A Burning Vision – A Greater Hope

Photo by Matt Riches

“If we can make it past today, then we will see what tomorrow brings.”

That’s the mindset of most people. If not tomorrow, it’s another date. Maybe what goes through people’s minds is, “If we can just make it past 2021…” It’s something to look forward to. A point in the future that hasn’t been reached, that they can’t see yet. It’s a hope. And that’s what gives them strength to keep going today. Not everyone realizes it. It might even be something very small; “If I can get through at the office I can get home to dinner.” But it’s still a hope. Something to work towards. Something to expect, something to get you through the hard times, the boring times, or just the everyday grind. Everyone has some sort of hope. Without hope a man withers away. That’s how we’re wired.

As Christians we realize there is a deeper goal than the trivial “next thing.” We have a greater hope.

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The first of my Sojourner series is releasing this month. (Email subscribers, keep an eye on your inbox for the cover reveal and a snippet from Ravens Ruins!) By now you’ve probably guessed why I chose the series name I did. We are sojourners. Pilgrims. Travelers. We don’t belong here on this earth. But we do belong somewhere. We are on a journey to our real home, and along the way we leave a trail of stories behind us. Will it be stories of blessing others, of growing closer to Christ? Or will it be moral lessons for others not to follow? Keeping our goal in mind, keeping heaven in our sight, makes all things easier to bear and all our deeds here focused on the right things. I’ve spent two blog posts now hammering the idea home, so I’m not going to go into it much here. What this post is for is to bring home the last idea I wanted to share with you about our vision.

My three main characters took on three different aspects of this idea of keeping heaven in sight. We’ve looked at the joy it brings, and at the anchor and doubt-lifter it is in our lives. Today we come to what is almost the definition of this burning vision; hope.

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During highschool I was assigned Dante’s Inferno. Only I didn’t realize it was the Inferno, I thought it was the whole Divine Comedy, and by the time I realized my mistake I was already so close to the end I went ahead and finished the whole thing. I’m glad I read it. I now have a greater understanding of the plethora of classical references made by authors to the Inferno, and a deeper understanding of a Catholic’s view of purgatory. But the best thing about the Divine Comedy is the very end. The last few lines had me gripping my seat, suddenly jolted out of my boredom with Dante’s travels. You see, at the end he made it. He finally stepped into the final circle of heaven; to heaven’s throne and the One Who sits at the center of all things.

“And I, who to the end of all desires
Was now approaching, even as I ought
The ardour of desire within me ended.

Bernand was beckoning unto me, and smiling,
That I should upward look; but I already
Was of my own accord such as he wished

Because my sight, becoming purified,
Was entering more and more into the ray
Of the High Light which of itself is true…”

His “wings fail him.” The tongue of the poet is unable to describe the end of what he sees in his masterly vision of hell, purgatory, and heaven. But that instant when he reached the center, when he actually made it to “the end of all desires…” It gave me chills. It set my eyes glowing just at the thought, the reminder that there is such a place. The end of the Divine Comedy should have left me rolling my eyes and chuckling, because when Dante finally gets to where he was headed, the destination of the whole book, he can’t even describe it and it all suddenly stops. But that’s not what happens. Instead, with the strokes of a master poet, Dante leaves us with our tongues hanging out, like a dog on a hot day, longing desperately for the sight he could not describe for us; longing to reach the place he reached.

C.S. Lewis did the same thing with his Last Battle. I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually took a page from Dante in leaving us like he did with his last paragraph of his last chapter of the last Narnia book. The longing and beauty are so strong it makes us teary eyed and silent. Hoping for what we cannot see. In a different place, Lewis tells us, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

There is another world. We are all amphibians, creatures with both a soul and a body, living in and out of the spiritual world. But one day we will no longer feel out of place. On day we will “get in.” We will no longer be torn between our fleshly lusts and the call of our conscience. We will no longer be raging against the horrible evils of this world, or weeping over the devastating sorrows. All tears will be wiped away. All things will be made new. All lights will be eclipsed by the glorious radiance of Jesus Christ. And we will be with Him forever.

But right now we’re stuck here. We are still clay pots, mired in the clay. We are gazing upward, but our feet are solidly locked to this earth by gravity’s pull. Does it do anything but wake up sorrow inside us to remember there is a better place? Wouldn’t it be better to look away and knuckle down to work instead? To set a goal we can actually obtain in front of us, like just making it home to dinner? You can do that. Focus on the here and now, forget about the intangible things. But do that and you are missing out on the reason you’re alive at all.

We are placed here to hope. We are on this earth in order to look up. We are creatures made specifically to worship God. And to bask in His love for us. God delights to love us. He takes joy in giving us His grace. And the goal of that grace, that love, that hope, is to wipe away our tears and filth and draw us to live with Himself forever. The culmination of the Bible is the marriage supper of the Lamb. An event yet to happen, intimately involving us, the bride of Christ Himself. We are made for this hope.

