Before we moved to America, my mother painted the walls of my room with a mural of a village. At night I would lie in bed and walk my feet along the pathway on the wall. And I would shut my eyes and imagine that Heaven was like that Village. It was a place with no bad dreams where nothing bad ever happened.
When I was 8 years old or so, I used to find heaven in the clouds. I would look out the window and imagine that I was inside of Heaven, the clouds with all their fogginess wrapping around me like cotton balls and keeping me safe.
Less than a decade later, my version of Heaven shifted again. Heaven was about being reunited with my grandmother. Heaven was a place where I could see her face again, along with all those I loved that I knew I would one day lose.
A lot of people believe in a version of Heaven: a consolation for this life, a place where all the things they lost are made up for.
But the Christian Heaven is so strange and unique. It holds something better than consolation: restoration.
Tim Keller talks about the irreversibility of loss. And I know exactly what the means. It’s the worst part of grief, the worst part of regret: waking up and remembering that you have lost something and feeling the powerless and helpless sense that you cannot regain it.
I know this sense. I have felt the grasping in my soul to un-do the loss of my father; to un-do sins I’ve committed; un-do break-ups; to change decisions I’ve made; to make my friend alive again. I have felt the horror of irreversible loss.
Heaven holds out to me deliverance from that horror. A promise better than consolation. Heaven is not a ‘making up’ for all the pain and loss you’ve experienced, it is a making that pain and loss mean something glorious.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV)
That verse says two crazy things. (1) Suffering is accomplishing something. (2) That ‘something’ is so amazing it makes our pain look small in comparison.
Suffering is not small. This text isn’t saying that pain isn’t real and life isn’t tragic and terrifying and overwhelming. This text is saying that if you and I could see what is to come, even our worst pain would seem light and momentary in comparison. This verse isn’t about belittling your hurt and suffering, it’s about emphasizing how HUGE the glory is that is coming. Think about how heavy your pain is. Now imagine how big the weight of glory must be if it can make that seem light in comparison!
But, this verse says even more than that. Our pain and affliction is preparing that weight of glory. It is not simply that what is coming in Heaven is so great that it is going to make up for your pain and loss, it’s that the pain and loss is making what is coming in Heaven. The joys you’ll experience on the flip side are the fruit of the pain on this side.
I don’t know how that works, but here’s how I imagine it. I imagine that the losses in this life are carving out room in my soul to make room for more of God in the next life. I imagine that the loss of a Father in this life has increased my soul’s capacity to experience Him as Father in the next. I imagine that the pains of singleness in this life have stretched my heart to make space for His partnership in the next.
What I know for sure is that no pain in this life is wasted. It is accomplishing – preparing for me – something that is too great to imagine.