A travel guide to heaven


National Review Online has a great interview with the author of A Travel Guide to Heaven. DeStefano is not writing some New Age nonsense that sprang full-grown from his own imagination. He is attempting to present orthodox Christian doctrine about heaven in a manner accessible to mainstream readers. When asked when and why he decided to write the book, here's his reply:

Well there's a spiritual answer, and a secular one as well. First the spiritual: I had an absolutely horrible year awhile back. I had to attend something like fifteen funerals in six months. Everyone in my family seemed to be dying on me. And I had the opportunity to listen to an awful lot of sermons, homilies, and eulogies about the afterlife. The thing that struck me was that, while all the pastors and priests who presided at these sad affairs were being truthful and sincere, their words weren't resonating with the mourners quite as much as I felt they could have. The reason was that they weren't driving home one very important, fundamental point about the Christian teaching on heaven, namely, that one day after the resurrection heaven is going to be physical as well as spiritual. Therefore, when we see our lost loved ones again, we're not just going to be seeing ghosts. We're going to see real, live human beings with warm bodies, faces, eyes, hair, and voices. This fact, to me, is the single most consoling element of our faith, and I knew that something needed to be written which highlighted and proclaimed the point. The problem was that I didn't know how to write such a book. I know I didn't want to preach to the choir. But the dilemma I had was, how do you make a book about such a spiritual subject appeal to the secular masses?

Enter my second moment of epiphany. A few years ago, I took my wife, Kimberly, to California for our five-year anniversary, and, as a surprise, booked a one-night stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Unfortunately, when we got to the place, they had lost our reservations, and there were no other rooms available except one, the presidential suite! The reason why that was open was because it costs $5,000 per night, which I just didn't happen to have on me at the time! But the hotel, believe it or not, actually gave us the suite for the same price as a regular room, and we got to stay there. Now this place is absolutely decadent. Fireplaces in every room, a Steinway Grand Piano in the foyer, his and her bathrooms, saunas, a conference room, and a terrace that stretches the entire length of the hotel. Incredible. Well, I went out onto the terrace with my wife in order to make a champagne toast, and I said something goofy, like, "This is really heaven on earth." The second I said those words, it was as if a light bulb went off in my head. I immediately knew that this was the way I could write a book on heaven and make it appeal to the mainstream. Just compare the afterlife to an eternal, five-star, celestial resort. Because everybody understands the thrill and fun of getting away from it all and going on vacation. I actually left my wife flat on the balcony, her champagne glass still hoisted in the air, and flew back into the room. I grabbed some Beverly Hills Hotel stationary and quickly scribbled down the title of the book and some chapter headings. It was as close to a grand moment of inspiration as I've ever had. Once I got back to New York, it only took me three months to write the book.

DeStefano has set up a website with excerpts from the book.

I love DeStefano's notion that heaven will afford us an eternity to explore cities and galaxies, to renew old friendships and make new ones, to delight in the beauty of God's renewed creation. Think of this: When you plan a once-in-a-lifetime, two-week vacation to Europe, you cram in as much as you can -- if this is Tuesday, it must be Belgium. You are so anxious about making the most of your trip, you take no time to savor the places you visit, to know them deeply. If instead you go on the trip knowing that you'll return next year, you can relax and slow down and enjoy yourself. Maybe you'll spend all two weeks in one little hilltop village in Tuscany, and decide to spend your next trip eating your way through Provence.

Likewise we don't have to try to cram everything into one lifetime. We'll come back someday and have plenty of time for all the good things we've missed, and our enjoyment will be undefiled by imperfection and misery. And because we don't have to try to "grab all the gusto" in this life, there's no good reason to break God's laws on the grounds that otherwise we'll miss out on something.

Some other thoughts come to mind. There's a Southern Gospel tune:

Well it's a great, great morning Your first day in Heaven When you stroll down the golden avenue There are mansions left and right And you thrill with every sight And the saints are always smiling Saying, "How do you do?"

Oh it's a great, great morning
Your first day in Heaven
When you realize your worryin' days are through
You'll be glad you were not idle
Took time to read your Bible
It's a great, great morning for you

The other thought was about a 17th century English pastor named Richard Baxter. Baxter wrote a book to stir up his readers to meditate on Heaven -- The Saints' Everlasting Rest. He reminded his readers that it is both a Christian's duty to think on heaven and a great benefit besides. From his book's conclusion:

Some there be that say, "It is not worth so much time and trouble to think of the greatness of the joys above; if we can make sure they are ours, we know they are great." But as these men obey not the command of God, which requires them to have their "conversation in heaven, and to set their affections on things above;" so they wilfully make their own lives miserable, by refusing the delights which God hath set before them. And if this were all, it were a small matter: but see what abundance of other mischiefs follow the neglect of these heavenly delights. This neglect will damp, if not destroy, their love to God--will make it unpleasant to them to think or speak of God, or engage in his service--it tends to pervert their judgment concerning the ways and ordinances of God--it makes them sensual and voluptuous--it leaves them under the power of every affliction and temptation, and is a preparative to total apostacy--it will also make them fearful and unwilling to die; for who would go to a God or a place he hath no delight in? who would leave his pleasure here, if he had not better to go to? Had I only proposed a course of melancholy, and fear, and sorrow, you might reasonably have objected. But you must have heavenly delights, or none that are lasting. God is willing you should daily walk with him, and draw consolations from the everlasting fountain: if you are unwilling, even bear the loss; and, when you are dying, seek for comfort where you can get it, and see whether fleshly delights will remain with you. Then conscience will remember, in spite of you, that you were once persuaded to a way for more excellent pleasures--pleasures that would have followed you through death, and have lasted to eternity.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on December 30, 2003 11:36 PM.

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