A long time ago, I included this illustration in a sermon about heaven:
There is an old legend of a swan and a crane. A beautiful swan alighted by the banks of the water in which a crane was wading about seeking snails. For a few moments the crane viewed the swan in stupid wonder and then inquired: “Where do you come from?”
“I come from heaven!” replied the swan.
“And where is heaven?” asked the crane.
“Heaven!” said the swan. “Heaven! Have you never heard of heaven?” And the beautiful bird went on to describe the grandeur of the Eternal City. She told of streets of gold, and the gates and walls made of precious stones; of the river of life, pure as crystal, upon whose banks is the tree whose leaves shall be for the healing of the nations. In eloquent terms the swan sought to describe the hosts who live in the other world, but without arousing the slightest interest on the part of the crane.
Finally the crane asked: “Are there any snails there?”
“Snails!” repeated the swan; “No! Of course there are not.”
“Then,” said the crane, as it continued its search along the slimy banks of the pool, “You can have your heaven. I want snails!”
This fable has a deep truth underlying it. How many a young person to whom God has granted the advantages of a Christian home, has turned his back upon it and searched for snails! How many a man will sacrifice his wife, his family, his all, for the snails of sin! How many a girl has deliberately turned from the love of parents and home to learn too late that heaven has been forfeited for snails!
About 20 years ago when I preached the sermon that included this illustration, I shared it with approval. “Yes,” I said. “We turn down heaven for the stupid pleasures of this life.”
Today, I feel differently about the story. The way I read the story now, I do not feel sorry for the crane but for the swan. It is not the crane who is blind and ignorant of heaven, but the swan! Most of the promises of God in the Bible are not about life after death, but are about life before death! The Bible does not tell us much about life after death, but is instead focused on life before death. We sometimes sit around twiddling our thumbs saying, “I cannot wait until I die. Life in heaven will be quite something!” God looks at us, however, and says, “I cannot wait until you live. Your life on earth will be quite something!”
The crane wanted snails. Why? Because God made the crane to like snails. And there is nothing wrong with that!
What are your snails? Well, as we are learning in our study through Genesis (Subscribe to the Podcast Today!), God made humans for relationships. He gave us food and sex to enjoy. He gave us animals to take care of and gardens to tend. He gave us work on this earth to perform. He created beauty for us to see, thrills for us to experience, music for us to hear, and food for us to taste. Is it so wrong to do what God made us to do and to enjoy what God created for our enjoyment? I think not!
To the contrary, when we eat good food, laugh with friends, close our eyes and listen to the music, take time to smell the roses, and dig our fingers deep into the soil of life, it is then that God smiles at us with pleasure for He sees that we are enjoying the good gifts of life that He blessed us with.
And heaven? Well, it will just be more of the same. Believe it or not, “heaven” is not our home; earth is. This short life is just the trial membership. It’s the beta version. The things you truly enjoy in life will be magnified and amplified in the final version yet to come.
So when the crane asked for snails, the proper response of the swan should have been, “Snails? Of course there are snails! Snails like you have never seen. There are even things better than snails which you cannot even imagine! Go ahead. Enjoy the snails. And as you do, may they remind you that there are far, far better things ahead.”
It is good and Godly to want snails if you are a crane. It is also good and Godly to want love, relationships, laughter, and joy if you are a human. God made us for such things, and He is pleased when we receive such things with gladness. Streets of gold and celestial cities in the by and by are of no help to the lonely and hurting person of today who simply wants someone to hug them. Don’t sneer at such people for seeking after snails. They are only seeking what God made them to seek.
Are you just waiting to die so you can go to heaven in the future? God is waiting for you to live so you can begin experiencing heaven right now.