.Paradise delighted me as much by its peacefulness as by its beauty: in it there resides a beauty that has no spot; in it exists a peacefulness that knows no fear. How blessed is that person accounted worthy to receive it, if not by right, yet at least by grace; if not because of good works, yet at least through mercy. St. Ephrem the Syrian, "The Hymns on Paradise"
French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal believed that there is a God-shaped vacuum in all of us that can only be filled by God. In other words, there exists at the very core of our being a sense of eternity, (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:11) a yearning for something that will last beyond our temporary life here on earth. But what is it? We all talk about living forever and going to heaven, but most of us hardly know how to get there. All we know is that there has to be more to our existence than the daily troubles and anxieties of living. If we are hardwired to need God and to long for the eternal, how does that help us get through the mundane duties of our life now. Can heaven help us?
Clinging to the Old, Hoping for the New
We are anchored to the earth beneath our feet. We come from it and it cannot be any other way. Most us want to get to heaven, but not yet. Even with all its miseries, this life is hard to let go of. Life is like that. We know of the awesome promises of God for a life that will have indescribable and eternal joy, yet we hang on to any shred of happiness here on earth. We tend to forget God and rely too heavily on a life that is only fading away. But God wants us to ache for the permanent, unseen hope of life to come. You see, once Adam and Eve messed everything up by their disobedience, God allowed things to deteriorate. Pain, suffering and death seeped into our world, not because God is some sadistic being, but because He wants us to desire a better life-a new home, the one He intended for us from the beginning. But this is so hard to do.
The ancient Church writers often spoke of the need for detachment from this life. We need to be weaned off of life on earth, so that we can begin to savor life in God's kingdom. The setbacks we face are a reminder for us not to store up treasures here on earth. God allows things to go wrong so that we can remove ourselves from our attachment even to life itself. Otherwise we would be content to spend eternity separated from God in a decaying world.
St. Theognostos writes "the longing for transient things will not drag you earthwards if you keep your mind on the things in heaven; but when you are shackled by an attachment to earthly things you are like an eagle caught in a trap by its claw and prevented from flying. Regard all you possess as trash in the hope of better things. Shake off even your body when the time comes, and follow the angel of God that takes you from it."
Weaning ourselves off this life though isn't easy. Unfortunately, most of the time we can't even handle the minor inconveniences of life. We throw our hands in the air and wonder why God allowed us to have a fender-bender or why our vacation plans were ruined or how come we lost out on yet another promotion. How hypocritical we have become! God has to pry our tight grip off the stuff of this life to bring us to His kingdom. Our faith is nothing more than an opiate to quench our selfish wants. Our desire is not for God but for what He can do for us. And so until our love for God is more valuable than everything else, we will continue to fight to the death to remain in this life and let heaven wait.
So does this mean that we forget about our families, our jobs, the mortgage and the roof that needs repairing? No, of course not. We can't sit around with Bibles in our hands, being busybodies and lazy waiting for God to bring us home. We are expected to work for the kingdom come and for food to put on the table, providing not only for our families but also for those in need. God created the heavens and earth for our enjoyment. God gives us life to savor His great glory now. It is the way we live our lives faithfully and in obedience to God now that glorifies God's kingdom come.
Never Satisfied, Always Hopeful
This life is designed in such a way not to satisfy. Perfect security and peace of mind cannot be found on this earth. We expect to receive everything we long for now. But we don't. We still get sick, everything still breaks down when we can least afford it, and anything that can go wrong usually does. Frustration seems permanent at times. The good news is that none of these things, not even death, can keep us from God when we live according to His will.
The amazing irony is that the moment we learn to leave this life is when we begin to actually enjoy it and live it to the fullest. St. Maximos the Confessor says that when we understand that this life is nothing but a rehearsal for death, we stop being greedy for the things of this life and start tasting the blessings of eternal life now.
Paradise Lost, Eternity Found
We live our lives always thinking of the future and it is no different with our belief in a heaven. Except God wants us to be heavenly-minded while we are still on earth because the Kingdom of God begins now. God wants us to know the life-giving Christ while we are still alive because it is in Christ that the Kingdom is revealed: "This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (John 17:3 NASB).
Heaven is where we get to see God face to face and that is the most awesome treasure we could ever find. Christ compared the kingdom of heaven to a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (cf. Matthew 13:44). The joy of knowing we will be in God's kingdom should trump anything and everything else in this life. Everything else should be counted as a loss compared to the knowledge that we will be with Christ in his kingdom forever. Heaven can help us.
John Kapsalis has an M.T.S from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.