So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
(2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
I’m afraid we want heaven now. Some of us think we deserve it, somehow, though we would not say such things in so many words. Some of us expect that it should be the case, and life seems a constant disappointment. Still others think heaven is something to be grasped, realized by hard work and ingenuity matched with kindness and fairness.
We arrive at these places because the longing for heaven is very real. C.S. Lewis speaks of it as a “shy, persistent, inner voice” that leads us to dissatisfaction with our present reality. The ways of looking at the world described above are idols we have been taught to cling to, or that we have come by naturally even.
Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies of Progress or Creative Evolution themselves bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere. When they want to convince you that earth is your home, notice how they set about it. They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now. Finally, lest your longing for the [eternal] should awake and spoil the whole affair, they use any rhetoric that comes to hand to keep out of your mind the recollection that even if all the happiness they promised could come to man on earth, yet still each generation would lose it by death, including the last generation of all, and the whole story would be nothing, not even a story, for ever and ever. — C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”
We could tinker with Lewis’ theology here and there. Earth is in fact our home. You see, heaven is not the aim of the Lord’s prayer. It’s rather that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. When we pray that earth should be like heaven, we do so because we know that it is good to have a good king rather than a bad one. We know that with a good governor, all the people prosper.
And we know, too, that we can work for heaven on earth with real results. Indeed, Scripture commands that we pursue a world order with heaven as our guide. That is, we are to pursue justice and righteousness, to form a society that reflects God’s values. How we choose to live together matters. Of course, it does.
But Lewis’ main point stands. We’re never going to arrive at heaven on earth. We’re never going to achieve the fullness of God’s will here and now. We can push back against the curse; but only Jesus will ever truly lift it.
So what does that mean for us?
First, it means we need the rude awakening of adjusted expectations. Search your own heart and ask yourself if you somehow simply expect life to go well. Or ask yourself in a moment of honesty if you feel that you deserve life to go well for you. Second, and relatedly, it means that we ought not to be fooled by anyone who promises (usually not explicitly) that they will take you to a kind of promised land now or soon if only you believe in their cause.
But third, it means the decisions we make now matter. You might be tempted to think that, because we can’t achieve utopia that it’s not worth working for at all, that it’s a lost cause. But heaven is the object of the Lord’s prayer—though not heaven specifically. It’s rather that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. When we pray that earth should be like heaven, we do so because we know that it is good to have a good king rather than a bad one. We know that with a good governor, all the people prosper. We know that, even if we cannot achieve heaven, we can make earth more like heaven by the way we choose to live.
Fourth, knowing that only Christ can bring in the fullness of God’s kingdom—and trusting that he will do so—puts this life in perspective. The more we fix our gaze on eternity, the more we see that the afflictions of this world really are light and momentary. Or, as the writer of Ecclesiastes says, a mere vapor.
Fix your eyes on heaven, set your expectations accordingly, and work accordingly.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Until then, teach us to fix our eyes upon you and the world to come, that the will of the Father would be done on earth as it is in heaven.