And that hope isn’t an empty one.

Our vision of getting to heaven is just as sure a hope as getting to Boston at the end of a flight. Heaven is real. We will stand before God. And what we do now counts for all eternity.

That’s the key to the everyday things. Having an eternal mindset keeps us rearranging our goals as we go through the day. Maybe the best thing you can do is to get home to dinner; but it would be to spend time with the souls gathered around the table. To pull out that Bible and do family worship after the soup and bread are put up, to point hearts and souls up. To remind us why we live. To reawaken the hope of Christ waiting for us.

I’ve spent two blogposts now reminding us of the solidity of our heavenly home. This is a post to help you realize how much hoping for our home helps you here.

A man without hope withers away.

A man with a small hope leaves those around him withering away.

A man with a greater, deeper, real hope of heaven is like a draft of cold spring water to a drowning man. Like a spring rain on a parched ground. Like roaring laughter bubbling up after a day spent grieving.

We are to be lights in a dark world. But what is our light? Jesus Christ, certainly, that is the obvious and very real answer. But even the Christian can grow dull through suffering, through the everyday beating down of the world. What keeps our lights bright? What makes us glow with a brightness that nothing can dim?

Hope.

Real, solid, fact-based hope. The knowledge that no matter what comes to us here, we will reach there. Heaven is ours. Suffering will be wiped away. We will be with Jesus forever.

And He will ask us to account for every moment spent here. For every idle thought, every word spoken to a fellow soul.

“The Weight of Glory” is my favorite bit of non-fiction writing that I’ve found of C.S. Lewis’s. While the whole thing is fantastic, again it’s the end that leaves one with chills and a desire to leap back into life and live it harder and better. For years I’ve taken the tagline at the end of my emails from his essay, as Lewis comes crashing down from the ethereal clouds of dwelling on what heaven will be like, bringing us suddenly back to earth; “Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning.” What do we do in the “meanwhiles”? In the shadowlands? Do we just bide our time, looking up and spending all our time sighing for what will be? Lewis leaves us with one solid idea of what we should be doing:

“It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

That’s how Jesus lived. And that’s how the greatest Christians live, the ones deep enough in Christ that they reflect His light like prisms of brilliant color. Our hope might leave us misty eyed when the longing comes in strong. But it also leaves us bouncing on our toes, looking around us for what we can do. Looking for how to help while we wait to get there. It is an exciting, burning hope that starts fires at our feet and makes us run to do the will of God. To make ourselves and the whole world better, to chase after the souls down here with us.

Hope gives us wings. It bears us up when our legs give out and we just can’t walk anymore. It carries us to the heights of heaven, and sends us diving like a great raptor to do what we can to rip another soul from Satan’s grasp and drag them to the foot of the cross. Hope is what gets us out of bed. Hope is what sends us walking into the fire, and brings us out again purged. Christ is our strength; and hope keeps us focused on Him through everything.

I’ve rambled in this blog post. I’m afraid all my thoughts on this are jumbled up in years of experiences, in a kaleidoscope of things and ideas and practical living that all mesh together into life. Life, as lived by the Christian soul who keeps the hope of heaven burning continually in front of their eyes. It’s hard to describe life in one blog post. But I hope I left you with a smattering of an idea of what I mean when I talk about the vision.

Keep the vision burning, my brethren. Live all of life by the heaven tinted glasses of hope, and go do good.

I want to leave you with one more thought on this subject (a massive subject that would be easy to keep writing about for pages and pages). I won’t comment, I’ll let you mull over it for yourselves. This is from later in the Sojourners, from book five of the six book series, during a scene between two characters who have grown very dear to my heart. I hope you keep reading my books. And I pray they leave you with just a little of a longing-filled fire of hope that spurs you on to great things.

“If an abstract is only an abstract in a void of random time, it isn’t solid enough to grab hold of and pull yourself away from a grave. But that’s just what I’d done with hope. Again and again, I had hovered over a grave, held between life and death, and had pulled myself back to life with hope. Hope is a solid thing, a real thing. Hope is a Person. And with that simple, sudden realization, I stood up and walked away from that grave, and sat down on the bench with Diamond.” A smile spread over Joe’s face, his eyes distant as he saw something beyond Nehemiah’s vision. It was an expression of peace and joy, that ran deeper than humor, deeper than happiness, delving into a well that never could run dry. It beautified the mute, turning even his scars into marks of honor, signposts of the way that had led him to the well. He began to sign with great distinctness. 

 “Jesus Christ is Hope. He is Truth. He is Reason. His grave is empty, death couldn’t hold Him and nothing can overcome Him. He is the living, creating God. And He is real. The moment you realize that everything else falls away, all random existence disappears, and all life takes on meaning and reality and purpose. There is hope because there is God.”

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