Heaven is a Symphony Playing All Around You. Here Are Three Ways to Hear it

Photo by Sergey Egorov 

I was once asked to do a radio debate with an atheist. One of the criticisms my counterpart raised was that Christianity had been reduced to a faith that was only interested in getting people to heaven, instead of a faith that changed this life too. While the criticism wasn’t entirely fair (it’s hard to think of an institution today that hasn’t been founded or shaped by the faith), I had to agree that in some cases she was right. Christianity is so much more than getting people ‘up there’, even if some televangelists would have you think otherwise.

But let’s look at this another way. Heaven is where God is, and since God is everywhere, heaven isn’t just ‘up there’ but touches earth too. When the producers of BBC Radio 2’s Pause for Thought gave me the topic of ‘Heaven to Earth’ to discuss, I started wondering how we can glimpse heaven’s reality now. 

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Heaven on Earth

In a profound series of BBC radio talks, later published in a book called The Spiritual Life, the great thinker Evelyn Underhill described heaven as an unseen world alive all around us, a grand symphony that fills the universe. And she believed some everyday experiences could open our ears to hear it.

An Unexpected Impulse

One of them, she said, is humanity’s impulse to pray. In every era and culture people have called out to a Power greater than themselves—sometimes unexpectedly. I think of a Buddhist man who, when his plane suddenly lost altitude, found himself praying to Jesus for help. And the man who told me he still wanted to pray even though he didn’t believe. For Underhill, these are signs of that other world existing.

Struck by Beauty

Another sign, she said, is beauty. In Unseen Footprints I share an experience of being in the Scottish fishing town of Ullapool one day. At sundown I happened to look out the window and there saw the most astonishing sight—the end of a rainbow resting on the water. Soon the whole town was out, gazing in awe. In that moment, Underhill would say, we were glimpsing something of heaven’s beauty breaking in.

A hand reaching up to the sky

Photo by Jeremy Perkins  

Moments of Serendipity

And then there’s serendipity. Many of us can recall a time when things worked uncannily in our favour. Someone came into our life at the right time, or an unexpected opportunity opened up for us. In those moments it can feel like someone is working behind the scenes for our good. Underhill (and I) would say there is.

Listen to the news, scroll through your feed, and you’ll soon be reminded that heaven and earth are yet to unite. Hearing the symphony isn’t the same as us playing along with the tune. Right now heaven and earth are like two hands touching at the fingertips. One day the hands will clasp tight, fingers interlocked, like lovers.

Until then, beauty, serendipity and that impulse to pray can remind us there’s another song to sing, another world ready to break in. Heaven is on its way to earth.


…your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven…

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  • August 2, 2018
    Ann Hastings

    Hi Sheridan,
    As you advise, I am resubmitting my yesterday’s comments on your blog ‘Heaven is a Symphony …’ (You must have received something from me yesterday, as I see today I have been given an ebook. Thank you.

    Your instructions say to ‘Leave a comment below’ so I hope this time I have clicked the right ‘below’! You have my name and email address, and the following is the copied and pasted comment I tried to send yesterday, with just an occasional word changed which usually happens when I RE-read!:

    Hi Sheridan,
    I completely agree with you, that the criticism was unfair because the great majority of organisations doing anything good in the world were as you say, founded or influenced by Christians, and that as God is everywhere, where can God have no influence?

    But don’t you agree that the Church universal (I made that up, but decided it sounded OK!) has become more confused – no, not confused – wrong – about heaven than about almost any other bit of Christian doctrine? Where does the bible (a hypothetical question to you!) tell us that we will go to heaven when we die?

    Revelation mentions the new Jerusalem coming down FROM heaven TO earth, and we are told that now the dwelling place of God is with mankind – and many other nice – no, great, lovely, wonderful things about God
    himself wiping away every tear, and Isaiah tells us about wolves, lambs, bears and leopards and other creatures
    playing together and tiny children playing safely near the holes of poisonous snakes, and lions eating straw
    like oxen while nothing hurts or harms anything else – and much more like that!

    To me that sounds like a renewed earth, and hasn’t that always been God’s aim, to repair and renew his beautiful but broken creation so we could all live together happily in it as he intended? Nowhere do I remember reading that he will smash or burn it up and carry us off to somewhere where the streets are paved with gold. I just can’t find that in God’s word, though it fills countless pages of our song books and hymns ancient and modern – which we sing along to and so our minds are steeped in words like these. We have been indoctrinated by our hymn and song writers, and I certainly don’t blame them alone because that’s what they’ve been taught! The whole Church
    has now absorbed these beliefs!

    Have you read much of Tom Wright? He has helped open my eyes, helped me read what is actually there in the bible. He has taught me more than any other serious Christian writer. I believe he is considered by some to be one of the world’s leading theologians, but more importantly for me anyway, he is readable! (I recommend his ‘For Everyone’ series as a good starting point to those less familiar with the bible!)

    Sorry about my ramblings. I intended squeezing this into a small nutshell, but got a bit carried away! – which is not my usual style, but I feel strongly about us all – and I mean us, myself for years – ‘reading’ into God’s word what’s just not there!!
    Yours in his name,
    Ann Hastings


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