Closer than You Think

Jesus_ascending_to_heavenWhere is God right now, anyway?

The atheist laughs at the question; the agnostic shrugs it off as irrelevant; but the struggling Christian grasps for an answer.

Her cries of “Forsaken?!” erupt from experiences that seem to deny the presence of a loving, protecting God.

His cries of “Abandoned?!” flow from deep disappointment over the ways God has not responded to prayer, has not intervened in a seriously messed-up situation.

Does God even hear? Is heaven so far away that it takes an earthquake or a massacre to get His attention?

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD. …For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn.

How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? Remember how fleeting is my life. For what futility you have created all men! …O Lord, where is your former great love?
Psalm 89:15-17, 46-49

The Psalms seem to resonate with schizophrenic prayers of people grappling with messy earthly realities in the face of a pristinely perfect heaven. At one moment they can celebrate and affirm the tangible, even visible presence of God on earth, intervening and making things right. But the next verse over, they are calling out in disillusionment, feeling like God has slammed the gates of heaven and no longer hears or cares.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:9

Sometimes the gap between heaven and earth seems infinite.

But is it really?

The great wonder of Christ’s incarnation was that, for a season, heaven came to earth. What a great relief to actually get to see God walking around with hands and feet, facial expressions and audible words! No more of this guess work, trying to figure out where God is and what He is doing—the woman about to be stoned heard Him absolve her, the father of a dead child saw Him bring her back.

Sometimes the gap between heaven
and earth seems insurmountable.

But what about when those painfully short years ended? When Christ ascended from the earth and sat down at the right hand of the Father, did the doors of heaven shut behind Him?

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
Acts 1:8-9

Thankfully not. Jesus blazed a path between the two realms, transversing the short distance with His physical body in tow. Rather than ditch it on the way up, he took a bit of earth along with Him as a keepsake from His visit, a memento of His return. And He left with the promise that He would soon send a bit of heaven down to earth.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Acts 2:1-4

And thankfully, Jesus didn’t keep us waiting too long. A little over a week later He made good on His promise. A package arrived from heaven, not in the tiny, earthy form of another baby, but rather resembling the sort of phenomenon we would expect when a heavenly Being lands on earth: violent winds swooping from heaven, eerie flames dancing overhead, and gloriously strange manifestations in those with whom it came in contact.

Glimpses of heaven are all around us.

As inspiring as it is to rehearse these 2,000 year-old stories, it can still feel like heaven is impossibly far away. Why don’t we get to chat with angels reassuring us that Jesus will come back the same way He left? Why can’t we see the Spirit flame spreading and alighting around us as we trudge through days of frustrated labor and nights of unconsoled tears?

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matt. 28:18-20

But if we take off our “It is only real if I can see it” glasses, glimpses of heaven are all around us. Each time the fruit of the Spirit manifests itself in us, God has broken through. Love? Peace? Patience? I know those aren’t native to my fleshly self. Repentance? Faith? Transformation? I witness the miracle of His powerful intervention in the most unexpected situations. And then of course there are those jaw-dropping evidences of God at work in the world when justice is served, when healing happens, when captives are set free.

…I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know–God knows. And I know that this man–whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows– was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.
2 Corinthians 12:1-4

Through all that, I am learning to see the very present interface between the heavenly realm and the earthly one, the one existing just above the other with constant interaction between the two. As a friend of mine recently said, it is as if a veil hangs over us, hiding the heavenly realm from our earthly eyes. Sometimes that veil gets momentarily lifted, like when Stephen was granted a glimpse of glory just before his death or when the apostles and prophets were shown the heavenly realities going on behind earthly events. And to be honest there have been times in my own life when the veil has been particularly thin or even, for a brief but breathtaking second, lifted.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. …Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.
1 Corinthians 13:1, 9-12

More often than not, though, heaven remains an invisible reality, perceived only through eyes of faith. I cherish those memories of when it has been less so, replaying them in my mind when my faith wavers and my current struggles cause them to grow dim. I actively pursue the fruit of God’s Spirit and the great commission through which He is bringing heaven down to earth. And I long for the day when the clouds will roll back, allowing us to gaze with unveiled faces on the heavenly reality we have been participating in all along.

