December 2007 - Vol. 14

 Even while loving this earth, we are homesick for our heavenly homeland 

The question most naturally and frequently asked of a pilgrim or traveler is, “Where are you going?” Home — to heaven — is the only really true answer we as Christians can give. 

Ever since the exile of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, human beings have yearned and longed to return to that supernatural existence of innocence and union with God for which they were originally created. Reflecting this desire through the ages, heaven has been called our “fatherland,” “our true homeland,” “our heart's deepest longing.” As much as we love this earth—and rightly so, as God's gift to us—we are homesick for heaven. As the Christian apologist C. S. Lewis explained with such logic and perception: 

Creatures are not born for desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world....
There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. 

A vague idea of what heaven holds in store for us
This month’s theme highlights how our human existence is a journey towards heaven, a journey “back home.” As we encounter the hardships of the road and are occasionally wearied by the length and demands of the trip, fostering the hope of heaven within us and reflecting on the joys that await us there can revive our spirits. 

While our belief in heaven is nurtured by faith, the revelation of Scripture, and the teachings of the Christian church, we have only vague, sometimes even disquieting and unappealing, ideas of what heaven holds in store for us. Notions of chubby cherubs sitting on cotton clouds strumming golden harps, attempts to determine the geographical location of heaven, or images of pale, ethereal spirits endlessly singing hymns all fall far short of heaven's reality, which is exceedingly better than anything we can imagine. 

Scripture gives us a heavenly travel brochure
While human words are all together inadequate for describing the life of heaven, our appetite is whet and our hearts stirred nonetheless by the metaphors, parables, and visions Scripture uses to communicate a sense of heaven to us. Taking time to read these descriptions, somewhat like reading a travel brochure in anticipation of the great places you are planning to visit, feeds our excitement. 

In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2-3) 

Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2) 

Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

What heaven will be like
The most visual and graphic are those images that liken heaven to a banquet or wedding feast, and, as in the book of  Revelation, portray a heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, where the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. (Revelations 21:3-4) 

What we now only poorly grasp by revelation, and can barely imagine in our present state, will one day become a joyful reality. The happiness of the eternal life lies primarily in the immediate vision of God. St. Paul wrote of this experience that awaits us, “Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face.” (1 Cointhians 13:12). 

Our perishable nature will put on the imperishable, and our mortal nature immortality (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:53). As the Council of Trent decreed, “It is of vital importance to be fully convinced that the identical body, which belongs to each one of us during life, shall, though corrupt and dissolved into its original dust, be raised up again to life.” Our personality will continue to be the same, and we will have our own body, but vested in glory and splendor, if we have been faithful. 

The social dimension of eternal happiness, interpersonal relationships among the blessed, is a part of our faith. Christian tradition affirms that the ties of blood and friendship begun on earth will somehow continue into eternity. What joy when we will meet and recognize one another, not only in the intuitive vision of God but also in direct mutual communication! Christianity differs from such religions as Hinduism and Buddhism precisely in believing that individuals retain their identity in a future life, and in heaven live together as distinct persons, knowing and being known by their fellow citizens in the New Jerusalem, and living in the company of those they had known and loved on earth. 

Encouragement for the journey
As we progress on our pilgrimage to eternity, let us foster hope of heaven within us and the anticipation of its joys. May we find encouragement for the journey in this exhortation by St. Cyprian: 

We ought never to forget, brethren, that we have renounced the world. We are living here now as aliens and only for a time. When the day of our homecoming puts an end to our exile, frees us from the bonds of the world, and restores us to paradise and to a kingdom, we should welcome it. What man, stationed in a foreign land, would not want to return to his own country as soon as possible? Well, we look upon paradise as our country, and a great crowd of our loved ones awaits us there, a countless throng of parents, brothers and children longs for us to join them. Assured though they are of their own salvation, they are still concerned about ours. What joy both for them and for us to see one another and embrace! O the delight of that heavenly kingdom where there is no fear of death! O the supreme and endless bliss of everlasting life! 

There, is the glorious band of apostles, there, the exultant assembly of prophets, there, the innumerable host of martyrs, crowned for their glorious victory in combat and death. There, in triumph, are the virgins who subdued their passions by the strength of continence. There, the merciful are rewarded, those who fulfilled the demands for justice by providing for the poor. In obedience to the Lord's command, they turned their earthly patrimony into heavenly treasure. 

My dear brethren, let all our longing be to join them as soon as we may. May God see our desire, may Christ see this resolve that springs from faith, for he will give the rewards of his love more abundantly to those who have longed for him more fervently.

[Jeanne Kun is a noted author and a senior woman leader in the Word of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. This article originally appeared in God’s Word Today, December 1998. Used by permission of the author.]
(c) copyright 2007  The Sword of the Spirit