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~ A Taste of Heaven ~

Reflecting on what the heavenly realm looks, sounds and feels like may seem a futile task. Yet we have no problem contemplating the attributes of God by considering His creation and the human experience of love. Heaven is also His creation and to contemplate it also means contemplating God. As St. Paul puts it, on earth we can see things only as though looking through a dark glass, but that doesn't mean there is nothing to be seen. However, it helps to abandon our cherished landmarks in our seeing, like time and space. That will make the glass a bit less dark.

For example, when I was a child I wasn't impressed with the description of heaven recorded in the book of Revelation. Streets made of gold did not excite me at all. Streets, period, did not excite me. I longed for forest trails and tumbling streams. I also knew the Native American people of my nation would not be pleased with streets, gold or macadam. They, unlike city dwellers, spoke of the hereafter as "happy hunting grounds." As I grew and learned more, I recognized the symbolic language used in Revelation as well as by the native people. (They knew they wouldn't need to hunt and maybe that's why the hunting grounds were termed "happy.")

Revelation describes a "new heaven and a new earth." A new earth, paradise restored, is exciting, but a new heaven? What was wrong with the old heaven? So we enter the realm of needing to adopt different paradigms in which to think. Of course there will be streams and forests in heaven, but since nothing will be hidden, their transparency will be heavenly. As I write this I am looking at trees. I am outside of them and can only imagine the high energy dynamics going on within them...fluids moving up and down through their trunks, the magic of photosynthesis in their leaves, the drawing from deep in the earth food and water through their roots. I suspect in heaven I won't have to imagine anything, since all will be "visible" or experienced. Now I can't wait to experience a heavenly tree! Or flower or animal.

Animal? How many children ask if their beloved pets will be in heaven? Why not? Theological questions regarding the differences of the souls of humans and those of animals, or even if animals have souls, did not keep God from making animals an essential element of paradise. The prophet Isaiah writes about how the lamb and tiger will sleep together and children will play next to the nests of cobras. Animals taught me much about the attributes of God and He used my many pets as venues of comfort for me. I still wonder what my cat is thinking when he stares at me with wide open, unblinking eyes. Maybe in heaven I'll know, since nothing will be hidden.

Talk about hiding things, how about clothes? The first clothing humans wore served two basic purposes, to hide underneath them and to be sheltered from nature's elements. In heaven there will be nothing to hide nor anything from which to protect ourselves. The biblical teachings assert a resurrection of the body, but probably more akin to the one Christ assumed after His resurrection. He ate food, but didn't need to. He must have been clothed with something other than light. Our heavenly clothes will not be hiding anything but rather revealing ourselves to one another. I look forward to abandoning ties and coats and gloves as well as not seeing people dressed in some kind of uniform whose purpose is to only reveal their roles but not their beings.

Thus privacy will be an unknown concept. No need for it. No desire for it. Our many languages help maintain privacy, so what language will we use? On Pentecost, everyone heard Peter speak in their own language. It didn't matter what language Peter spoke in, and it won't in heaven either. Furthermore, language will be transparent, so there won't be any "misunderstandings" or "misinterpretations" about what we say to one another. All communication will be a clear as the pure light of God. I can't wait for that either! And ponder the language of music! Music touches and moves our souls here on earth. Just imagine, if you can, what heavenly music will do to us! And some people fear they will get bored in an eternal heaven. Imagine that. Boredom is something I cannot imagine.

One of the reasons boredom is not possible is because the depths of love are limitless. Given any love affair on earth, one wishes for eternity to explore its dimensions. No matter how long our lives on earth, those of us in love with another want it to last forever. And so it will be in our love for God. The day after eternity will find us asking for more "time" to explore and increasingly experience this love.

Of course time is meaningless in heaven. There is no past, no future. This is probably something my cat knows about more than me. He never seems to ruminate about yesterday and there's no evidence he is planning for tomorrow. He is always in the present. I look at him and wonder if he is bored. I know he doesn't know boredom, since he is ever living in the here and now in which there is no time. An animal teaches me about heaven. Imagine that.

