There is in every human heart a longing for home. One author even described it as being “homesick at home.” No experience on earth even by image-bearing human beings can satisfy the deep longing we have to be finally home. God has placed a homing device deeply embedded inside your heart that longs for this day. There’s something inside you that longs for home, even for the believer. There’s a restlessness that we feel. Paul called it a groaning for the time and place when our questions will be answered, we will no longer be alone, and we will be released to live up to our fullest potential as redeemed human-beings without the results of the Fall. By blessing us with a deep dissatisfaction, God holds our attention. God gives us many pleasant inns to stay in, but does not want us to mistake them for home.
So, what is it that we are homesick for? What is our true home like? What is this internal longing calling out to? There are many myths in circulation about heaven that have caused us to be a bit foggy in our thinking (Sanders, J. Oswald, Heaven…, 18). I see no biblical evidence that people become angels and sit on a cloud plucking the strings of a golden harp; that heaven will be bland; that there will be nothing exciting to do in heaven; that the music of heaven will be dull; or that Peter guards the pearly gates. In all fairness, however, Oswald Sanders said in regard to heaven: “God has not told us all we’d like to know, but He has told us all we need to know.”
Biblical writers picture paradise as a bright place (Rev. 22:5 – no night), full of jewels, golden crowns, and gates of pearl. It’s a place of purity (Rev. 7:14) and white garments (Rev. 7:9) and they are never hungry or thirsty and any pain or discomfort is quickly alleviated upon arrival there (Rev. 7:16, 17; 21:4). They are never separated from those they love (Rev. 21:1- no sea). There’s no temple, because God himself is there (Rev. 21:22). Water flows freely from the fountain of life (Rev. 21:6) and apparently as long as you drink from it, your body will have self-healing, self-repairing properties [Rev. 22:2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.] And there is unrestricted access to the tree of life (Rev. 22:2 – no death). The people do not rest from activity, but they do rest in their activity (Rev. 14:13). We will work and explore and create. There will be no sin to battle with. There is no fear whatsoever (Rev. 21:25- the gates never shut); no injury or disease or racial animosity or war.
In Revelation, the beauty cannot be captured. John has to use metaphor to try to get it done. “Like a jasper.” “Like a sea of crystal.” Revelation 21:1 1 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
The biblical grammar of heaven is dense with analogy and simile because it surpasses human comprehension. The Biblical writers used terms consistent with their times and experiences to describe a place that they could somehow relate to. In some cases they were trying to describe something that they had no category with which to work. Describing heaven is like explaining snow to a tribal native from the Amazon; there’s no point of reference for it. To summarize, heaven is a place of profound, incomprehensible blessing (Paul writes, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9).”) where we are consciously at home in the presence of God forever. Heaven eventually merges with a renewed earth. It is eventually earth wedded to heaven, not jilted.
Joni Eareckson Tada, paralyzed from the neck down, honestly states in her book about heaven: “I’m struck that heaven is often described in terms of ‘no this’ and ‘no that’. No more sea. No more night. No more time…What about food, marriage, sex, art, and great books? (Heaven, 19).”
We need not worry. I don’t think we become genderless, harp strumming creatures in an endless, non-stop sing along. It’s just that heaven promises something far, far better. It’s a fulfilling of all that God intended our humanity to be. It’s a new and vastly improved version of life and pleasure. Tada writes about her friends, John and Mike, who have this perception of heaven as being static – a never ending do-nothingness in which there are no more things to achieve or goals to accomplish. For them, heaven is literally the end (46).
The idea of a never ending relationship sitting at the feet of Jesus really doesn’t get a young man full of energy charged up to go. But the symbols that are used, reward and treasure, now that’s something worth going for. Tada says that her friends, John and Mike, would rather help pave the streets of gold with titanium monster trucks, back loaders, and steamrollers. They’ll take kayaking on the River of Life any day, and would rather fly-fish with Peter than sit around and talk about pearly gates (46). That’s reward, that’s treasure.
We will create and rule creation: the animals, plant-life, and aquatic life. We will be in charge of planets and maybe shape a few of our own. We will travel at the speed of thought (just like a post-resurrected Jesus). All the earthly things we enjoy with our friends here will find their more exalted expression in heaven. Truth, goodness, beauty, and purity is all great. But it’s not all that heaven is about. We learn things and grow and become and do. Go back to Genesis for insights into what we will do. Beside the “no mores” of Revelation, we need to place the “much mores” of an unfallen Genesis garden.
Philip Yancey has an interesting theory. He thinks that heaven will offer faithful Christians whatever they sacrificed on earth for Jesus’ sake. He says: “My mountain-climbing friend who intentionally lives in a slum area of Chicago will have Yosemite Valleys all to himself. A missionary doctor in the parched land of Sudan will have her own private rain forest to explore. Could this be why the New Testament commends poverty while portraying heaven in such sumptuous terms?” (Christianity Today, Oct. 26, 1998). Somehow, in heaven, our losses are returned to us.
At the end of his beloved “Narnia Series” C. S. Lewis describes the events that transpire as the characters in his story enter Heaven: “The things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever – in which every chapter is better than the one before.” I live for the day for the conclusion when we have “And they lived happily ever after…” written into our story. Without Jesus it would have been always winter, but never Christmas on this planet (to borrow a line from Lewis).
Paul Ford describes Aslan’s Country: incredibly high mountains, bathed in late spring and mid-summer breezes, alive with the freshness of running water, waterfalls, and birdsong, covered with flower-decked meadows (Companion… 94). Sounds like home and I would love to have some atheist friends with me to enjoy those summer breezes and flower-decked meadows. Love…true love.