The ultimate movement in spiritual formation is the movement from denying to befriending death. Until we can do this we may believe in heaven, but all our spiritual energy will be thrown into extending our life on earth.
Strangely, it is the inevitability of death that holds the key to liberating us from earth-bound existence. The certainty of death gives us permission to “lay up treasures in heaven.” This is not avoiding death, it is accepting it.
We do this by believing that God will not be less to us in death than He has been to us in life. In fact, we believe that heaven must be better than earth, or else we would be going backwards to go there. Consequently, our drawing nearer to God while on earth is the preliminary act of trust in the ongoing intimacy with God which life in heaven will create.
We have the witness of the saints to both illustrate and confirm the legitimacy of this final movement. “The great cloud of witnesses” has made the movement from denying to befriending death, and now they surround us with encouragement to do the same.
In this final movement, we are saying that everything else we have looked at in Nouwen’s book establishes a trajectory that death cannot end or diminish. The life of God in the human soul is both abundant (on earth) and everlasting (in heaven).