Heavenly Flesh

In C.S. Lewis’ essay entitled “Transposition” from the collection of essays The Weight of Glory, Lewis attempts to give us an explanation of an experience (always a tortured task) of what heaven must be like. So often the idea of heaven that we receive is one of a ghost-like existence which is euphorically entranced by an innumerable choir singing Enya-like music or endless repetitions of the latest favorite praise chorus. We take Saint Paul’s words from I Cor 15 that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God” and try to force his words to fit into the box of our earthly experiences. But Lewis (I can only imagine) had this itching between his ears that knew that the strip-away-the-physical approach to a heavenly vision is wrong-headed and unscriptural. So being true to form, Lewis, as the quintessential artist of the literary canvas, drives home his point with a fable. 

He tells a story of a lady who, having been thrown into a dungeon, bears and rears a son. This boy has no visual access to the outside world except through a small window which is too high up on the wall to see anything but a bit of sky. But the mother, not wishing for her son to be robbed of the visual richness of the physical world, not only begins to describe things to him like trees and bubbling creeks and horses, but she also begins to draw them for him on her sketch pad. And being the artist by trade before her imprisonment, she draws for him exquisite pieces, replete with detail and texture and perspective. All this boy’s life he dutifully listens to his mother and studies her drawings of the beauties beyond the dungeon walls, until one day he says something to his mother that causes her to realize that her son has believed all these years that the world beyond the dungeon to be full of pencil lines and sketch marks. [And now quoting directly from Lewis…]

 

“’But,’ she gasps,’you didn’t think the real world was full of lines drawn in lead pencil?”

‘What?’ says the boy. ‘No pencil marks there?’

And instantly his whole notion of the whole outer world becomes a blank. For the lines by which alone he was imagining it, have now been denied of it. He has no idea of that which will exclude and dispense with the lines … — the waving tree-tops, the light dancing on the weir, the coloured three-dimensional realities which are not enclosed in lines but define their own shapes at every moment with a delicacy and multiplicity which no drawing could ever achieve. The child will somehow get the idea that the world is somehow less visible than his mother’s pictures. In reality it lacks lines because it is incomparably more visible” [(Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 2001), 110].

And so it shall be with heaven. Heaven will not be less physical. The world which our senses see and drink and taste and smell will not fade. The lines on the sketches of our physical existence will certainly drop out and fade away, but not because we will be less fleshy or physical. But because a resurrected world – a world purged of sin and imbued with the glory of the Triune God – will be so much more. Or as Lewis put it, “If flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom, that is not because they are too solid, too gross, too distinct, too ‘illustrious with being.’ They are too flimsy, too transitory, too phantasmal.”

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