“Heaven, as we call it, is not a totally distinct realm into which we shall be translated by the fact of death. It is an experience that interpenetrates the experience of it here. The dying thief did not begin his experience of paradise after he had drawn his last breath in this world. He began it at the moment he recognized in his dying companion the Lord and Master of his life.
Now lest you think I am spinning fancies and neglecting reality, let me hasten briefly to illustrate what I mean. I mean that it is possible even in the contradictions and confusions of this life to keep the center of your being calm and undisturbed. I mean that its possible in this life to go through one hellish situation after another with strength and confidence of spirit. I mean that it is possible to endure physical pain and suffering while the mind and heart are filled with peace and joy. That’s what I mean by being in paradise even while you are still part of this earthly scene of chance and change.”
I read this passage by Howard Hageman excerpted in the book Bread and Wine close to midnight last night. It thrilled me then . . . and it thrills me now. Hageman explains Jesus’ promise that, if we walk with him, it is possible to live in the victory of his presence even while we are caught up in “one hellish situation after another.”
A friend and I were were spiraling in a tornado-like discussion of one hellish situation after another this morning: a Congolese immigrant lying prone on the ground after a traffic stop is shot in the back of the head by a white policemen; a Ukrainian father returns home after buying groceries and finds his 3-month-old baby and his wife dead in his demolished apartment; an elderly woman is raped by a Russian soldier; a daughter describes her mother’s death from COVID19 because she believed the disinformation about the disease and the vaccines who can prevent it; a mother escapes execution for killing her 2-yr-old because of new information that was seemingly withheld by the prosecution during her trial. How can we survive times like these?
I have written often in this blog about my husband’s death and about my continuing battle with an incurable cancer. I have also written about the gratitude I have for the blessings that have been heaped on me by so many. How does this thankfulness bubble up even during the very bad and discouraging days? How do I often feel calm and at peace when everything is going wrong?
But now I understand. The blessings of paradise are given to us while we still live on this earth – even during the “hellish situations” – if we walk with Jesus and live in the grace of his presence. As Hageman proclaims: “We have the opportunity to redeem tragedy into glory. For what is our tragedy but our failure to grasp what Christ can do for our lives here and now? And what is our glory but to discover with him how to live in heaven even while we are still on earth?”