Close your eyes and try to picture the perfect neighborhood. What do you see? A sturdy house with decent air conditioning? A good school for your children? Friendly neighbors with whom you have a good relationship? What else comes to mind?
Everyone has an idea of what the perfect neighborhood looks like. Many spend their entire lives searching for it, trying to recreate it. Some are unaware of the sad truth—or are in denial of the fact—that no such place exists. At least not in this world.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t get close to perfection. Like my hometown, for example, tucked away in the heart of the Deep South. My mother’s family settled there two hundred years ago, and they never left. I lived there for nine years, and I have many fond memories of the town.
Our family had its struggles, but my parents tried their best to make each day fun for my brother and me. My mom used to have a small garden, and I remember how I used to help her care for the plants. Several of our best meals came from that garden, and it was satisfying to know I had played a part in growing the produce. Also, there was a time when Dad built small teardrop campers to sell on eBay. I would help him as best I could, handing him tools and assembling parts. And every Tuesday night, we would get Mexican food at my favorite restaurant in town—a place where kids under ten ate free.
For a time, our family lived in a house that my great-grandfather had built atop a hill, surrounded by farmland and trees on all sides. My brother and I couldn’t have asked for a better place to play. We fought Nerf wars, played street hockey in the nearby church parking lot, and built makeshift rollercoasters out of plywood on the hillside—which sounds more dangerous than it really was. Life was an adventure, and we were never bored. I was living my best life.
Or was I?
While I thought I had it good, my mother remembers a time when the town was—in many respects—much better. Mom was born in the 1970s, and she grew up in the same town. But the town she remembers from her childhood was a much smaller town, a tightly knit community where people took a keen interest in each other’s lives. Everybody knew each other, so the people felt much safer. And as a rule, they were much friendlier too. Yes, it had its problems then, but they seemed a lot smaller—more manageable.
Sometimes, when I hear her talking about her childhood, it almost sounds like she’s talking about a different place. The people I met weren’t nearly as friendly as the people Mom grew up with. Also, as the town grew, there was an uptick in crime, though I didn’t know it at the time. My mom even remembers riding her bike across town from school to her mother’s hair salon when she was a young girl. She would never have dreamed of letting my brother and me ride our scooters to the nearby ice cream store by ourselves, let alone across town.
When I listened to Mom’s stories as a child, I couldn’t fully sympathize with her. As I grow older, however, I find myself starting to understand how she feels. I left my hometown years ago, and every time I go back, I’m surprised by how much it has changed—not always for the better. I can hardly recognize it, and I know Mom doesn’t recognize it at all. I’ve realized that no matter how good it was, my hometown was never perfect. It wasn’t even perfect when Mom was a child, though arguably it was better.
But couldn’t there be a perfect neighborhood somewhere? As I said earlier, there is no such neighborhood in this world. Philosophers argue over whether people are basically good or evil, but our record speaks for itself. No one is perfect, and when you put imperfect people into a community, trouble immediately follows. The only perfect neighborhood is a neighborhood with no people in it.
If this world is all that exists, this truth would be disheartening. And yet, everything inside us cries out that this is not true. That this world is not all there is and that there is a place where our best wishes will find their ultimate satisfaction. A place where “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”
A place called Heaven.
“But isn’t that just wishful thinking?” a skeptic might say. “Aren’t you just making up a perfect world because you want to live in one so badly?”
I won’t go into all the evidence for Heaven’s existence now—smarter men and women have done that—but I will argue that our natural desire to be in Heaven is evidence that it exists. C.S. Lewis wrote about this in his timeless book Mere Christianity. “Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. . . . If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Imagine a man who has never seen food in his life, let alone eaten any. He feels hungry and longs for something to satisfy it. Is he delusional? No, there is something to satisfy his hunger—food. And the fact that he desires food, even though he has never seen it, is evidence that it exists. Of course, there is stronger evidence for Heaven’s existence than our desire to be there, but it is good evidence, nonetheless.
As a Christian, I can find comfort in the fact that I will one day live in Heaven. And because I have this hope, I want to live my life in a way that will bring glory to God, so that others will see the hope that is in me. I want to do my part to make this world a better place, while helping people see what that world will be like. Heaven-minded people, I believe, are of the most earthly good.
This world is not our true home. A perfect neighborhood is coming, and it is far greater than anything our minds can imagine. I can’t wait to go there.
Will you come with me?