Sunday, February 01, 2009

Thoughts on Heaven

I have come to have a very different view of death than I did when I was much younger. I heard the tragic news today that a relative of some relatives passed away today. I am saddened by his passing, for his family, but as far as he's concerned, I envy his condition. He's done...finished. The race is over, and he's finally free from this world.

That sounds depressing and morose, but it isn't. I truly long to be gone from this place. I love it, and I love my family and friends, and look forward to many years more of enjoying them and enjoying all that life has to offer, but there is no doubt that I see death as something to be embraced. When you die, it's finished, praise be to God!

This life is hard. Let's face it. We're continually running into disappointments, sadness, illness and the like. But thankfully, it's not all like that. We have the joy of people, the gift of simple pleasures, the gift of a beautiful day where all seems to be made to order. Lewis said often in his letters and writing that it is on those days where he finds himself longing for heaven most. It's not on the days that are dark and dismal, filled with despair that he feels the longing for heaven--it's on the days where he believes he can hear an echo of that far away country that awakens a longing deep within that calls to him to enter.

I'm the exact opposite, and for awhile, upon reading what Lewis wrote, I felt that I should view it as he does. But I'm not Lewis. It's when life is most hard and difficult, when I'm most keenly aware of my shortcomings, when I feel most lonely or depressed that I long for heaven most. I desire to be free of this world, and long to cross over. I embrace this life as my journey, but there are times when I long for it to be over, and today, I happen to envy the man who passed away. He's in a far better place than we can know. But for now, we are called to run the race. I'll just be incredibly happy when I cross the finish line.

May that time be many years from now.


Scott Lyons said...

I'm mostly thinking out loud here, Dan, so don't take this as a rebuttal of "I'm not Lewis," though it may sound like it. Obviously your feelings are more complex than this post and I think I largely understand where you're coming from. For instance, in the throes of my most recent bout of agonizing headache pain, I wanted nothing more than relief and emotionally responded by wishing God would simply take my life to doubting the whole kit and caboodle. I am a weak man. I understand the desire to be released from the struggles of this life.

With that being said, your post brought to mind Hamlet's soliloquy as he ponders suicide and he balks because he does not know what lies beyond death - "who knows what dreams may come?" Who knows if death will bring peace? What if it doesn't?

That sounds strange coming from someone who believes in Life, in He Who Is, I suppose. But what I'm trying to get at is that the simple beauty of Lewis's idea is that it is in the moments when life seems brightest that he wants more of it, more Life. To me that seems like perfectly good sense. (I love the spoonful of ice cream at Baskin-Robbins, therefore I want the whole cone. [Not that our desire for heaven can be viewed as avarice.]) But, conversely, perhaps death is no escape if we view it as such, if we reject the suffering that leads to our sanctification/salvation. Or, to put it differently, life is hard, but perhaps Life is even harder. For example, in Lewis's The Great Divorce, the very blades of grass of paradise injured the feet of the narrator (one of the characters?) - it was too hard, too real for him. He hadn't been prepared for the experience and so it was overwhelming, painfully so. And the only thing he wanted was to be rid of it. Again, simply insufficient metaphors, and I don't intend to say that the Beatific Vision is suffering. Not necessarily, at least.

But I must die before I can live. And I'm not convinced that the physical process of death itself can always achieve the necessary death that precedes life.

Dan said...

I agree completely with what you wrote, but even I believe Christ was relieved, when He said, "It is finished." That's all I'm saying--I'm glad we don't live forever, here on earth, and I'll be glad to go home, but very willing to embrace life here, while God wills it for me, and enter into suffering as much as God gives me the grace to do so, which is what so much of my reading has been dedicated to lately.

I really have enjoyed the Lewis Letters so much. This is rather apropos:

"Pain is terrible, but surely you need not have fear as well? Can you not see death as the friend and deliverer? It means stripping off that body which is tormenting you: like taking off a hair-shirt or getting out of a dungeon. What is there to be afraid of? You have long attempted (and none of us does more) a Christian life. Your sins are confessed and absolved. Has this world been so kind to you that you should leave it with regret? There are better things ahead than any we leave behind."

That's all I'm saying. I won't regret leaving this world. I view it as Lewis views the world: If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.

That's where I am I think about life and death. It's time to trudge on, but the longer I live, the less attachment I have to this painful world, which I think is much of the point why we're here in the first place, at least I think so.

Scott Lyons said...

Excellent, Dan. Good stuff there. Pain, suffering - emotional and physical - our struggle with sin, our disappointments and little deaths, all help us with our dying, with our detachment from this life. And we rejoice even in their "severe mercies" as we begin to see their true work in our lives. So they say. : )

I'm ready too, brother.