I went to a house concert a few weeks ago where a band named The Gray Havens was performing. Their music and lyrics captured my imagination immediately and I’ve had their EP and their album on rotation in my car’s CD player since.
This morning, as I drove into work, I caught a verse from one song, “The Far Kingdom,” that struck a chord:
There is a far kingdom
On the other side of the glass
And by a faint light we see
Still there is more gladness
Longing for the sight
Than to behold or be filled by anything
What caught me initially was the reference to Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:2, which in the King James Version, reads, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
I love that verse. And I love the rhythms and pictures embodied in the KJV’s phrasing of it. But I most of all I love the concept behind it—that while we can’t see clearly now, we are fully known, and one day we will see and know without obstruction.
When I lived in rural Alaska, from time to time I visited the Native Chapels in nearby villages. I was always struck in the Native church services by two things: one, the bulk of the congregation were Elders—the grandparent generation of the community; two, they loved to sing old hymns about heaven.
I used to be bothered by this. I used to think that the Elders were approaching their faith with a pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by mentality. That they saw belief in Christ as a way to escape the often-hard realities of their daily lives—where they saw their families struggling in cycles of addiction and abuse.
In the years since, I’ve repented of my judgmental attitude. Each one of those Elders singing those songs had a story—and the pain of their stories informed why songs about the hope of heaven spoke so deeply to them. Hand-in-hand with that repentance have come experiences that have made me cling hard to the songs that speak of the New Heaven and the New Earth, of the day when all will be redeemed, and when we will know as fully as we are known.
While we can’t see clearly now, we are fully known, and one day we will see and know without obstruction.
The lyric in The Gray Havens’ song is powerful to me particularly because it speaks to the tension we currently live in—our future hope, that face-to-face seeing, that “far kingdom” is, in reality, quite close, just the other side of the glass. But the second part of the verse is where it really hits home: “There is more gladness/ Longing for the sight/ Than to behold or be filled by anything.”
Nothing in this world can compare with even the longing for what is to come. None of the silly little pleasures we fill up our days with can match the gladness of longing for our true Home and the restoration of the way things ought to be.*
We long to see clearly. We long to know, even as we are fully known. We long to be removed from whatever the pain of our own story is—the pain that keeps us singing songs about heaven. But as believers, we are fully known—now, in our pain, in our little pleasures, in our longing. And the far kingdom we long for is not so far, after all. Its Representative is here, with us; Christ said He would be our Helper (John 14:26).
So sing the songs of the New Heavens and the New Earth. Shout with praise at full volume so that it echoes off the glass between us. And live—in the power of our Helper, the Holy Spirit—reflecting the Light that bleeds through from the other side of the glass so that others may see, dimly, the hope of one day seeingface to face.
*C.S. Lewis used the term Sehnsucht when he talked about this idea. He described it as a unique kind of Joy, one with “a stab, a pang, an inconsolable longing.” Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. (Orlando, FL: Harcourt Books, 1955), 72.