Have you ever stood on an ocean beach and felt an electric charge as another world brushed against your skin? Or stood in a forest and felt the thinness of reality, knowing there was something so much more hovering just out of view? Have you ever walked down the street or through the mall at Christmas time, taken in the beauty and wonder all around you, and felt like, even though your feet were right there on the tile or pavement beneath you, your head was skimming somewhere else altogether?
How close are we to heaven, right here and now?
I was listening to an audiobook recently by N.T. Wright, an incredible theologian who is at once conservative, open, and not afraid to say something when everyone else is wrong.(1) He was explaining the three major viewpoints on heaven and God’s proximity to us, and he noted that many of us throughout history have chosen the wrong view. There’s the view called pantheism or its more conservative brother panentheism. The pantheist view says that God is the universe, or at least that the universe is a part of God. That He is everything, and that everything is Him. Panentheism, meanwhile, takes the stance that God is bigger than and distinct from the universe, existing outside of time and space, but that he is also in everything that exists and everything that has existed throughout history. (If I can be accused of having leaned towards a questionable perspective, this would be it for me.)
The view most people have accepted throughout history, though, whether they realized it or not, was the view that God was far away from our world. That he is a distant figure who is absent from our existence on a daily basis. This is one reason why miracles then are so startling. Because, if God is far away and separated from us, then He must pierce into our reality to perform these miracles, breaking the natural laws as He does so. This view, in its purest form, is called deism. But it has been accepted by a great many Christians throughout history as well, even if in a slightly diluted form. (God is sitting on His throne in heaven, after all, so how can he truly be here? Or consider the song “From a Distance” by Bette Midler, which she saw as a very spiritual work.) At its heart, this view states that there is a barrier or a gulf between us and God. Or, perhaps, if that’s too extreme for some views, then you could say a membrane. God can pierce it, and He can enter our world, but He does so only in extreme circumstances – such as miraculous events. (This could arguably be the view, also, of many Intelligent Design theorists who state that God broke into our world to create life, or to advance life at the Cambrian explosion. Don’t get me wrong: I am very sympathetic to the ID folks, and enjoy their writings immensely. I’m just saying this could potentially be seen as at least one of their viewpoints.)
But there is a third view as well. In this view, heaven and earth overlap. While they are not necessarily constantly and consistently enmeshed, as in panentheism or the more extreme pantheism, they are not separated by a great gulf or boundary as in deism and its variants.
It’s like our realm is a seashore. We are the sand, piled one grain upon another as we jostle about in this material existence. Perhaps we are dry. Perhaps we feel alone, even surrounded by millions or billions of other grains. But then the ocean surf comes rushing in, and it changes everything.
Suddenly we are plucked up from our dry bed of sand and swirled in a tide of unrelenting surf, reshaping and cleansing and purging everything as it goes. We are soaked in the presence of this otherworldly force as it invades our same-old dry shore. It envelopes us. Consumes us. Washes us. And when it sets us back down on the seashore, we carry its essence with us, spreading it to others. This has another effect as well: after we’ve been touched by this force, it also unifies us with the other grains all around us.
Of course, this analogy will only go so far. We are conscious beings, after all, and not mere grains of sand. The ocean, likewise, isn’t just a force or a place: the ocean is God. And He knows each of those countless grains of sand. We can run away from that surf. We can quake in fear at its coming. We can curse its name and call it evil and build up defenses against it. Or we can run to it. We can choose to submerse ourselves in it. We can choose to never go back to being dry grains of sand again. And, even when the whole world is blistering dry around us, we can carry that presence with us wherever we go. We can be the conduits of Heaven to others.
And, one other thing this analogy shows us: when you are the sand, no matter how dry you feel, the surf is never far away.
What if we sought to find that surf wherever we went, or bring it with us if it was missing? What if we looked to find surprising bursts of heaven in the most unlikely of places? What if we decided we would never be dry again?
I’ve heard it said that heaven is just an ocean surf away. Maybe that’s closer to truth than I thought.
I h0pe you liked this (and be sure to share it if you did!) It’s been way too long since last we talked. Subscribe if you want to get the next one, and, if you haven’t already, check out my book Of Hope and Cancer on Amazon! It’s only $2.99 for the eBook, so it’s a cheap way to get some hope. Have a great day, and God bless you until next time!
1. Simply Christian by N.T. Wright