My kids talk about Heaven with ease. When he was younger, Noah imagined Heaven as a place filled with white pine trees and mint chocolate chip ice cream, his two favorite things. Rowan, on the other hand, prefers a more active paradise – endless tickle and chase games across green meadows, infinite ant hills to examine.
I have trouble imagining Heaven at all. It’s simply beyond my comprehension, and the Bible’s limited descriptions of pearly gates and streets of gold like glass haven’t done much to illuminate the picture.
During yesterday’s church service, though, we read a passage from Revelation that presented me with a fresh, unfamiliar description of Heaven. Typically Revelation doesn’t do much for me – all those seals and trumpets, beasts and bowls. But yesterday, Revelation 22 offered me a clear glimpse of eternity:
“Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb…And there will be no night there – no need for lamps or sun – for the Lord God will shine on them.” (Revelation 22:1-5)
I tend to experience God’s presence in glimpses, brief illuminations that sparkle briefly before fizzling back into obscurity. Sometimes I’ll glimpse this flash outdoors – in the buttery yellow of a finch’s back as it swoops over my backyard. Sometimes I see God in my children – in Rowan’s sunny head, bent low as he plucks dandelions; in Noah’s carefully penned love note left sitting on my desk.
Other times a work of art, a line of poetry, a soaring concerto leaves me breathless with the palpable sense of God’s presence. One morning as I listened to NPR, the joyous violins of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons burst from the radio, and I experienced what can only be described as pure rapture as I bumped along in my mini-van toward the office.
What I read in yesterday’s Revelation passage is that these fleeting glimpses I catch of God today will someday become “clear as crystal” in Heaven. I won’t need to bemoan the fact that I get just a glimpse – that joy, that rapture, that sense of contentment and peace will pervade every moment, for eternity. I will be given the eternal gift of vision, a vision so unwavering, so clear, I won’t even need lamps or sunlight to illuminate my way. Instead, I will bask in the bliss of God’s light.
I don’t think it mere coincidence that I battle a vague sense of dis-ease and discontent, an ebbing, flowing restlessness. Some days, some weeks, are worse than others, but it’s always there; an unsettled feeling of displacement pervades my soul.
I used to think it was the result of my jarring move from Massachusetts to Nebraska. Uprooted from my “home” – my family and loved ones, the landscape that in many ways had defined me – I assumed my anxiety was caused by my dislocation. But now I wonder. Although I’ve settled into a happy existence here on the Great Plains, although I now think of Nebraska as my home, I’m often startled to find that the gnawing sense of unrest still persistently claws at my heart. Why? I wonder. Why can’t I simply be content, at peace? What exactly am I looking for?
Now I wonder if perhaps it makes sense that I feel this way. My life on Earth is temporary, a transitory state – a pre-life existence. A time of readying; a period of preparation. Perhaps this unrequited yearning is the result of real emptiness, a place in my soul that has yet to be filled. A place that can only truly be filled one way – in my reunion with God in Heaven.
Perhaps then the glimpses will meld together to form a complete, unfractured picture, whole and pure, clear as crystal.
“I am going there now to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me, that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:3-4)
What’s your vision of Heaven? How do you wrap your brain around something so incomprehensible?