‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. 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 will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’
There’s an episode of Open All Hours, where Arkwright looks up to the sky, and remarks in a philosophical tone, “93 million miles from here to the sun”, and Granville, sweeping with a worn out brush, replies, “aye, and that’s about how many miles this brush has done”. My mind starts to boggle when I think about that things that I can see so brightly in the sky, but are billions of miles away. When we pray, “Our Father in heaven”, we’re praying to the one who rules the whole cosmos, but when so much that’s wrong in the world around us, perhaps it’s good that God is so much, in the face of how much we need God.
If our prayer is more than self-therapy, then it makes a difference where we think God is when we’re praying to God. If God resides safely tucked up in our hearts, if God is only a projection of our wish for the very best of human aspiration and experience, then there’s not much hope.
When we pray to God “in heaven” we’re not suggesting that God has a postal address, but we are locating God more specifically than just everywhere. God can be present anywhere, and there is something of God in many places, but there is more than that God is always and fully everywhere. Perhaps you’ve sensed those “thin places” with a glimpse of heaven?
God’s being in heaven also means that we cannot domesticate God, or turn God into our own image. We can have a personal relationship with God, through Jesus, but we can’t turn God into a reflection of ourselves because God is always so much more than we are. Our hope is that if we share in God’s kingdom now, here on earth, we shall be ready fully to dwell forever in the house of the Lord, a dwelling we have prepared for in our prayer here on earth to “our Father in heaven”.
God of heaven, infinite in wisdom and understanding; God of all creation, without boundary or border; God of tenderness, full of compassion and mercy; God of love, drawing us close as neighbours with love for each other; draw us close, for you are the life we have, the breath we draw, and the love we have to give. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael Hopkins is Minister of the Spire Church, Farnham, Elstead URC, and serves as Clerk of the General Assembly.