by Howard Hain
Andrei Rublev, “The Trinity”, ca. 1411
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for…”
Out on Interstate 80 in New Jersey, about 70 miles from Manhattan, is a little amusement park for young children. It’s called The Land of Make Believe. And it is located in the small town of Hope.
I’ve never been to the park before, although I’ve traveled through Hope many times.
Those 70 miles got me thinking:
Without a belief in Heaven, Hell loses it’s significance.
And a life without hope makes Hell very real.
Jesus came to make our lives joyful and full of purpose.
After all, He told us that “the kingdom of God is within”, and that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
From such eternal optimism, which is most certainly and profoundly true, I can see how a temptation may arise. The temptation of thinking—of thinking there’s no other world than the current one we find before us, and that all we need to do is make this world a utopia via the right cultural, political, and economic policies. That it is all a matter of social justice.
Yes, it can be pretty tempting to turn the promise and proximity of Heaven into a man-made agenda. To begin to think that we can create “Heaven” here on Earth, and in the process convince ourselves and all around us, especially those “below” us, that there’s no Heaven or Hell beyond or beneath this current, known, and visible existence.
That of course also eliminates any Godly judgment to come. Which of course is quite convenient, especially when it comes to behavior that God’s Word and Jesus’ Church clearly declares sinful.
But I guess that’s just the point. Many of us want to live in The Land of Make Believe. Pretending. Perverting hope. And via this ongoing state of pretense and presumption, we wish to live in our own self-perceived, self-conceived, and self-serving Heavens, right here and right now, and only here and now—with no “other world” or consequences to come—and this makes many of us feel awfully good, at least for the time being.
Jesus teaches otherwise. For He also told us, through His dialogue with Pilate, that He came into the world “to testify to the truth”, and that His “Kingdom is not of this world”. And perhaps most convincing (and incredibly consoling as well) is what He reveals to the apostles the night before He suffers, dies, and is buried—in order to be resurrected—and eventually ascend into Heaven—to sit at the right hand of “God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.”
We could list many more teachings of Christ that reiterate the same point. The totality, the oneness, of Sacred Scripture makes it abundantly clear that there is an eternal existence to come, that presently we are mere pilgrims just passing though, and that we are not destined to remain in this world. And Jesus also makes it abundantly clear that where He, the head went, the body too shall go—passing through the same cross-shaped gate.
Jesus came to show us how to love, and how to enter the Kingdom, both the Kingdom at hand and the Kingdom to come; one and the same but not limited to either one or the other. Heaven is here and continues thereafter, eternally. The “Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End”. For He, Jesus the Christ, the Word, the Lord God, “the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty” was with the Father before the world began…and He is also the one who “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” and whose “kingdom will have no end”.
It is all too much—and like the Trinity itself, and the Incarnation, and the Resurrection— Life Everlasting is beyond our comprehension. We simply can’t understand. It’s a mystery, but not a mystery that should lead us into the belief that this current world, this world of time, of pomp and circumstance, is the only reality, now or to come.
No, to be a Christian is to believe in Heaven, and Hell. And it is also to believe that through the death and resurrection of our Lord and God, our Savior and Redeemer, we can gain entrance to the eternal banquet, the everlasting feast, the never-ending day of love, of joy, of peace. The permanent Land of Belief.
And yet, in some not-so-mysterious way it begins right here on earth, in a very concrete manner, one smile at a time, one teardrop at a time. It begins when we truly believe in Jesus, follow Him and live the way He taught us. Just as does Hell, in some not-so-mysterious way, begin here on earth when we don’t truly believe in Jesus, follow Him and live the way He taught us.
It’s all kind of like The Land of Make Believe, that small amusement park off Interstate 80, out in western New Jersey. It isn’t real, yet it exists. It brings to life many more smiles than most regular, humdrum, midterm school days. And it has a beginning and an end—yet to children created in the image of God, it seems to go on forever…and in some grace-filled way, they’re exactly right.
You just gotta believe.
The Land of Make Believe is more than you ever dreamed it could be.
Oh yeah, and it resides in a place named Hope.
With tears flowing, the child’s father at once cried out, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!”