I love airports.
The many shops and places to eat. The endless opportunities to people-watch. The time offered to begin that book or pen a few words or catch-up on work. The anticipation of all that will come for trips such as a holiday or visit to family or friends.
Strolling down Terminal 4 yesterday morning at Heathrow, going one way then another having taken a wrong turn, I started piecing together how this watching and waiting and walking perhaps reflected something a little deeper.
‘Each man’s life is but a breath,’ said David in one of his psalms. And James, in his letter, writes: ‘You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.’ I have sometimes balked at the imagery offered by verses such as these. They seem to imply that our life does not really matter.
But a closer look suggests the opposite. Life is so important because, in the context of eternity, it is so small. We should make the most of our days to treasure the beauty of people and the world, to give ourselves to others, to pursue justice and righteousness, to be with others, and to serve and enjoy and love the God who so artfully made it all happen.
Along with this, the vivid imagery of life’s breadth is a reminder that this world – rich in beauty, yet tainted by our knack for getting things wrong – is not meant to be our destination. We are passing through. Today walking the terminal; tomorrow and throughout all eternity to the land where ‘God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
This is the reality for all those who come to Jesus and respond to his love – his unfailing and magnificent love – so selflessly poured out for the whole world.
It’s important to stress that faith in Jesus is not just a ticket to heaven. Walking an airport terminal, you look to make the most of being there. You enjoy the food and the drink. You take the time out to read or talk with a friend or stranger or loved one. You catch-up on work. You do all you can given the time and space and resource available to you. At times it is fun, at other times annoying. But through it all, you are keenly aware that this is not it. This is not the destination.
I like how the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it: ‘He has made everything beautiful in its time. He also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’
God has set eternity in the hearts of men. I love this verse because the writer puts into words something I know more and more in my own heart. This world, though rich in life and beauty, always leaves me longing for something more. In view of the tragedy of life and the brokenness of my own heart, I realise the expectation that life will satisfy is a futile one. Our hearts were made with a depth, intention and love that our days here could never match.
But eternity can. And not just eternity, but eternity with God. Fully and perfectly.
The passenger never comes to the airport just to walk the terminal. In a similar way, our hearts were not made to just walk this earth. This understanding helps me put life in right perspective – to seize fully my time in the terminal, to live and love so well, but to know that the terminal is not my destination. Like a good holiday, the land of our arrival will be much better. So much better.
CS Lewis closes The Last Battle, the last in the Narnia series, with a conversation that gladdens my heart everytime I read it. It offers the perfect summation:
‘When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream…Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadow-Lands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.’