Whenever I visit a place on vacation that seems idyllic, like the mountains and canyons of southern Utah, the magnificent Tetons of Montana, or even the restful simplicity of a week by the sea, I always have a tendency to romanticize about what it would be like to live there full-time, how wonderful it would be 24/7, how I would never tire of the beauty. And yet I know that I am fantasizing about something that is not real. Vacations are welcome parentheticals in life, not life itself. And yet we still do it.
Author Robert Finch spent nearly a decade wandering around the Eastern Canadian province of Newfoundland. Finch, who is not a native of Newfoundland and does not live there, describes the people and land like one who loves a place, sympathetically, and yet realistically, in his book, The Iambics of Newfoundland: Notes From An Unknown Shore. While he avoids romanticism, even he admits he feels its tug:
"As I have felt the growing strength of my draw to this place, this strange and compelling island, I have recognized the need to try to see things without illusions, without romanticizing them, to see only what is there for what it is. Ah, but that night, on the dark slopes of Signal Hill, lying with Penny and Nell beneath an assault of burning rocks from the black sky [the Perseid meteor shower], with the lighted voyages, arrivals, departures, and extinctions creating a sense of great time, depth, and distance, and with the invisible deep thrumming of offshore ship engines seeming to come out of the earth itself, I felt as if I was plummeting through overlapping and telescoped layers and stages of connection, toward something unseen and unfelt."
Something like this happens in knowing God. We want to know Him as he is, without romanticizing Him, and yet much like those who have put a face on Jesus (you know, blond hair and blue eyes), we put a "face" on God. We imagine He is a benign grandfatherly figure perhaps, or if we are more theologically astute, perhaps we know better than to envision any physical shape (as we know God is spirit), and yet in our imaginings we accentuate, say, His love, at the expense of His justice, his infinite nature at the expense of His personal concern. Somewhat mystic that I can be, I sometimes do the latter, having no difficulty seeing God as the sustainer of Creation and yet finding it difficult to really believe that He is my friend who knows the hairs on my head and every concern that I have. And yet He does. He knows me.
There is no need for imagining. Like Finch wants to know a place as it is, we want to know God as He really is, to speak to Him "face to face." How do we do that? Through what Puritan Thomas Boston called the "two books:"
"Whoever would walk with God must be due observers of the Word and Providence of God for by these in a special manner He manifests himself to His people. In the one we see what He says; in the other what He does. These are the two books that every student of holiness ought to be much conversant in."
I think Finch was wrong. He wasn't feeling the tug of romanticism. In the meteor showers seen in the star-studded sky over Newfoundland, I suspect He was feeling the tug of His Maker, of the eyes of God looking in. Heaven was both literally and spiritually within sight. So it is for us.