I know it is a silly question. Everybody wants to go to heaven. But have you ever asked yourself why do you want to go to heaven? I always laughed whenever I remember this anecdote. There was one time a man passed away and arrived at the gate of heaven (as all other heavenly anecdote starts with). It turned out that St. Peter allowed him to go to heaven. But before he went in, Satan offered him a detour to hell. So out of curiosity, he asked St. Peter permission to go to hell for a while, he always wanted to see how hell looks like. And he went with Satan to hell. To his surprise, hell was not as bad as he thought. The place was so pleasant, and everyone looks happy. He could do what he wanted to do, and there he could find what he liked most on earth. They were so happy and that made him surprised. At the end of the detour, Satan asked whether he would change his mind. So after some thought, thinking how wonderful hell is, he decided to go to hell instead. Of course St. Peter was surprised and Satan was really happy. And the man followed Satan back to hell. When he arrived at hell, he was even more surprised, now everything changed. It was so terrible and horrifying that he couldn’t stand it. There was no longer joy but sorrow and weeping. And the man asked Satan, “Why now hell is different with the one you showed me previously?”. And Satan answered with a smile, “Oh, we were having a promotion month when you came that time.”
So why do you want to go to heaven? This question bothers me also for quite some time, but now I have found my answer. Many of us want to go to heaven simply because we do not want to go to hell. Hell is punishment, hell is fire, hell is horrible. And we are afraid to go to hell. And that is why many of us choose heaven. But fear is not the right reason for us to go to heaven. Others choose to go to heaven because they believe it is there they will find what they like most, they will find joy and happiness. I remember watching Ice Age 2, the animation movie from Dreamworks, and how the squirel who has been looking for its chestnut found the BIGGEST chestnut ever in heaven, and there were a lot of chestnuts there to his satisfaction. Don’t we imagine heaven like that. We imagine heaven is doing what we like most for eternity, either that is playing video games or soccer, or simply reading books in tranquility. Or maybe we imagine heaven is like having our chestnut which we have been dreaming for.
I used to have that images of heaven also in my life. But thank to God, he has changed my understanding, and now I want to go to heaven more than ever! My reason to go to heaven is not because I fear hell (of course I fear hell, but that’s not my reason to go to heaven), or because in heaven I will be able to do what I like most or have what I like most. No no. My reason to go to heaven is simply because my God is in heaven. He is not in hell. Everytime we pray the Our Father prayer, we always say, “Our Father who art in heaven”. The reason for me to desire heaven is because the person that I love is in heaven. And I want to go to heaven to be with him always and never lose sight of him.
If you recall again the anecdote which I shared in the begining, I would still choose heaven even though after the detour to hell I see people there joy and can do what they like to do. I would still choose heaven even though in hell I could find what I thought life is supposed to be. Yes, I would still choose heaven because the one I love is not in anywhere else but in heaven.
Desire to heaven must come from a desire to be with this Other person. And that other person is none other than God. I think it is rather an irony when we hear people want to go to heaven and yet they do not “know” that Other person whom they will spend their lives with.
We thought we can gain heaven by serving in ministries, by doing this and that, by attending church, and yet in the midst of all those things, sometime we still do not have a relationship with God. What God desire is to have a relationship with us. And maybe that is why in the Gospel, the word that came strongly to those who are denied is… “I do not know you.”
And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‚”Lord, lord, open to us.‚” But he answered, ‚”Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.‚” Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
In another passage, we read
“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‚”Lord, open to us,” then he will answer you, ‚”I do not know where you come from.‚” Then you will begin to say, ‚”We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.‚” But he will say, ‚”I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!‚” Luke 13:24-27
In the first passage it speaks about the foolish virgin who is waiting for the bridegroom to come for a marriage feast, and they were caught unaware in waiting and the lamp dies. While they were away to get the oil for the lamp, the bridegroom arrived and they pleaded to enter also, but the Lord of the house answered them, “I do not know you”. Could it be that we are like these foolish virgins who are serving here and there and even in the Church, but then caught unaware by the words, “truly, I say to you, I do not know you”. Or could we be like the second passage who thought we know the Lord, who eat and drink with the Lord, and hear to his teaching, and yet received an answer, “I tell, I do not know where you come from.”?
Do we really know the Lord? In the bible the word “knowing” is not just gaining an intellectual knowledge. Knowing is much deeper than that. In Genesis 4:1 (RSV translation), it is written that
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‚”I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.‚”
Now if Adam knew Even is just about some intellectual knowledge, she should have concieved a book rather than a man. But the word “know” is such a strong word in the bible. It expresses a personal encounter and experience with the other person that it would concieve a new life. That should be our “knowing” experience also with God. When we say we know God, it must not come from a class or a book, but rather from a personal encounter, from an ongoing encounter with the living God. And this encounter should result in a new life just as Eve conceive a new life when she knew Adam.
This knowing God is a relationship that last forever, and maybe that is why Jesus says that Eternal Life is this:
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. John 17:3
And this is eternal life, it is not a life doing simply what we want to do or simply having what we want to have. Eternal life is about an encounter with the only true God, and Jesus Christ. It is a relationship with that Other person. Eternal life is not alone or in solitary. Eternal life is communion.
Now we all desire heaven. But sometime we desire heaven without God as our companion. And sometime also we have shown it in our life here on earth. We will do our religious obligations and yet we hope that God will not penetrate more than what we have reserved for him in our lives. We want him as our helper but not as our Lord. We want him as our consoler but not as our Master. We want to hear his promises of blessing but refuse to hear his correction for our wrong lifestyle. In short we have made God as a slave for our happiness, and we want heaven for our selves. How can we enter heaven with all this self-centeredness?
And yet the Lord never gives up on us, just as he has shown in my life. In this life, I believe God brings all things for the good of those who love him. And that good is to be able to find him and love him, to know him, to have eternal life. How can we be amazed with the design of God in this life that leads all man to him? Take for example a marriage life. As the two individuals prepares for marriage life, the couple learns to leave their self-centredness and start living for the other. In marriage life, they vow to live for the other. And as they live for the other, and give themselves, they will bear fruit of new life, and children will come as a blessing. And they learn as a couple to live not only for themselves but also to live for the children, to make sacrifices for them. How beautiful it is. We are being guided to give ourselves for the other and to love others. And it is in this loving of others we will encounter God. We begin to understand the love of God in our lives who gives himself for us. We learnt what it means to love by forgiving and sacrificing ourselves. We see that in our family life, but we also see that on the Cross. We experience grace by grace to live not for ourselves but for the other. That at the end of the day, we are ready to live for that ultimate Other which is God. And without realizing it, we have entered heaven here on earth.
Sometimes it makes me sad to hear people see marriage as a burden, or even children as a burden. And the world is trying to show that self-indulgence is like heaven. How irony it is. It is like the man in the anecdote who follow the promotion month of Satan :p But life does not consist in satisfying our selfishness. Life consists in giving it out for others, and that ultimate Other is God. So are we ready to enter heaven? Are we ready to live the life of God? Have we known this God whom we want to live with? This is heaven and that is to be with the one we love. That is why I want heaven, because the one I love is in heaven. And this is why I am confident of entering heaven, because the one I love will not leave me behind. The one I love will not be able to forget about me. I will still be in His mind forever. He will reach out to me when I fall, and He will rescue me from anything that keeps me away from Him. Yes, and His love is stronger than death. I will hear his voice on that day of the resurrection, because I know Him and he knows me. I will arise at sound of His voice and answer Him because I belong to Him, he who is Love himself. Ah, I want to know Him more, to hear His voice more, to love Him more, my Lord, my God, my everything.
But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. John 10:2-4