Will we be able to eat, fly, or speak in English? Will we be the same age as we were when we died? Does any of this matter?
The Lord, your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he acted with you before your very eyes in Egypt. In the wilderness as well you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as one carries his own child, all along your journey until you arrived at this place.
His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’
I love answering questions. With the right audience, I’ll spend more time on the Q&A than on the talk that preceded it. I’ve even got a t-shirt that says “I’m a Catholic, ask me a question,” an offer that strangers on the street only rarely take me up on.
There’s really only one area that I just hate getting questions on: heaven. And naturally, it’s every teenager’s favorite topic. “Will our bodies be the age they were when we died?” “Will we eat meat?” “Will we be able to fly?” “What language will we speak?” I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.
As a theologian, these questions drive me nuts because we can’t know. One of the many perks of being Catholic is that we can have confidence in what we believe because the Church has taught with such thorough clarity on so very many topics. The afterlife isn’t one of those topics. I’d much rather you asked me about any number of controversial issues—at least then I can give you an answer, much though you may not like it. “We don’t really know” is just so unsatisfying.
But as a lover of Jesus, these questions bother me even more. It’s fine to be curious, of course, but the food and the flesh and the circumstances aren’t the point. The point is looking in his eyes, being in his arms, seeing him face to face.
There’s an intimacy that readers of the Old Testament often miss, glossing over God’s proposals of marriage (Isaiah 62:4-5, Hosea, Song of Songs) and promises of maternal love (Isaiah 49:15-16, Isaiah 66:13). This passage in Deuteronomy is a reminder that God is close to us whether we feel him or not. He walks beside us, carries us, fights for us, protects us, adores us. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
That’s not enough.
Perhaps it’s greedy of me, blessed as I am. After all, I have the Spirit dwelling within me, the Son in my heart, the Father holding me close. I have Jesus Christ body, blood, soul, and divinity every single day. God is so present to me.
I want more.
I want to hear him. I want to hear the smile in his voice when he looks at me, poor and disheveled as I am, dragging all kinds of brokenness and baggage behind me, and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” It won’t matter that he did all the work, that he carried me and fought for me and saved me in spite of myself. It’ll only matter that he’s pleased. And that I’ll hear him, not speaking in a still, small, wordless sense deep in my soul but in real words, in a strong voice of gentle jubilation.
I want to see him. I don’t know how that will work since I won’t have eyes, but I don’t care. I know that eventually I’ll see him, his real face. Not his body hidden in the appearance of bread, not his image left on the Shroud, but the Lord and lover of my soul in the very flesh.
I want to look into his eyes, see the smile lines that crease his weather-worn skin when he looks at me. I want to see what Peter saw that made that strong, passionate, man’s man leave everything behind. I want to see what made the woman at the well abandon her jar to speak about him to the people who hated her. I want to see what Mary saw that filled her heart even on the darkest nights in Egypt, in Jerusalem, on Calvary. I want to look into the eyes that sent Mary Magdalene running to tell the others. I want to see the love that called Zacchaeus scrambling out of his tree.
This is what it is to share the Master’s joy. And as excited as I am about flying, all I really want is him. So go ahead and keep debating about how much we’ll be bound by the laws of gravity and whether we’ll need to eat. I just don’t care. All those questions take my heart off the point of it all. But imagining him and wondering about him and longing for him make me want heaven like no promise of teleportation and endless buffets ever could. Let’s fix our eyes on him, friends, for this world and the next.