It is not uncommon that someone will come to me and ask, what is heaven? I always find this an interesting and difficult question. It is an interesting question because there is so much speculation and fantastical stories that it is near to impossible to fully discern what or even where heaven is. Actually, even in the biblical accounts there are often contradictions that keep us from really having a clear understanding of heaven.
This week we see one of the very first glimpses the bible has of “heaven.” This glimpse occurs when Jacob is on the run going from Beersheba to Haran. He stopped to camp in a place called Luz. Pulling a rock for a pillow, he bedded down for a sleepless night. While sleeping he saw an image of a ladder and presumably a glimpse of heaven at the top. It was there that God made a promise to Jacob that he would be with him and his family. Jacob recognized the blessing and changed the name of the town to Bethel, which meant “House of God.”
The interesting thing about this passage was that this is another one of those semi-comical stories in the Old Testament where a prophet or patriarch is running away from God, or problems, or whatever, only to find that God is where they are and all their running was for naught.
It is interesting because this was the story of my education. As many of you know I grew up with and still struggle with many learning disabilities. At one point in my journey when I was in fourth or fifth grade, my parents hired a tutor to help me. At one point she gave up trying to teach me the way to do things and began to teach me shortcuts and memorizations. This annoyed me; because despite my lazy appearance I really did, and still do, love to learn. The problem I found with shortcuts was they only worked in certain circumstances, and typically in the end I would need to learn the traditional way. I learned that though I might try other ways, I could never really get past the way it needed to be.
Often in our lives we spend a great deal of time and there are those who make a lot of money helping people to find shortcuts in faith. The pop-theology/spirituality books, seminars and the like make millions. More than that, the secular culture that at times seems to breed a false reality that it offers more security and living than the faithful life, often allows us to run away from God.
The reality is that there is no easy way when it comes to faith and, more importantly, there is no escaping God once God has claimed you. One might say that at the moment of belief we enter into a new and difficult, but glorious new reality.
Jacob was with God, and throughout the rest of the summer we will be coming back to him. But one thing we know about Jacob was that he struggled with his relationship with God. He turned from God, even wrestled with God, he fought with God, but no matter what he did he could not shake God, nor could he get around God’s calling to him. This is very true for us in our modern life where at times we look for shortcuts to get our spiritual fix, but find they fall short, and at other times we want to run from God’s call only to find that when we stop, there He is.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen