(John Ruskin, 1856)
That so many people cannot believe in Heaven or, believing, cannot envision its nature, may be because the home that they grew up in bore no semblance of peace, was full of fear or confusion or doubt. In short, it was more like Hell than Heaven, either in the evils perpetrated there or the very lack of which it stank. There is no shortage of memoirs that tell of such homes, a plethora of films which record their ills.
The home in which I was reared was no such place. Whether as a child escaping neighborhood bullies, teenager on the short end of love, or college student confused and despairing of my options, home was a refuge for me, a place of acceptance no matter that I did not fit elsewhere, of comforting words when I was worn down by the relentless burdens of the world. I could even do wrong and still come home, my prodigal heart drawn to its peace.
At the age of five, I cut my two-year old sister's hair. I received a sound spanking. And yet still I was served dinner that night, given a warm bed to sleep in, and kissed goodnight as if nothing had happened, all my sin covered over by a loving forgetfulness, as far as the east is from the west to my parents.
A year or so later, I set the top bunk bed in my room on fire playing with matches. With my then three-year old sister on it. My parents were drinking coffee in the kitchen. I calmly told them that the bed was on fire. My mother grabbed a wet dish rag (that's what we called them), beat the fire out, and then "beat the fire out of me." Ouch. And yet still I was given a warm bed to sleep in, a bowl of strawberries in sugar and milk, and kissed goodnight as if nothing had happened, though something had. O dish rag, where is your sting?
I grew up, of course, as did my younger sister, by God's grace unscathed, and came early to the conclusion that my home and all homes were imperfect, that my parents had feet of clay --- but still it was a place of peace, in its best moments a shadow of Heaven. It wasn't just the rooms and halls and smells and furnishings of that place, of course, though they are indelibly imprinted in every memory, but the people tied to me by blood and commitment --- my mother, my father, my sisters. That place is lost to me now as a place I can visit. My father has long since gone Home. My mother remembers me but can't remember what she did this morning or yesterday, still believes her long-departed mother is still in her home. And when I visit my mother in her rest home (an old word I still prefer), despite her dementia and the institutional surroundings I am still in some sense coming home. I shed all pretense, drop back to my natural speech, the language of home, and simply am a son with his mother, famous only for that fact, all of what I have and who I am and who I think I am irrelevant with her.
To disciples who believed that they might be left alone in the world, Jesus said "In my father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (Jn. 14:3-4a, ESV). How comforting that he speaks of a home, of a house with rooms --- a tangible, physical reality, where we can enter into His rest, the rest of Home.
We can be thankful for whatever shadow of Heaven is granted us here, whether in the home in which we were reared or the home we now know or one we have brushed up against. But if we were raised in one of those hellish homes, there is still this: "I go to prepare a place for you." There may be no perfect home here, no lasting rest, but one day we'll sit down in a chair in our room in Heaven, put our feet up, look out the window, breathe a contented sigh, and survey a world more familiar and real than the one we have lived in and know without a shadow of doubt that we are Home.