My friend knew I felt displaced in life—my ambitions and understanding of things suspended by a yoke of uncertainty—and so he asked earnestly, “So now what? What are you planning? What do you desire?”
I bit down on my sandwich and said with a longing, “I just want to be home.”
It was a fine answer for my friend, and it struck him with a nostalgia for his home in Nebraska where friends and family were left behind. It was pleasant to see him dream. They say home is where the heart is, so I almost couldn’t disturb the peace. But I did. And I did so at the risk of being misunderstood as gothic, or worse, suicidal. It is a lonely thing to be misunderstood, which is why I was surprised to have said anything at all.
What I meant was I wanted to be home home, you know, in paradise with my Jesus. You don’t usually hear this kind of talk except from the deathbed, right?
I don’t often ache for heaven, though I do for His presence; lately, the two are one in the same. If I think long and hard enough I am sure to find a reason and rhyme behind this aggression for eternity. Perhaps it is provoked by the fact that most of my closest friends are either in full-time ministry or married (or on the cusp). I kind of assumed by this age God would afford me an intrepid life for the Gospel off doing missionary work in an exotic land to an unreached people group. I would want Him to.
I had to backtrack to explain to my friend that what I meant was something inspired out of Philippians 1:23-24 “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”
I cannot completely relate to Paul here since there seems to be an asterisk where the phrase ‘on your account’ is. I am not sure to whom I could or should say that to. Marriage would provide an easy answer in the wife. So would being a pastor in the congregant. I think the absence of an obvious answer allows me to relish in the far better—to depart and be with Christ.
C.S. Lewis once said, “If I find within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.” It is an uneasy aching, however. Paul wrote this verse while in prison with execution looming. I am young. There is so much life ahead of me to dwell on the premature. But there is nothing premature about aching for the presence of God. Nor could I say I truly understand the intent of eternity if I did not know the presence of God enough to ache for Him now. It would simply be a jargon of religious plurality for Paul to say I desire to depart…and then leave it open-ended to the imagination of someplace, such as a Nirvana or purgatory.
Every religion offers an afterlife. An afterplace. So does Christianity. However, the central message of the Gospel is not about a destination more so than it is about reconciliation. While on the cross Christ turns to the thief next to him and affirms him, “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Quite simply, the judgment and reward of eternity is not someplace but Someone.
All matter is corruptible, prone to depreciation and boredom. Pleasures fade. Beauty ages. There is nothing spectacular that isn’t susceptible to becoming common. And, if our highest imagination of heaven is materialistic, then our heaven is bastardized: for the luster of emerald studded gates will dull; streets of gold will turn pedestrian; the host of angelic creatures will be a tired zoo; and the mansion on the hill will rot into a den of pointlessness. In light of eternity, how long can any of these things amuse us for? It is like a child watching a balloon slowly deflate alongside his happiness. If the highest pleasures and amusements in the afterlife cannot by nature last for an eternity, eternity will quickly become something hellish. Heaven left to the invention of man is soon enough damned by man’s discontent for the common. The last thing you would want is to ask for all eternity, so now what?
The depravity of man is most profound and absurd in its belief that God merely exists in paradise but is not the Object of it.
The substance of the Gospel is that it offers an imperishable paradise in Someone not something; because God by nature is incorruptible. The glory, majesty, splendor, wonder, and beauty of God can run circles around eternity. He can never become common. Our worship never exhausted. Eternal life is to pursue You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).
It is the joy of my salvation for my heart to ache for the presence of God—to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. I just want to be Home.