… who is in heaven …

… who is in Heaven …

Addressing our Father “who is in heaven” is not easy for us mortals to grasp emotionally. Take Robert Browning’s poem Pippa’s Song, for instance.

The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at morn;
Mornings and seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in his heaven─
All’s right with the world!

The poem begins cheery enough. The first three lines speak of times and seasons, evoking pleasant thoughts. Time narrows from years to days to mornings, and from spring to morn to seven o’clock in the morning, a perfect number and a perfect time to be awake, alive and to experience spring. The poet then opens up the scenery to hillsides dew-pearled, and to larks ascending, but stoops to observe a snail on a thorn. From here he works his way to God in heaven, and to the state of the world.

The key word in the poem is “thorn.” Everything up till now is just fine and wonderful. But a cloud now disturbs our thoughts. In fact, it forces us to revisit our earlier thoughts on time and nature that the poet first took us. It dawns on us that “thorn” rhymes with “morn” in the second line, and mornings in the third line, suggesting that we read “mourn” and “mourning” instead. This is true for the snail, who, unlike the lark that is free and carefree, is stuck on a thorn and is in pain. God, who is like the lark, exists in heaven high above and detached from us earth dwellers, grieving like the snail suffering in the inexplicable beauty of the world.

Do you feel the power of the poem? If you do, then you are faced with the question of how can we emotionally and intellectually connect with this phrase, “Our Father who is in Heaven.” For the most part, western culture, since the two world wars and the advent of nuclear weapons, has abandoned the idea of a transcendent God who is in control of everything. This conjures up thoughts of God as the great Oz desperately trying to maintain His image from behind the curtains pulling levers while the whole world is going to hell.

We are not unaffected by our culture. To be honest, don’t we struggle in pain and suffering like the snail, and doesn’t this often make God seem remote? How do you think Jesus would want us to connect with a transcendent God who is in “heaven”?

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