Let’s go to the beach, get the sand through our feet. Bring on the wonder, bring on the song, I pushed you down deep in my soul for too long. — Sarah McLachlan, Bring on the Wonder
There is a passage of scripture which troubles me.
Let me rephrase that. There are many passages of scripture which trouble me; but there is one which has me especially puzzled at the moment, and it is this:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:1-4, ESV.
Now, I am looking forward to the coming of the new heaven and new earth. God dwelling with man? Yes! Can’t wait for that. No more tears, mourning or pain? Bring it on. That’s what we’ve all been longing for, right?
My issue is with this description at the end of the first verse:
. . . and the sea was no more.
No sea = no beach.
And few things in this life restore my soul like a day at the beach.
New England experienced its first heat wave of the season at the end of May, one which extended into the early days of June. And for some reason, my air conditioning only seems to conk out on me in the middle of a heat wave. After several steamy, sultry days I found myself home alone on a Saturday morning, having finished all my chores. So I did what folks have done for generations to seek relief from the heat; I headed for open water and cooler temperatures.
And at my first glimpse of blue extending to the horizon, and the first taste of salt air on my tongue, I experienced the physical sensation of rest. I wonder if it’s possible actually to feel a drop in one’s blood pressure, because I certainly seemed to.
Perhaps I should share my discovery with cardiologists.
I sat on the beach, soaked up the sun, and ran sand through my toes. I watched seagulls circle above picnic baskets and blankets, waiting to swoop down and commit crimes of opportunity. Despite temperatures which had scarcely risen to sixty degrees I dove beneath the water in the Long Island Sound, anxious to feel salt in my hair and taste it on my lips.
My eyes surveyed fellow beach goers. Young boys using sand buckets as bases organized a game of ball, calling out chants they had perhaps picked up in Little League, They invited others who passed by to join them and, not until after assigning positions on their field did they ask, “Hey! What’s your name anyway?”
I reveled in their playfulness. I prayed these boys, who would soon be men, wouldn’t grow up and out of it too quickly.
I saw packs of teens moving across the beach, almost as a single unit. Several within the group formed couples, holding hands and clinging perhaps to the first fruits of a summer romance. Others flirted and gazed longingly in the direction of another. I wondered how many of these were walking through the beginning days of the last summer of their friendship, before being scattered by college and life and responsibility.
I saw families of all shapes and size and colors; I heard laughter and voices in tongues not my own. I witnessed a young boy capture a crab in his net, show it to an elderly man who stopped to snap a picture, and then release it back into the surf. All around me, people were drinking in the delight of a simple day at the beach.
And I thought about Jesus, ministering to his disciples by preparing breakfast over the coals for them.
On the beach.
So why, in the new heaven and new earth, would there be no more sea? No more beach?
I am no theologian, nor son of a theologian, but I am certainly capable of googling some biblical commentary. I looked to voices I trusted to help me try to make sense of this passage. Some insisted on it being understood quite literally. No sea means, no sea. Period.
Ix-nay on the each-bay.
Others interpreted the passage more metaphorically, acknowledging that the words are John’s description of his vision. They pointed toward other references throughout scripture where the imagery of the sea suggests a place of violence and judgment, something which separates people from one another, and from which, one day, the dead will be reclaimed.
I honestly can’t say for sure whether or not there will be beaches in heaven. But if not, I am certain what will be there can only be better—a thing I can scarcely imagine. There, my soul will be healed and all will be well.
And perhaps Jesus will meet me there. And we’ll have breakfast.
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