Monday, November 30, 2015

The metaphors of heaven

Revelation 21:1-6, All Saints Sunday B, November 1, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
My father’s father passed away on my thirteenth birthday. While my father’s grief was still fresh, he had a dream of heaven. He fully believes that this vision came directly from God. 

In this vision, my father saw my grandfather in a dorm room, not unlike where my father stayed at the University of Illinois. Grandpa was sitting near his desk, leaning back in a chair reading. Grandpa was content.

Then Walter Payton, the famous Bears player, walked by. He was wearing street clothes, yet he had a football in his hand. Walter leaned in the open dorm doorway and said, “Jack, do you want to go to the tv room with me and watch some football?” My grandpa hopped out of his chair and went along. 

Not too long later, my dad had another dream which was a continuation of this vision. This time, Grandpa was in the cafeteria. He had a tray of food and turned to look where to sit. He saw Abraham Lincoln eating alone, so my grandfather sat down with him. I can only imagine what sort of conversation they had.

For my grandfather, my father, and me, our years in college were like heaven. Being able to read all day, spend time with friends, and have conversations with important people is what it is all about. Yet, when my father described these visions to me, he made it clear that he did not believe that all of heaven is one dorm or even one college. People have their own ideas of what is the perfect place to be. For my dad, this vision is not a literal description of what heaven is like. 

What this vision did for my father, though, is provide some comfort. Even to this day, my dad looks back on these visions with fondness. He knows that his dad is in a better place. He knows that Grandpa is with God. 

To some degree, I think this is what the book of Revelation is all about. It does not describe literally how the world will end, nor does it describe literally what heaven will be like. Instead, it speaks in coded symbolism. Scholars can interpret some of those symbols based on the text’s original context, yet others remain a mystery. Even so, I’m not sure if deciphering the code is the point. If you step back and look at the bigger picture, I believe that the book of Revelation is meant to provide some degree of comfort.

With all this in mind, I am still curious about what John of Patmos means when he says that he saw “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (v. 1) and that God is “making all things new” (v. 5). This author is speaking truth, even if he is not speaking fact. What does a new heaven and a new earth look like?

One commentator online says that the best way to understand this is to read C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. More specifically, The Last Battle describes the end of the Old Narnia and the beginning of New Narnia. Just like Revelation and my Dad’s vision, C. S. Lewis is using metaphor to describe what heaven will be like. Because he wrote a fictional novel, he had more freedom to express his ideas in beautiful, figurative language. Even though Lewis is describing the end of a made up world full of talking animals, his descriptions are spot on. Replace “Narnia” with “Earth” and you get the point.

Lewis describes a severe scene in Old Narnia. A monkey dressed up a donkey in a lion’s skin and tried to pass him off as Aslan, the Jesus figure in these tales. This leads to an epic battle between the true Narnians and the Calormenes who worship an idol. The last king of Narnia left the battle’s end as he saw a mysterious door and walked through it. As he entered New Narnia, he met all of the good kings who had died before him. All of these people were mysteriously ageless, no matter if they died young or old.

Then Aslan appeared in the doorway and called all of creation from Old Narnia to him. He judged these creatures one at a time, although it seemed to not last very long. Aslan sent the wicked into eternal darkness and invited the good through the doorway. Once everyone welcome into New Narnia had entered, King Peter closed the mysterious doorway and took out the key. Old Narnia was gone, and it was time for them all to experience New Narnia. “Come further in! Come further up!” (p. 181) Aslan bellowed.

As the characters moved in and looked around, they marveled at how much everything was so much like Old Narnia while also being so different. The colors were brighter and deeper. The mountain range looked further away and yet…somehow… “more like the real thing.” (p. 193) The land that they had previously experienced was only a shadow of the real dream where they were now.

One of the characters exclaimed, “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the Old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this…Come further up, come further in!” (p. 196) 

Then everyone began to run. They felt the rush of air and the joy of moving, yet they never became out of breath or sore. They realized that they could not feel afraid, nor angry, nor sad. They found all of the beloved people and creatures they had met on their previous journeys. This New Narnia truly was heaven, and their new journey had just begun!

We may not know exactly what a new heaven and a new earth will be like, yet we can hope. We can hope that it will be just as exhilarating as C. S. Lewis describes. Maybe everything will be like it was, but richer, deeper, and brighter. No matter what, at the time that we experience heaven, it will be more of everything good because we will be with God. Surrounded by God's love like we have never experienced before, it must be worth it. We hope for the future because of God's promises! Amen.

1 comment:

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