The love fostered on earth is reasonably expected to last forever. The martyrs under the altar in Revelation are aware of what's happening on earth. The "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12) are aware of our trials here on earth. I don't believe heaven is a state of quarantine, but, as said above, a state of being where nothing is hidden. However, how we respond to the events on earth from a heavenly perspective will certainly be quite different from how we responded from an earthly perspective. When you arrive in heaven before the end of time, before the establishment of the "new earth and new heaven," will you not be concerned with those you left behind? Moses and Elijah went to the heavenly realms, then appeared with Christ during His transfiguration to discuss with Him His incarnational mission. Will your concern with loved ones on the earth mar your heavenly bliss? Will your experience of heaven be compromised by worry for those on earth?

This is another place where we must abandon our earthly definitions of "worry" and "concern." On earth we may have no one to worry with us or to provide the encouragement we need and seek. That will not be the case in heaven, surrounded by zillions of angels, other humans and the light of God Himself. We will see Christ "face to face," not through faith as on earth. The psalms speak of the "roads to Zion" being in our hearts. So our heavenly adventure begins here. God is not in heaven; heaven is in God, since nothing can contain Him. Roads on earth that are no longer useful and lead to nowhere are not maintained and deteriorate. We pray for God's wisdom in identifying the road to Zion (the heavenly Jerusalem) and so must give careful attentiveness to maintaining it. That road is Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. And that road begins here, not after we leave this earth.

Despite these musings, that are only written and shared as through a dark glass, we can be assured that we are now on the road to the heavenly realm. That is, as Christ declared, a narrow one and "few find it." I suggest that the reason few find it is not because it is esoteric or hidden, requiring "enlightenment" or a degree of spiritual development achieved by following spiritual disciplines. After all, the kingdom of God is free to all, regardless of intellect, self-discipline or study. For example, there exists a lot of literature asserting that those who kill themselves (suicide) cannot enter the heavenly realm since they have taken a life that, according to the biblical teachings, are not theirs, but "bought with a price" by the Christ. Such teachings are, of course, a great source of sorrow and angst by those whose loved ones did themselves in. We are also cautioned by biblical teachings to refrain from judgment about which we know little. The "thief" hanging on a Roman execution cross next to Jesus only asked to be remembered by Him. Jesus told him he would be in paradise that very day. We don't know when the actual repentance that clears our road to Zion occurs in anyone's heart. I'm very familiar with the literature recording people's thoughts at their time of suicide that failed to result in death. Some said their attempted suicide was a gesture of repentance. Others said that they repentented at the moment of their attempt at killing themselves and were happy they remained alive. If they had succeeded in destroying their earthly bodies, what would our merciful and loving God tell them? I don't know but have an idea. That idea isn't based on any theological polemics, but rather on my experience of heaven and of God on this earthly road to Zion.

The trails deer leave through the forest are hidden to the untrained eyes. Others taught me to see them, along with the tracks of many other animals. As I walk through the forests these previously hidden trails jump out at me. Their paths are quite narrow yet so clear. Anyone intent on pursuing a destination, motivated by love, will learn to read the landmarks in this life. I feel joy when I see the narrow trails of animals through the woods since I am participating in their lives. It's a taste of the "happy hunting grounds" where the end of the trail doesn't result of a taking of life but rather of a merging of two different worlds. One such hunts resulted in finding an orphaned deer whose mother laid dead by the roadside. The fawn imprinted on me as his mother and became a member of my household. He left when he was ready. A couple of years later a full grown buck appeared in my back yard. Cautiously, he accepted hand-fed food. Although "wild," he remembered our bond and risked saying hello to us. That was a heavenly touch. I'm sure his progeny still roams the forests today.

There is joy in Christ's words, "I am with you always, even to the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20). That is a taste of heaven, and if we cannot taste it here, how can we be expected to taste it in the hereafter? The kingdom of God is the "pearl of great cost," and Christ was clear that this is within us, here and now. When you think about it, we know a lot more about heaven than we think we do. And that's a good thing, since it means we know a lot more about God than we think we do. We have experienced His blessings and love and intervention on this earth to a greater degree than we realize. And no matter how much we believe we realized it, the reality of it transcends our awareness a zillion fold. In heaven, we will learn a bit more about this, and it will take us forever to learn it all. Thank God heaven is forever.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
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Spiritual Resource Services  © October 29, 2006

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