A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of seeing a friend’s photos of a trip she recently took to Israel. The sights I saw generally weren’t new to me, though I have never traveled there myself. Similar pictures of ruins, churches, monuments, and natural features were shown in many of my college History classes and have been featured in plenty of books & research materials* I’ve enjoyed over the years. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed seeing her photos of places that are typically just confined to Bible stories or History studies. More than that, I was inspired by her personal stories of how this trip really impacted her faith. I’m so glad she had a chance to experience that!
In talking about the trip, and from watching a few episodes of the in the oddly-hate-able-yet-lovable Science Channel Show “An Idiot Abroad” I’ve been thinking about the idea of a “bucket list” of places to see.
I love travel. I keep a list of places I’ve visited on my TripAdvisor Travel Map (see below). I have a pinterest board dedicated to places we’ve visited. I own a copy of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. But, somehow, I’ve never bothered making a list of places I personally just have to see before I die, and I don’t know that I ever will.
And, oddly enough, I think that has something to do with my theology.
There’s a line towards the end of The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis which might sum it up:
It is hard to explain how this sunlit land was different from the old Narnia as it would be to tell you how the fruits of that country taste. Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this.You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking- glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different–deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.
It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right forehoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!”
Over the past few years I’ve decided that I don’t have to experience every good thing on earth in this lifetime. What awaits faithful followers of Christ in Heaven… in the fulfillment of God’s kingdom… will be a little like seeing the real sea rather than just the reflection of the sea in the mirror, as Lewis put it in that child-like way. The hope of the new heaven & new earth offer immense joy & freedom for me that I can live & enjoy what I’m able to see & experience first-hand here & now, without the stress of having to cram all the good stuff in this finite amount of time… and without the bad thinking that this life is somehow all I’ve got to enjoy God’s goodness.
The places I’ve seen on earth that somehow felt most heaven-like are at the opposite end of the spectrum: a beautifully green & lush tropical beach at the end of a harrowing drive vs. a dusty, noisy & smelly piece of former farmland. Both of these, as heaven-like as they seem to me (in radically different ways) are things that define the whole idea of “further up & further in” for me. I long for a place that’s somehow more beautiful, more love-filled, more perfect… more real than even these.
That’s why I don’t have a bucket list. I know that anything I miss seeing here & now on earth will be utterly overshadowed by the joy that awaits us!
*And, here’s a link to my favorite easily-accessible book with photos from the Holy Land: The Original Jesus: The Life and Vision of a Revolutionary by Tom Wright