After publishing a short article on my thoughts of a minimum Hell, I was invited to consider writing something on a minimum Heaven. It is one thing to imagine the depravation of good things and call it ‘Hell’; it is quite another to speak of heavenly things that have ‘not entered the heart of man’(1). Nevertheless, I think we do experience something that I might refer to as the call of Heaven which gives us glimmers of that far distant land and what I might call a minimum Heaven.
On June 8, 1942 professor of literature at Oxford University, C.S. Lewis, delivered a sermon titled ‘The Weight of Glory’ which describes this idea of the call of Heaven. He has described my own experience in words more eloquent than mine, so here I present Lewis’s words, albeit highly condensed.
“… it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. But all this is a cheat. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them. They are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice.
A man’s physical hunger does not prove that that man will get any bread; he may die of starvation on a raft in the Atlantic. But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist. In the same way, though I do not believe (I wish I did) that my desire for Paradise proves that I shall enjoy it, I think it a pretty good indication that such a thing exists and that some men will.
When I attempted, a few minutes ago, to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends or as the landscape loses the celestial light. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. It is not the physical objects that I am speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire.
Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache. We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
If we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendor of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fitfully reflects.
What would it be to taste at the fountain-head that stream of which even these lower reaches prove so intoxicating? Yet that, I believe, is what lies before us.” — Clive Staples Lewis, The Weight of Glory
I have one thing to add. In His prayer, Jesus said, ‘This is eternal life, that they may know You'(2). If God is the personification and origin of power, beauty, music, purity, joy, honour, and every good thing given and every perfect gift(3), then to contemplate this and draw near to God through Jesus Christ is to begin to conceive of a minimum Heaven.
(1) 1 Corinthians 2:9
(2) John 17:3
(3) James 1:17