Thursday, February 22, 2018

Backwards Toward Heaven

My devotions this morning involved reading from Catherine of Genoa's Life and Teachings (in Devotional Classics). The subject was waiting on God to bring us to where God wants us to be in the plan God has. Within, I encountered this quote:
If we could see what we will receive in the life to come (as a reward for what we have done here), we would cease to occupy ourselves with anything but the things of heaven. But God, who desires that we see by faith and who desires that we not do good because of selfish motives, gives us this vision little by little, sufficient to the level of faith which we are capable. In this manner, God leads us into a greater vision of that which is to come until faith is no longer needed.
I read that and wondered. God offers us the "reward" of eternal life in the kingdom that never ends. But the vision of that reward is so small. There are only hints and glimpses of it in the New Testament. There are no strong affirmations of what that experience will be. We have the glorified life of the risen Christ as our only tangible hook upon which to hang our "heavenly" hat. There are slight inferences from Paul and Peter and a vision from the Revelation. Jesus gives us a rhetorical picture of bosom of Abraham and a promise of paradise. But many of our pictures of our heavenly reward, when held to the literal descriptions, are wrong.

And Catherine points a finger of accountability at these descriptions. We have created these images not out of a mature faith that has been revealed by God. They are like the scribbles of children given crayons for the first time. The bright colors do not truly convey the hues of radiance. The thin, stick-like proportions of humanity are not the full representations of God's infinite depth. The boxes and circles are not the grand throne and full expanse of the new heaven and new earth. We have drawn these with the limited understanding of perspective and space that are the obvious signs of our immature development.

Faith is not staking our claim on our plot of land for our heavenly home. Faith is living the eternal life here and now. Faith begins with the moment we grasp that we are not sufficient on our own to produce a better life for ourselves. It takes God through Jesus Christ by the work of the Holy Spirit. And from the moment we receive that grace that leads to faith, and increases our faith throughout our journey in grace, we are living the eternal life. Everything that we do - acts of worship, devotion, service, and witness - is part of the work of maturing our faith. God steps in on our short sighted and weak efforts to make something good and powerful. The Holy Spirit enables and empowers those efforts to create miraculous change within those works to produce glorious transformation within us. Our faith matures and grows.

And as our faith matures and grows, God reveals more of the picture of the eternal reward. Our understanding increases as God reveals to us the steps along the journey toward what God intends for our life after life after death. Those steps are intentional picking up our feet and allowing God to put them down where they need to be to move us along the Way. Or, to change the imagery, every step brings us to a higher place here and now to see over to what is next.

Offering heaven to a potential new convert is important. They should know that there is more to life than life here and now. But without focusing on the here and now where transformation begins and matters the most in preparing us to understand what is to come, we set them up to leave them as artists who never trade crayons for glory, stick figures for the multi-dimensional God - Father, Son, Holy Spirit; infinite and personal, transcendent and incarnational, just and gracious.