The year is still young, but already it has involved a lot of travel—before the end of February I had already spent time in six different countries. This is largely related to my EPIC travel project which, since January 1, has taken me to Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, the United States and, of course, my own Canada. In many of these countries, and in many more to come, we are landing at a major airport, picking up a car, and then driving to obscure locations. Much of the history of Christianity, it turns out, has taken place far away from the great people and world cities.
As we have driven over hill and dale, this thought has come to mind again and again: To really know a road, you’ve got to travel it in both directions. In New Zealand we drove State Highway 1 all the way from Auckland to Bay of Islands. Several times we rounded a long curve in the road and gasped at the beauty that was suddenly spread out before us. Time and again we pulled over to grab our cameras or launch the drone.
A couple of days later we began to return south and once again followed Highway 1 for a good portion of the drive. This should have been a familiar road, right? After all, we were following the very same route we had driven just two days prior. But it felt different. It was different. It was different because this time we were seeing the route from the opposite perspective. What had been behind us the first time was now clearly laid out before us. Even though it was the same road, it was almost a different road. There were some landmarks we recognized, but many we did not. There were some vistas that were familiar, but many more that were fresh. We drove past the same sites and same geographical features, but from a completely different perspective. We understood afresh: to really know a road, you’ve got to drive it in both directions.
I like to think about heaven and eternity, believing firmly that to be insufficiently heavenly-minded is to be of no earthly good. I’m convinced that part of the joy and the awe of heaven will be journeying back down the road of our lives and the road of human history. But this time we will travel the road in the opposite direction. Right now we live forward, always forward, and can never go back as much as a single second. Our memories quickly grow dim and hazy, our understanding of what has happened and why and how is only ever incomplete.
But I suspect that in heaven God will allow us to journey back the way we came, perhaps by actually seeing what unfolded or perhaps by studying the historical record. We will travel back through history seeing how God has glorified himself in human affairs, even in our human affairs. We will drive back down the road, and as we see it all from that perspective, gain a much clearer understanding. Then, and only then, will we gain the complete picture. Then, and only then, will we fully understand God’s purposes. For to really know that road, we’ve got to travel it in both directions.