkmanship with madness. My wife graciously brings me lunch from yesterday’s leftovers. I wanly smile at her, too bent on my task to interrupt myself with speech. I labor over a manuscript, reams thick, that never seems to get closer to being finished. She understands. She supports me. But if only she knew: I work and work, hunched over my keyboard, to say only one thing, repeated line by line, page by page, chapter by chapter. Torrance’s line was “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
My line might be this: “Be so heavenly minded you’re of great earthly good.”
There is nothing in this world that infuses me with hope, joy, and strength — so wild and pure it can intoxicate with a single sip —like the thought of the next world. I don’t mean our insipid versions of the next world — the plump cupids, the pillowy clouds, the tapering shafts of shimmering light, the droopy-winged harpists, the cherubim and seraphim that neither provoke dread nor inspire awe, and a god who looks vaguely like Heidi’s grandfather. That depiction of heaven bores us here on earth, so it’s hard to imagine it inflaming raptures of bliss for us in the hereafter.
I mean the heaven that, as Paul describes it, cannot be described: no eye has seen it, no ear heard it. It transcends imagination, just like life outside of the womb defies the understanding of an unborn child. Even if an infant curled inside its mother were capable of thinking grown-up thoughts, could it possibly imagine what anyone meant by just the word dog? The loping shedding Labradors and mincing pampered poodles and gaunt sprinting greyhounds and jowly howling blood hounds, and all the sleek and furry and yappy and growly and playful and fearsome creatures in between?
You have to see them all to figure it out, and even then you’re just beginning.
Well, heaven’s that — this splendid and varied wonder that every effort to portray with earthly categories is doomed to caricature. You’ll have to see it to get it, and even then you are only starting.
And yet, we long for it.
GRASPING AFTER HEAVEN
Heaven is in our hearts. God has “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11 TNIV). We bear some knowledge beyond our knowing.
Neuroscientists point to the grasping instinct in infants — the inborn impulse to clutch upward when falling — as clear evidence of evolution: a vestige of every human’s essential monkey business, a throwback to our tree-dwelling, vine-leaping days when falling was measured not by inches but by dizzying heights. Thus, evolution favored the primate that could hang on, and those genes kept replicating and, in the case of humans, never got eradicated.
Well, maybe. But it seems a stretch to me. Humans have cultivated a thousand acts of grasping, most of which have nothing to do with recovering from a fall, and a few that are precursors to one. It is telling that the first word a child usually speaks — beyond the iconic mama and dada and the all-purpose monosyllable no —is not help but mine. Our grasping instinct, I think, has a root not exclusive to primates.
But all that is to say this: we have more than a grasping instinct. We also have, and more potently, more enduringly, a longing instinct. We all wish, to varying degrees, to be somewhere else, or to be be someone else, or to be doing something else. How often do you hear a comment like this: “I’m so restless, and I can’t figure it out. I’ve got a good job, a good marriage. My kids are great. We just moved into a new house six months ago. But it hasn’t taken away my restlessness. In some ways, it’s made it worse. I’m trying to figure out if I’m really in the place I’m supposed to be right now.”
Most of us misinterpret our longing instinct. “He has also set eternity in the human heart,” the full text of Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” We fail lifelong to understand the true source of our restlessness, the sense that we are not in the right place right now. And so, misdiagnosing our discontent, we seek remedy for it in things that, at best, provide temporary relief, and more often bring deeper frustration. We divorce, move, quit, leave our church. We blame the restlessness on the boss, the spouse, the pastor, the town we’re in.
When all along it’s God’s fault. It is God who set eternity in your heart. Restlessness is not the vestige of some long evolutionary process. It’s the prank pulled on us from the first day until now. It is God who stuck a homing device right in the middle of you, so that every pulse triggers it. It’s God who, knitting you in your mother’s womb and numbering your days before one came to pass, left a gaping hole inside of you that only He can fill, and only fully when you see Him face-to-face. Heaven is the strange memory infusing your drive to battle upriver toward spawning grounds, to fly whole continents just to return to the rocky cleft you came from.
