Faith Works 3-11-17
So Much I Still Can't Anticipate
No, I haven't seen "The Shack" yet.
Yes, I've been told I should; no, I don't have a problem with the author's or filmmakers' view of the Trinity. I'm just not up for the window into tragedy and trauma right now. In time, I will, I'm sure. But not just now.
It's clear from the trailers and promos that we get a taste, insofar as Hollywood and special effects can do the Biblical interpretation, of what Heaven is like. There have been a string of movies in the last couple of years that take a shot at that one, the "beatific vision" granted only in former times to saints and mystics, now available to anyone with a debit card and a tub of popcorn.
I know, I should be more appreciative of any attempts to consider religious faith in the public sphere. Once we painted the heavens opening onto the ceilings of central churches and even public buildings – the US Capitol rotunda is, directly overhead, a view of George Washington being bodily assumed into the divine realm – or let natural light filter through stained glass showing the pearlescence of St. Peter's gates and the feathery beauty of angels' wings. So why not movies?
Hell, intriguingly, gets attention from a relatively limited number of producers and directors. Disney has not been afraid to take on the infernal, from "Mickey's Christmas Carol" and the fires from below erupting around Scrooge's potential future grave, to the live-action movie of "The Haunted Mansion" at the conclusion, or at the end of "Fantasia" when Chernabog's terrifying rise is beaten back only by a chorus softly singing "Ave Maria."
Everyone likes Heaven, though. Even atheists tend to speak well of it, though more as a misplaced metaphor for a better life on earth. Since the Apollo program, preachers are much less likely to refer to Heaven as simply "up" or even "out there," so much as "within." For which we have some Biblical warrant, as when Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God being in us.
The problem with most casual reflections on Heaven, I believe, is that they tend to be focused on "after." As in "the afterlife." When you die.
That, of course, is when we're thinking most about the place. (Or "place" if you prefer.) When someone has died, someone we love, even a person we barely knew but we're in line at the funeral home waiting to hug the family and passing close to the casket, when we ourselves start reflecting on our mortality, on our own limits, on our own death waiting for us on ahead, we like to push fast-forward and think about Heaven.
Except – and warning, this is one of those times your "Faith Works" columnist is much less generic and more specifically the Christian pastor he is – the point and reality of Heaven is intended to be present to us right now, not just later. Heaven is a promise of a secure future that gives us a solid place to stand in the tides of the times today. The Realm of God is a reality in which we have citizenship and standing even as we live and work as "strangers in a strange land" through the brokenness of the here and now.
I know "The Shack" is meant, considered in full, to address just that. Paradise is a place where we not only see those we love as saved, as secure, as solidly present even as their bodies have given out on them, but it's a connection for us to hold onto between their lives and our own in this life. Papa wants Mack (the protagonist in the story with which we're to identify) to know his love for his daughter is still a real relationship, different for a time, but not ended entirely.
We do get stuck on those pretty pictures, though. The perfection and the power and the glory. How does a believer keep on feeling that connection to the celestial as we step over broken glass and kick aside the trash in our journey through today? And are we just marking time until we can get to that "better place" (a term I'm not exactly in love with, by the way)?
Or is there something of Heaven present in the world we know right now, obscured a bit, but when you change your angle of vision, startlingly apparent all around? Could we already be halfway home and only just be starting to realize it?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; he lived for years in "Almost Heaven" which, after all, is just across the river from Ohio. Tell him about where you see Heaven breaking forth at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.