Christians are told there is an actual place called Heaven. We have a very hard time picturing it because everything we have experienced throughout our lives is only a pale image of the real thing. We take it on faith that Heaven is real, but how do we really know what it is like?
We imagine images such as the one above: ethereal, somewhat fanciful, perhaps. We really don’t know. We’re so tied to this world; our imaginations are so limited. C. S. Lewis described it this way in his Mere Christianity:
Most of us find it very difficult to want “Heaven” at all—except in so far as “Heaven” means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world.
Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognise it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.
There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.
It’s at this point in the book that Lewis reaches into his storehouse of pithiness to give us the quote that so many have used to express the longing in their hearts:
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.
Those outside the faith often scoff at Christians’ belief in the reality of Heaven, but Lewis tells us not to let that attitude affect us. “There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps.'” I’m sure we’ve all heard such sentiments. “The answer to such people,” Lewis counsels, “is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.” He continues,
All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. . . . People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.
Those who know Christ know that no words can adequately describe what Heaven will be like. Yet we know it is so unimaginably wonderful that it might be easy to fix our hopes on the place itself rather than on the One who inhabits the place. Some of us have heard well-meaning preachers try to pull congregations to the altar by laying out the hope of Heaven. We can legitimately be concerned that the desire for Heaven will be primary and the desire for the Christ of Heaven will be on the periphery.
I do believe that is a real problem, but only for those who have never come to grips with the essence of the Gospel: recognition of sin; repentance; full faith in the atonement of Christ on the Cross; the forgiveness of sins; a life of obedience out of a heart of gratitude for receiving unmerited love, grace, and mercy. Those who have gone through that process of genuine salvation have their priorities right. In Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, he puts it this way:
“We are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so.”
“Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.”
And seeing God is what Heaven is all about. If there is anything less than that desire in our heart, then our heart is not pure. May we all have that pure desire.