Homily by MWS G.E. Failes, 30th March, 1995


Have you ever wondered where heaven is? I suppose people have asked this question ever since they began to acknowledge that there was one. Where do we go after we die? Is heaven here on this earth, or perhaps it is located on another planet?
I do not know where heaven is. I could add, "I don't think it is anywhere, for I do not think the question has an answer". It belongs to a group of meaningless word collections in which one is asked to describe a phenomenon in terms, which do not apply to it. The very question itself prohibits an answer. For some other examples, try to answer the following. How wide is electricity? How large is temperature? How hot is time? When is weight?

In electricity we can measure the voltage and current strength of an electric current. If it alternates, we can determine its frequency. We know fairly accurately the speed of electricity. But it has no breadth, length or height. Where is heaven? I cannot answer. How wide is electricity? I cannot answer. Do not let my negative reply though, make you doubt the reality of electricity. If you doubt it, I suggest you unplug a lighted electric bulb and thrust a few fingers well into its socket. I assure you that you will quickly become a firm believer in electricity! But you will still be utterly ignorant of the answer to the question, "how wide is electricity?” You will be convinced without an answer. Even so we can believe firmly in a heaven without knowing its whereabouts, for physical location is no more a property of heaven than is width a dimension of electricity, or weight a measure of time, or cubic content a quality of temperature. "Where is heaven?” It is very, very near, but the distance cannot be measured in metres or kilometres.

Then let us use the terms, which apply, and gather together what we know of heaven. The famous dream of Jacob recounted in Genesis 28.12 "and he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” The closeness of heaven is also indicated in Acts 10-11 "And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? In the twelfth chapter of St. Mark's Gospel, our Lord tells a certain scribe, "Thou art not far from the Kingdom of God". Since the adjacent verses make no suggestion that the scribe was at the point of death, it is probably safe to say that one can enter a portion of the Kingdom without actually dying. The second book of Kings tells us that Elijah never died, but was taken directly to heaven by a whirlwind associated with a chariot of fire. For nearly two thousand years we Christians have been asserting our conviction that Christ would return on a last great day "to judge the living and the dead". Evidently there is no great difference between life and death, if God is to judge both living and dead together.





Now this is hard for us to understand, for we associate life with our bodies, and death with dead bodies. But the life of the spirit we also have here and now, and it is a different life from that of the body. This spiritual life is the eternal one, and must not be confused with our earthly life, which is limited by time and the physical laws. This spiritual one can enter the kingdom of heaven without waiting for earthly death.


Since the question "where is heaven?" would seem to have no meaning, let us see if there is a question, which does have meaning. How about "what is heaven?” I think this one is real and can be answered. Heaven is the abode of God. It is a state or condition where God our Father reigns supreme. There may be various beings in heaven such as angels, but as far as human souls are concerned, this supremacy of God is not one, which has been forced upon them, but one, which they have chosen. There is a difference, you know. The trees and herbs which beautify our planet obey God's every command, but they do so of necessity, for, so far as we know, they have not the power to refuse God. Herein does man differ -- he may deny God. When man consciously, deliberately does that which God forbids, or even fails to do that which God wishes, he sins, shuts himself off from his Heavenly Father, and if he persists, will put himself into that other condition called perdition.

For human souls, therefore, it can be said that heaven is that state where the rule of God is complete by voluntary submission to His will. If we were all compelled to do God's bidding, regardless of our own wishes, we would be in servitude -- an abject slavery, the like of which the world has never known. But God does not want slaves; he wants devoted, adoring followers, willing ones, who treat him as father, not Master. When we serve God it is not from compulsion, but is our own free choice. We are free at any time to leave that service, but we do not choose to. Rather, we choose to enter more and more into it. There is another characteristic of heaven -- we come to know God better and better and to serve Him ever more effectively throughout eternity. Our prayer for the faithful departed asks that he go from strength to strength.

We are trusted followers -- not chained slaves. God leaves us our freedom, but when we enter into heaven, He knows that we will not leave, for we do not want to. Jesus said, "Henceforth I call you not servants, for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth, but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you". It is also a progressive trust. I like to think of earthly life and eternal life as resembling somewhat the Air Force's pilot training technique, wherein a student is first taught to fly a relatively small, slow airplane. Then when he has learned to manipulate it safely, he is issued a larger and more powerful model, which would have been beyond his comprehension a few months before, but which he can now learn to control, by virtue of his experience in the training model. In heaven our earthly bodies are replaced with better, timeless ones, more suitable to children of God -- who have come of age -- graduated from earth's college?




How can heaven be described? If I ever arrive there, either in this period, which we call, time or afterward, how will I know I am there? How can I recognize it? That can best be answered by another question: "How do you know when you have come home from a trip?"
We recognize our home by a thousand different signs, some of which are known to many people, but many of which are known only to ourselves. As we walk up the street we do not consciously examine the houses for types of architecture, colour, number of windows, doors, chimneys and frontage size, before deciding which one is home". Instead, a single glance perceives a single composite picture that says, "This is where I belong".


Of course our recognition takes into account all these features, and a host more, but we require no minute scrutiny to know "home" when we see it! That one look provides surer identification than hours of painstaking measurement.


In John 14.2 we read "In my Father's house are many rooms, if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also". Although I do not know the precise arrangement of furniture in this house, which Jesus is preparing for me, I do know Jesus. I know that I can trust his discriminating taste here as in all other departments. Although such speculation is always interesting, we had best leave the details to Him who alone is able to manage them, and spend our time on the work and the training which He sent us here to do and to receive. We would do well to put our affairs in order, so that when our Father decides upon the day for us to leave for home, we shall be ready to go.


Let us leave the details to Jesus, who is fully competent to manage them, and concentrate on getting there. Some day we shall know all the details. In the words of Khalil Gibran: "The veil that clouds your eyes shall be lifted by the hand that wove it. And the clay that fills your ears shall be pierced by those fingers that kneaded it. And you shall see, and you shall hear. Yet you shall not deplore having known blindness, nor regret having been deaf".




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