I was recently reading a Facebook exchange between a friend of mine and someone who was questioning why we refer to Heaven as being “up.” After all, what’s really “up” is the sky and, beyond that, the reaches of space. Does God dwell somewhere out there in the universe? If Heaven is someplace, or some state, not contained within the confines of time and space, then why do we speak of Heaven as being “up”?
My friend (who is perhaps the most intelligent person I’ve ever known) gave a response that astonished me. I’ll attempt to paraphrase it and hope I do it some justice.
When we look up, we see a sky that constantly changes. The blue sky of midday becomes the gray sky of dusk. The hazy sky of summer becomes the pink and orange horizon sunrises of autumn. Clouds form and dissipate as they pass by overhead. Lightning flashes eventually give way to rainbows, and on and on. The constantly changing sky may serve as a reminder to us of the impermanence of all things, including our own existence in this world.
But when we look beyond our own atmosphere (which we are best able to do at night), we see those things that are seemingly permanent. Of course, we know that even stars do not last forever. But, from our natural perspective, there is a fixed pattern of the celestial bodies that was there even when Our Blessed Lord walked the face of this earth. The relative permanence of that which is higher above may serve as a reminder that there are those things beyond this world, and even beyond space and time, which are eternal.
It’s therefore interesting when we consider that man, among all the creatures of the planet, is the one who stands the most upright in stature. By virtue of this physical design, we are far more inclined than other animals to look upward. We also have a curiosity, intellect, and capability that has allowed us to look out into our solar system and far beyond. What is it in man’s nature that causes him to engage in such observation and exploration that really satisfies no physical or other practical need? Is it possible that we were designed to look upwards for a reason?