Jared Diamond, in his book Collapse, tells about the woebegone inhabitants of Easter Island, a half-starved little huddle of survivors from a once thriving civilization, who in 1838 sent a tiny delegation of ten men on five canoes, tippy and leaky, to trade with a French cargo ship anchored offshore. The captain later wrote, “All the natives repeated often and excitedly the word miru and became impatient because they saw that we did not understand it: this word is the name of the timber used by Polynesians to make their canoes. That was what they wanted most, and they used every means to make them understand this” (Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Penguin, 2006), 107).
As Diamond shows, none of these islanders would have ever seen miru. Miru had disappeared centuries before — earlier generations of Easter Islanders had stripped the island’s once lush and dense forests down to lifeless barrenness, no trading partner or scouting expedition from another Polynesian island had come near in hundreds of years, and the Easter Islander’s tippy, leaky, tiny canoes could barely manage the trip across the bay, let alone navigate hundreds of miles of open ocean to make landfall where big trees still grew.
Miru was a memory that stirred longing. They knew what they wanted, “wanted most,” even though not one of them had ever seen it with their own eyes.
That’s heaven. That’s eternity. It’s our miru. It’s the “memory” God Himself planted in our hearts that now stirs our deepest longing. It’s what we want most. It’s the memory of a tree we once desired but were forbidden, but which one day will feed us and heal us (The reason Adam and Eve were banished from the garden was not because they ate from the tree they were commanded not to eat from [Genesis 3:11]. For that, the ground was cursed. They were banished from the garden so that they might not eat from “the tree of life” and so “live forever“ [Genesis 3:22-23]. That’s the tree at the center of the New Jerusalem — the garden becomes a city — which bears crop twelve months a year, and whose leaves heal nations [Revelation 22:2]. Our miru is that tree). Only, most of us spend our lifetimes never figuring that out. We actually think a new spouse or house or SUV or month-long cruise will subdue our deep restlessness, when only God, face-to-face, can do that.
~ Darren’s Comments ~
Have you ever wanted something you never seen or heard before? Probably not. Pretty much everything is based on sight and sound. Found in 2 Samuel 13, one of King David’s sons, Amnon felt so fondly after his step-sister, Tamar, because she was extremely beautiful and a virgin. Amnon could not get his step-sister out of his mind and told at least one person (probably his best friend and cousin) Jonadab of his dilemma.
You see, satan possessed Jonadab as he suggests that Amnon pretend that he was sick and specifically request that Tamar prepare him some meat and eat it out of her hand from his father, King David. King David had no idea the deceit in Amnon’s heart toward Tamar, his daughter and Amnon’s step-sister. By the end of it, Tamar was a virgin no longer and hated by Amnon (by what he had done to her). * just imagine what Tamar is feeling: the shame, the constant dread of being classified as a whore as she being sexually molested by your step-brother, the feeling of this as post-traumatic stress for the rest of her life, lonely, distraught, etc.
Men lust after what we see, by and large; whereas, women, by and large, lust after what they hear. Yet, God has placed eternity right smack dab in the middle of our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). As the book of Hebrews puts it in the KJV,
“Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
Once, when I was going to a Christian college, I met a fellow student who was extremely talented at drawing. And we got into a conversation along with others. The topic was that we don’t think Jesus was as wimpy as they make Him appear in pictures or movies. I asked this talented friend if he could draw me a picture of what he thought Jesus would look like. He accepted excitingly as he got the chance to show off his drawing prowess.
Within a couple of weeks, I got the picture. It was huge. It spanned 4 three foot by five foot poster boards. It was of a muscular Jesus on the cross with piercing crown of thorns on His head and ribbons of flesh permeated with blood, plus the huge nails that pinned Him through His hands and feet. I plastered it on my bedroom wall to remind me daily of the suffering He went through for me. I kept it up there with no plans of taking it down. After a couple of weeks more, the Holy Spirit spoke to me in my mind, and He said, “I am no longer there.”
It was simple, yet profound. I immediately took it down trusting the Lord to convict me of sin all by Himself, not with the help of a picture. If I were to keep it up, then it would become an idol. An idol by someone else, not the true and living God, which for us is invisible.
Like miru, an ancient tree that the people from Easter Island hadn’t seen in hundreds of years, God is like that miru since we haven’t seen Him in almost 2000 years in the form of Jesus Christ. To get into heaven, God requires that you have faith — faith that He exists that Jesus Christ is the savior to all the world for those that choose to constantly accept Him. 😇
~ Darren L. Beattie, The Soul Blogger of TrueLifeChristianity.com ~