“The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens,” said G.K. Chesterton. “It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”
The inscrutability of God makes trying to grasp everything about him not only impossible, but unadvisable. And lethal insomuch as it reveals a pining to supplant him.
And yet, we can know him, and when we do, it is a good deal more of us than our head that finds itself in the heavens.
Colossians 3:1–3 tells us, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
It is not just the head of a poet that peaks into the heavenly places, but our whole selves are there, tucked away into Christ, who is at the right hand of God.
Chicken Pox of Life
An observant person once said, “The only constant is change.” When changes have confronted me unbidden, I’ve often been thrown off kilter. Like someone’s spun me around ten times blindfolded, and then asked me to run in a straight line. Usually I just fall over, but in the unlikely event that I stay on my feet, I’m probably running sideways, ridiculously trying to get my feet to go where my dizzy brain tells me to go.
Even longed-for changes can leave us staggering: a move, an addition to our family, a new project to work on. The very things we pray for and desire can show us just how unprepared we are for them, and how fragile our sense of stability really is. How much more with the things we’d like to avoid, the chicken pox of life. New spots and new changes just keep happening, and all the scratching and writhing just lead to open sores, not satisfaction or relief.
And we imagined this life was about settling in and putting down roots.
Change can feel like identity theft when our footing is only here on earth. Some of us do love the new things in life — up for an adventure, ready to try something spicy, aimed at the mountain peaks, happily marching in the direction of change. But how many of us are longing to hike toward the change of disability, or chronic pain, or ongoing unseen sacrifice, or divorce, or death?
It’s hard to tell how much our identity is rooted in circumstances — in our job or lack of it, in our kids or lack of them, in our spouse or lack of one — until the circumstances change. Our reactions tell us something about where we stand. Are we here? On earth only? Or are we hidden in Christ, at God’s right hand in heaven, more secure and safe than the earth itself?
Change Is a Gift
Yet changes to our circumstances are a gift, not least of all because they reveal our death grip on those parts of who we (no longer) are, and our reluctance to walk in the direction God is leading us.
They’re also a gift because they come from our Father. And our Father isn’t in the business of sticking it to his children. He’s in the business of loving them, disciplining them, and yes, changing them through varied means to be more like his Son.
But perhaps the greatest gift God gives us when our circumstances won’t stop changing is that he reminds us that we are hidden in the unchangeable Christ, who is the true constant, outlasting even change (Hebrews 13:8). When we move, we aren’t really moving. When we experience pain, we aren’t really being injured. When we die, we aren’t really dying. We can’t be touched when we our identity is in the death-defeating, resurrected Christ.
Maybe strangest of all, when we set our minds on the things that are above, we are more invested here on earth than ever before. When we are clothed in compassion, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and peace, we are transformed here on earth. Our roots go so deep into this earth, so deep into loving others and forsaking self, that we start to take the shape of a tree in the form of a cross, planted deeper and deeper in love.
We die to anger, wrath, malice, slander, lying, sexual immorality, and covetousness. We are raised to Christ, who is all and in all, and our temporal circumstances cannot undo him. He is in them. He is ruling over them. He is before them and holding them together.
And unlike Chesterton’s logician, who wants to cram heaven into his mind, we are given something that eclipses the impossibility of scrutinizing the inscrutable. We are given Christ within us, the hope of glory, who is present with us in every circumstance and every change, even as we are with him now in heaven.
We don’t need heaven crammed into our head, or a peak above the clouds into heaven. In Christ, we have immeasurably more. Heaven lives in us.