A few years back, Dr. Jerram Barrs, a professor at Covenant Seminary, was speaking about the Narnia books at a Borders bookstore (remember those?). The store had been gracious enough to host the event and Dr. Barrs had drawn a large crowd, speaking about the Chronicles of Narnia and what they meant. At one point in the Q & A, a little boy stood up and said, “I don’t want to go to heaven! I want to go to Aslan’s country!”
I remember that story because that little guy’s desire was so right. In my favorite book in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep the mouse has this lifelong wish to see Aslan’s country, the land where Aslan came from, where Aslan’s father reigns supreme. And at one point in the book, Reepicheep says this:
“While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world in some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”
Christians tend to get very excited about heaven. And that’s great. I’m sure heaven will be fantastic. But it seems to me that we’re missing something. The Bible is very clear: heaven is not our final destination.
People really want to know what heaven will be like. People are so desperate to know about it that they write books about the afterlife. I completely understand this motivation. Some people even go so far as to say they’ve died, gone there, and come back to tell us what our home will be like. But heaven is not our home. Heaven is merely the threshold.
But this reigning “heaven-is-the-ending” philosophy has a few problems.
1.) It leads to an “I’ll Fly Away” escapist mentality. The rationale goes something like this: This world is not my home. God will scrap it anyway. My job on earth is to grin and bear it until I die and then the real party starts. To quote Colin Hay, “I’m waiting for my real life to begin.”
2.) If heaven is the final destination for a Christian, then the Christian has no meaningful reason to take care of the earth. Oh sure, we should be good stewards of creation and we’re commanded to care for the earth. But because our citizenship is in heaven, I don’t really have a reason to recycle or fight pollution or save the whales. Heaven will be litter-free and THAT’S where I’m going.
3.) It just ain’t biblical.
I’ve already written about how I think God is not going to scrap the world and start over with a new one. But whether you agree with me there or not, the real biblical story does not end with all the saints floating up in heaven. It ends with a new sky and a new land, renewed and cleansed from all sin and death.
And upon that new earth, the holy city, new Jerusalem, will come down out of heaven to be the dwelling place of God among humanity. That old hymn “I’ll Fly Away” should really be about leaving heaven to come back down to our true, eternal home: the earth.
This is what C.S. Lewis was trying to get at with the idea of Aslan’s country. A real place with real walls and streets and trees and running water. That’s where the saints will live out eternity. You can read all about this in the Book of Revelation, chapters 21-22.
In the end, heaven will come down to subsume the earth with “the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel” (Rev.21:10-11). We will live out eternity here, on the earth-renewed, in Aslan’s country, bathing in the glory of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea. And he will dwell among his people and they shall reign forever and ever.
That is why I will sink with my nose to the sunrise. Because that’s my real home: this earth, cleansed from evil, wrapped in the Light of the glory of God. The promise of Aslan’s country.