Declare me innocent, O God!Psalm 43:4
Defend me against these ungodly people.
Rescue me from these unjust liars.
For you are God, my only safe haven.
Why have you tossed me aside?
Why must I wander around in grief,
oppressed by my enemies?
Send out your light and your truth;
let them guide me.
Let them lead me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you live.
There I will go to the altar of God,
to [El Simchath Gili].
I will praise you with my harp,
O God, my God!
El Simchath Gili: God of my Exceeding Joy (or God the Source of All My Joy)
What I love most about this name of God is where it is found. Psalms 42 and 43 speak so deeply to my heart because these declarations of faith in God’s goodness don’t come before the struggle or after the struggle, but in the midst. They’re like a rock tumbler of emotion; “I’m drowning in grief!” “God is my life!” “I’m so discouraged!” “God is my exceeding joy!” There is a fierce kind of faith that holds tenaciously to God’s goodness while it is being pummeled, and that is the kind I want.
Because. Because here it is – here in Psalm 43 is the moment the God-lover turns his eyes away from his hope that the world will bring him joy, and here he turns his eyes to God to do that instead. He knows where to go to find healing and joy: “Let them lead me to the place where You live.” God is love. Peace dwells in His presence, and He is the source of ALL our joy! Because Heaven is not some place where the streets are made of gold and soothing music fills them while people chat over a feast – no. Heaven is not a place at all; Heaven is a person, and wherever He is becomes Heaven because He is there.
That is a radical statement, so allow me to defend it. About a year ago, I posed this question to a room full of teenagers: “Imagine you are making plans for your Saturday, and you are invited to two events. An acquaintance invites you to go to a movie you’ve been dying to see with a group of people you don’t know very well and don’t have a lot in common with. Your crush invites you to go with him or her to volunteer to pick up trash along a trail in the blistering 90 degree heat as part of a community service project. Where are you going to go?” They didn’t even hesitate: to pick up trash, duh. Because who you’re with affects your enjoyment more than where you are or what you’re doing. Our hearts were made for relationship, and especially for relationship with God.
Why does the Bible talk about Heaven as a real place, then? Because it is. There is a place where God dwells fully visible to all, where He is the physical, visceral light, where He feasts with those He loves and walks down streets of gold, where the River of Life flows from His presence, where there is a house with enough rooms to house us all right there with Him. Because wherever God walks, life springs up around Him. Whatever His light falls upon becomes dazzlingly beautiful in Him. But none of it would be Heaven if He wasn’t there; it is Heaven because He is there. Perhaps I should say it like this, then: Heaven is not just a place; it is the place in the presence of a person, the person. El Simchath Gili, God of My Exceeding Joy! And if we know Him here on earth, though this mortal world and our sinful hearts may partially conceal Him, then we know a little of what Heaven’s joy is like. 🙂