My daughter recently turned four. It’s possible that she experienced a grand shift to adult-like thinking solely from the knowledge of her new age, although the phases of learning and growing happen so fast these days. Whichever it is – intentional or natural – she’s starting to make connections and distinctions between the physicality of things and their inner nature.
There was a time when death meant that the insect, or the doll, or the grandmother, didn’t walk. She would come up and tell me that her baby didn’t walk, and my new parent mind flashed worry. She’s playing that her doll is dead. What do I tell her? These days, she knows that the dead don’t feel physical pain now, and can’t inflict pain on others. This is a comfort to her, knowing that the body is separate from the actual person at some point. Her brother, meanwhile, learned this summer that you don’t grab recently-deceased yellow jackets. Everything is more complicated than it seems.
Recently, she’s also been exploring the differences between fantasy and reality, something perhaps too few of us have figured out. She used to tell me about things she had experienced that weren’t lies so much as very vivid stories – in her mind, real life. Now her stories are indeed real life, and very clearly delineated from pretend play.
I think I miss it. But then again, I’m not the best at separating out that which should have a healthy degree of separation. Like Heaven and earth.
I live and die by the creative connections I uncover, as many artists do. We are communicators all, and typology, symbology, synthesis, double meanings – these things are our bread and butter.
This is metaphor, that you can have your cake and eat it too. It’s the ever-present mystery that we are physical and spiritual, flesh and soul, finite and infinite, saved and being saved. There is a world behind this world, or maybe on top of this world, or underneath? I’ve never quite figured out how it works, despite my delving into every multi-dimensional sci-fi flick I can find. There is and there isn’t, is the whole point. Or maybe it’s not.
This weird, wonderful world we live in is, rightly so, teeming with these conundrums. Heaven is always peeking through the cracks at us, flitting away when we turn to catch what was only in our peripheral at best. Perhaps because we are caught in this intrinsic tension, we have deep difficulty reconciling the differences between heaven and earth in our daily lives.
We are sanctified and saved, fully, in Christ. But our daily lives are more like bloody battlefields, and it’s hard to tell which side is winning.
We eat His Body and drink His Blood, but grow fat on our bread and drunk on our wine.
We uplift the glorious mystery of marriage as Christ and the Church, and fall devastatingly short in our goals of being either one.
We seek transfigurations and find people the same as when we left them last week. We find ourselves to be the same as last week, month, year. What is wrong with us? Shouldn’t our lives here be continual transformations into Christ?
Sorry. I meant, the image of Christ. Perhaps that distinction actually changes things.
The truth of the matter is, Juliet is not actually a flaming ball of fire in the sky, this earth is not Heaven, and we are not Christ. The difficulty with metaphors and analogies is the expectations we project onto them: Husbands should be Christ. Wives should be the ideal Church. Prayer and Bible reading should stop us from Giving In Next Time. God looks like our conception of a perfect Father (if we were to form our expectations out of every biblical metaphor, He might very well look like a mother hen in our minds, too).
So what happens when, inevitably, those expectations are not met?
I started out my meandering train of thought earlier talking about the difference between imaginary stories and real life, as my daughter sees them. I drew a parallel to Heaven and earth, and how we need to make a distinction. But none of you (I hope) would assume from this that I think Heaven is not real. The metaphor breaks down when it becomes the end goal.
The end goal of my argument is this: there is a distinction between Heaven and earth.
This earth will never be Heaven. Why would God make extensive plans for an entirely new Earth if it was on us to fix this one? Expecting to ultimately fix ourselves, others, the environment, poverty, war, pain – this is a futile thing.
When the Bible uses metaphor, perhaps its better for us to take a step back and view it as such, in hopes of determining the actual goal of the text. My wife is not the church, and I am not Christ. We will never be these things. But I must sacrifice my personal needs and desires to love her unconditionally. This is an ideal, and ideals are good and necessary. But if I don’t connect this with the fact that my heart is desperately wicked, that I do what I do not want to do, I am in for continual frustration. If I do connect the ideal and my total inability, a bigger Truth looms behind the metaphor, imbuing my earthly life with deeper meaning and good, good hope.
Christians are called to be the most optimistic of pessimists. We look at the world and say, “Yep, that’s a lost cause.” And we keep trying to save it. Wait. That isn’t right, is it?
We keep telling the world Who can actually save it.
Jesus Christ bridged the gap between Divinity and mankind, so we could be reconciled and made new, prepared for the New Heaven and New Earth over time and in ways we could never anticipate and certainly not choose for ourselves. Christ is not metaphor, because metaphor is calling one thing as though it was something else like it. Christ is two-and-the-same, God-Man, and the word for that is not metaphor, it’s Incarnation.
When we talk about our responsibility to make things new here on this blog, we are using a form of metaphor. We don’t actually make things new. We are incapable of that. We are image-bearers only.
We participate in making things new when we point to the God-Man who actually Makes New. In essence, we uplift the Gospel that is bursting out or seeping from every art form. This world is indeed teeming with Heaven, and some day Heaven won’t just peek through the cracks, it will bust this old place wide open and a brand new Heaven and Earth will emerge.