Jesus never described the gospel as an escape hatch, whereby we can exchange this current world for a spiritual retreat far away. Rather, his gospel was: “God’s kingdom is here! Heaven has come to earth!” Jesus invites his disciples to join the world-redeeming, evil-conquering, status-reversing, life-transforming movement of God come to Earth.
I’ve been using an old Yiddish story from Peter Frost to illustrate this: There was a baker who grew tired of his life and village, including his wife and children. So he left home early one morning overcome with gloom and depression.
He said to himself: “I’ll never be able to fix up my old house. My wife never gives me a rest. My children are foolish. I hate my job.” Then he remembered something his rabbi said. The rabbi would point at a distant mountain and say, “Someday we will all go to heaven, and there no one will know trouble again.”
The baker said, “I will go now to find heaven!” So, instead of walking to the bakery, he started toward the mountain. As night fell, he took off his boots and pointed them in the direction he was walking, so come morning, he would know which direction to go. While the baker slept, an angel came along the path and noticed the baker’s boots pointing toward heaven. Mischievously, the angel turned the boots back toward home. The baker awoke with the morning sun and started off in the direction his boots were pointing.
After a while he arrived at an oddly familiar gate that seemed to be the entrance to heaven. He lifted the latch and went into the yard. This heavenly yard looked so much like his yard back home. The door to the heavenly house also looked familiar.
He entered the house and the smells of heavenly food making his mouth water and his stomach rumble. A woman, so very like his wife, served him delicious food, and he ate everything put before him. Meanwhile, two children danced into the kitchen, and they were so nice and friendly that the man sighed with happiness. “Yes,” he thought, “it is exactly as the rabbi said. I have found heaven, and it is simply wonderful.”
When we ask, “How far is heaven?” we never have to look beyond the world in which we live. Jesus points our boots back to the place we know best.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.