Faith : Heaven Is…?
It was one of the first two cassette tapes – yes, cassette tapes – that made up my own venture into the world of grown-up music. For my birthday (I won’t say which one) I carefully selected The Bangles Different Light (still love it) and Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven Is a Place on Earth (not so much). But as we consider the topic of heaven, I can’t help but revisit Carlisle’s sheep-like voice wibbling about heaven as a place on earth. ‘Ooh baby do you know what that’s worth, we’ll make heaven a place on earth’ and I wonder, was she actually onto something?
My grandmother, my last remaining grandparent, passed away earlier this year. She left a fantastic legacy and lived a full, rich life. At her request, her funeral focused on the fact that she was going to a better place; that her true home was heaven.
But what is heaven? It’s one of those things that you don’t really think about until moments like a funeral, and it certainly gives you a jolt to imagine an existence beyond this one. Perhaps it’s too awkward to think about often, but let’s take a moment and give our imagination some room to grow.
Before he was a teacher, my dad worked in a publishing factory. They used airbrushing and consequently my dad adopted these techniques and painted some huge multi-coloured abstracts, which decorated the walls of our apartment. They had enough form to be recognised as places, but it wasn’t until my teens that I thought to ask him what these pictures were of. ‘Heaven,’ he replied.
I have to admit I was pretty surprised; the hard black outlines and jagged edges were not the peaceful and serene scenes I had associated with the notion of heaven. They were fierce, dramatic and vibrant, with huge heights and crevices.
It got me thinking. Everyone must have their own special, unique impression of what heaven is. How exciting it would be to put all those pieces together to create a bigger, wilder idea of what heaven could be.
It’s a scent from GAP I’ve been wearing since I was 18, it’s a super club here in London, it’s how my parents describe their recent trip to Hawaii (jealous much?!) and it’s the word uttered after a mouthful of particularly good chocolate mousse.
Place, state of being, our true home – what is this thing we call heaven? Does it even have any currency in our world today? Nowadays if I’m involved in a conversation about heaven, it’s usually because someone is asking if they are exempt from it for one reason or another. No one seems to disagree about it being a place they want to be, though, so therefore we have a shared subconscious understanding that it must be great.
The bible states that God wants everyone to be saved and come to a knowledge of truth (1 Timothy 2:4). I’m not going to get into a theological debate about who gets into heaven and who doesn’t – plenty of other people consider this more deeply and compassionately than I ever could – but I do want to explore and imagine what heaven means for us on earth.
For a Christian, belief in heaven is, as C.S. Lewis puts it in The Great Divorce, not so much about wishful thinking but thoughtful wishing.
Jesus talked frequently about ‘the kingdom of God’ and often said that it was near, it was coming and that we would see it. The Lord’s Prayer also states, paraphrasing the words of Jesus Himself, ‘Let your will be done, on earth as in heaven.’
Can we therefore begin to imagine that heaven might be experienced here on earth?
I’m not just talking about the miraculous (although as Lulu explored in a previous post, this isn’t always what we expect), but our everyday lives, supercharged by God.
Jesus says the kingdom of God is already among us (Luke 17:21). By choosing to follow God and letting Him into our lives, perhaps we are capturing a bit of heaven right here on earth. What does that mean practically? It means that while we can be agents of change, comfort and creativity on our own, when we let God take the reins, we have the potential to make things even better, bigger, brighter.
Heaven therefore is not the place of big white clouds filled with Stepford wives, where we just hang around being beautiful and bored. It is a state of action – and accessible to us now. It is not about us becoming less of ourselves, but more.
This world can seem far from heavenly at times. A quick flick through a newspaper is enough to make us despair at the state this world is in; sometimes it’s hard to imagine how things could ever get better.
But the Christian faith is about trusting God and all that He has promised to do, despite what we see all around us. Some people express this as ‘the now and the not yet’. We wait for the day when the old things will pass away and there will be no more pain, crying or death (Revelation 21:4). But today we can hold onto the hope that Jesus can help each of us, in the enduring words of Belinda Carlisle, to ‘make heaven a place on earth.’
Words by Madeleine Miller
Photography by Estera Kluczenko