Those who see a bit of heaven are never the same. Sometimes they are at a loss for words. Sometimes they say the wrong thing. But always, things change. Jacob saw a ladder up to heaven at Bethel, with Angels ascending and descending on it. He knew from then on that “Yahweh is in this place,” and that God had a plan for his life (Genesis28.10-17). Moses was exposed to the presence of God during the 40 days he spent on Mount Sinai, and he came down from the mountain radiating light from his face (Exodus 34.33). Elisha saw the fire, the whirlwind, and the chariot of heaven when Elijah was translated from earthly life to heavenly life. For the rest of his life he radiated calm – even when surrounded by the Syrian army (II Kings 6.11-19). Isaiah went to the Temple, devastated at the death of King Uzziah , when He experienced the presence of the enthroned Yahweh, and his divine entourage. Isaiah left the life of courtier immediately, volunteering for the life of a prophet when he said “Here am I, send me.”(Isaiah 6.1-13) Peter, James and John saw Jesus transformed into something of His heavenly state, as well as two saints long passed conversing with Jesus. They all heard the voice of God from heaven as well (Matthew 17.1-13). James died early, and so we have no information about his ministry, but years later, when Peter was giving his credentials as an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus, the one event he mentioned was his experience on the mount of transfiguration (II Peter 1.16-21). John, of course, seems to have had the most sustained glimpse of heaven ever – since the book of Revelation is the record of that experience. Words fail, as he tries to describe streets that are smooth and transparent like glass, and yet like fire; or gates that are a single pearl (Revelation 21.9-27). Paul evidently had a sustained experience of heaven as well, and admits that he has no words to describe what he saw. His experience was so life altering that he was given “a thorn in the flesh” to keep him from being puffed up, and to remind him that God’s strength is perfected in our weakness (II Corinthians 12.1-10).
I guess my lengthily made point is this – to be exposed to heaven – to the Divine and the eternal – is a life altering experience. It is not surprising, then to know the lengths to which some humans have gone (do go) to induce an ecstatic experience – they ingest chemicals, starve themselves, twirl around until they induce unconsciousness, self-flagellate, deny themselves oxygen, intoxicate themselves with oxygen, hang upside down, expose themselves to extreme cold, expose themselves to extreme heat….anything to induce a cocktail of dementia and endorphins that will pass for an experience of God.
But we are given real means to experience God. Primarily, we have the word of God. To read the word is to have an actual experience of God, for it is alive with the breath of God, and it is able to give us an actual (not just a virtual) experience of the Divine (I John 1.1-3). We are also able to enter the very presence of God when we pray (Hebrews 4.14ff). When we worship we experience the presence of God, as well as join the ongoing activity of heaven (Matthew 18.20, Revelation 5.8-14). But perhaps the greatest opportunity we have of experiencing the Divine is provided by God’s own omnipresence.
Jacob was right - wherever we are we may say “Yahweh isin this place.” David says:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in the grave, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, or dwell in the remotest part of the sea even there your hand will lead me….Psalm 139.7-9
The actual experience of God is not reserved for the enlightened, or chosen few, but is the natural right and resource of every Christian. Every one of us can have Elisha’s calm, Isaiah’s eagerness, Paul’s speechlessness, John’s joy. God is our Father. We are His children. We belong in His presence.