It’s a lot closer than we think.

7 thoughts on “Closer than You Think”

  1. I am printing this one out. God has assigned a new lady to my Discipleship Group. She is struggling in so many ways. I am praying our small group will be an encouragement to her but realize that only the Holy Spirit will be the healer of her heart. We are concentrating on scripture showing us how Jesus called and taught His Disciples. And oh what a motley crew that was! Our goal is Matthew 28:19-20. “Make Disciples who Make Disciples” Thank you Tiffany for bringing to light where Jesus is. At times we all feel He is not there when we need Him but if we know the Truth we can have comfort in the fact that He will never leave us. I too, have experienced that “thin veil” and oh, how glorious that is.

    1. What a sweet gift for God to let you see more than ordinary eyes get to!

      16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
      Ephesians 3

      May this be true of your friend and of us all!

  2. There is a certain kind of theology which makes out that when Jesus ascended he kind of left us behind, sitting high up in heaven on God’s right hand, worlds apart. However the NT is replete with reminders that Christ is not only ‘with us’ here on earth but also ‘in us’ (Gal. 2:20, Col. 1:27, etc), until his new creation is consolidated more perfectly (Rev. 21-22). Thankfully this matter of ‘Christ within us’ is receiving proper attention in our time.

    Thanks Tiffany for the reminder and sensitive insights for the likes of us who sometimes ask questions, doubt and struggle along the way!

    1. Isn’t it odd how we can hold conflicting theologies, each functioning on different levels? I find this to often be the source of my struggles, especially when one set of (often unchecked) theological assumptions bumps into another. Of course I don’t think that Jesus abandoned us here; but then there are those moments when I feel it, especially when I have lost touch with His Spirit within. He is so close I forget to include Him in my view of the world, which is why I need these sorts of reminders that He really is here even though I can’t see Him.

      And I love your reminder of where our story is going. New creation is a theme that makes me gasp with delight each time I encounter it. What a glorious reality to be working towards and waiting for!

  3. Every time I go to Mass and receive the Eucharist, I am with the same Jesus that walked the Earth, that lived a Human life for 33 years. That is why the Mass is so central to my Faith, I KNOW, I meet the real physical Jesus. I can understand why many would doubt this but I would like to say it again, it is TRUE. Not an imaginary concept. The veil is cleared away totally. I do meet the living Christ. As do others. How lucky are we (all of us who believe in Jesus) to have this Light and Way. But I still regularly ask ‘not to be tested’ as I think I would be a coward whilst in the moment of terror- St. Peter would be nothing on me!!! Yes, Tiffany, you are a gifted communicator- thank you for your reminders and messages that you present to us to ponder over. x

    1. I’m so glad you brought that up, Collette. Believe it or not, I had written a paragraph about the ways in which we currently participate in heavenly realities, through worship, prayer, and especially communion. Sadly, I had to delete it because the article was getting too long, but clearly we are thinking on the same wavelength! 🙂

      While I would not define the Eucharist in quite the same way, I share your experience of meeting Jesus in tangible, very present ways through the bread and wine. It moves me to tears almost every week: sometimes tears of joy that I get to share in such intimate relationship with Him, sometimes tears of pain that I am a recipient of His mortal sacrifice. But I never leave without a deep sense of having been in the presence of Jesus in a powerful, life-defining sort of way. And more than a week without it leaves me feeling a bit empty and distant, longing to meet with Him again in that way.

  4. This:

    “But if we take off our “It is only real if I can see it” glasses, glimpses of heaven are all around us. Each time the fruit of the Spirit manifests itself in us, God has broken through. Love? Peace? Patience? I know those aren’t native to my fleshly self. Repentance? Faith? Transformation? I witness the miracle of His powerful intervention in the most unexpected situations. And then of course there are those jaw-dropping evidences of God at work in the world when justice is served, when healing happens, when captives are set free.”

    Love it! Thank you!

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