When I was about eight years old I reluctantly put on my first pair of eye glasses. At first they gave me a headache, everything looked far too big, I felt like the ground was too far away and somehow separated from my feet, and I just looked way too geeky to be seen in public. ‘No,’ I thought, ‘there’s no way this is happening.’ As we left Costco, I looked at my feet and focused on walking, clutching my mother’s arm and condemning my third grade teacher for saying anything in first place–I could see the chalkboard just fine if I squinted hard enough. By the time we were on the road, I could focus less on walking and more on getting acquainted with this new world I was seeing through glass lenses. Everything was brilliant. I could make out the facial expressions of the drivers whooshing past, I could read freeway exit signs, who knew Magnolia Street went down so far? Best of all were the trees. No longer were they green blobs that went unnoticed, they were detailed beings, alive with the wind, each leaf stretching and pulling in a different direction. “Mom! I see the leaves on the trees!!” is a phrase my mother will always repeat when telling this story. My eyes were opened and the headache was only temporary compared to the many caused by straining to see.
But we love to strain. We love to pick apart, magnify, and scrutinize. I could not accept this “new world” my glasses were showing me. I wasn’t used to it, it wasn’t good compared to the best I’d known without them. I can’t likely accept heaven, God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, because how in the world can it be better than the best than I’ve experienced? Even if it is better, there isn’t much desire to know. I’ll accept what I’ve already seen.
Then comes the headache. I’ve magnified to the point of exhaustion.
In C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, Ghosts are encountered by Spirits that were former acquaintances. They were sent to lead them into Heaven. The second encounter that is written is observed by the main character. He silently observes two desirably intellectual fellows as they politely quarrel. The Ghost is well versed in Theology, has written papers upon papers, taught class upon class, read books upon books. He has determined, that God is merely spiritual: an entity of goodness and peace and not at all literal. This Ghost, does not much like, or dare go so far as to accept that his honest beliefs are betrayals. He has searched and he knows! How could he be wrong? And how could the Spirit, a former intellect, tell him he was so?
As they converse of the impossibility of Heaven, frustration grows:
‘No,’ said the [Spirit]. ‘I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your own talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God.’
And then the Ghost said,
‘Ah, but we must all interpret those beautiful words in our own way! For me there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? “Prove all things”… to travel hopefully is better than to arrive.’
To which the Spirit said,
‘If that were true, and known to be true how could anyone travel hopefully? There would be nothing to hope for.’
The Ghost again,
‘But you must feel yourself that there is something stifling about the idea of finality? Stagnation, my dear boy, what is more soul-destroying than stagnation?’
Take is away Spirit man,
‘You think that, because hitherto you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect. I will bring you where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched.’
At my church we just finished a series on Heaven and Hell–a hard sermon to swallow. Have you ever heard “Heaven seems boring,” “Heaven seems too eccentric,” “I just don’t understand?” I come to these conclusions far too often after long discussions of Heaven. I suppose it’s easier though, every time, to accept the pursuit and not the answer. To the Ghost in The Great Divorce, intellect and pursuit of knowledge was not worth giving up in order to come to so brilliant an answer as quenched thirst. It seems because we have never experienced a place where there is no weariness, no heartache, no unmet desire, no feelings of being unloved, we can’t accept it. We feel we MUST figure out some other answer based on our own experience.
I myself find that I often get sucked into the side of the seemingly intellectual. I magnify and centralize so much that I can’t see the bigger picture around me. I scrutinize the concept of Heaven, the concept of God, and the concept of eternity so much, trying to find answers based on my blinded experience, that I simply forget that none of this is about me.. It is about God and His purpose. It must be much better, much more fulfilling, much more peaceful, to abandon oneself, than to attempt to outsmart God. It is a pursuit that we have fallen in love with, but a grueling journey with no end. Much like my mother told me constantly through my adolescence that I did not know everything, God tells me now. I have no capacity to understand a creator, because I am the creation.
Yet, the brilliant thing is, God knew this. And so, He became flesh… that He might allow us to have a glimpse of his awesomeness. He died, so that we might be allowed to catch only a glimpse of his love for us. He rose, so that we could see a small, small aspect of eternity, and of his power.
Every time I take off my glasses for more than five minutes the result is a never ending, pounding headache. Every time we trade our trust for our experience, there comes that headache that we just love. Don’t outsmart. Rest.