Category Archives: Heaven

What is Heaven Like? Making Even An Atheist Homesick for Home

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.

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Homesick At Home

Earth

Earth

God has placed a homing device deeply embedded inside your heart that longs for home. 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. It would be a tragedy to be satisfied prematurely, to settle for earth only as it presently is and simply live for the now. We’re not happy here. Why? Because we’re not supposed to be. This is the first step toward honest spirituality. The confession that I can’t quite get the life I want sets you up for the life you need. This longing for happiness and home leads us to so many places: geographical places, vocational places, relational places. But even the best of them, leave us longing for something more. Our longings leave us restless because the place they are looking to find rest is not here. It’s OK to hurt and feel sad and feel unmet longings. We can deny “homesickness at home”; we can cover it over with busyness and pleasures, but we cannot get rid of it. C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not mean the universe is a fraud…earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing (The Quotable Lewis).”

Earth is crammed with heaven, but what we experience in this world is merely a scent of a flower we have not found; the echo of a tune that we have not heard; news from a country we have not visited. This life is full of mere remnants left over from the Fall. Every joy on earth is an inkling, a whisper of greater joy. Think of the most awesome, thrilling thing you can do and it is but an echo of a greater pleasure to come, a fallen remnant of what once was. The best parts of the old world are sneak previews of the one to come. Homesick at home.

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Earth Is Crammed with Heaven

Eugene PetersonIn Eugene Peterson’s book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology, he tells about a lady in his church, Sister Lychen. He described her as five feet tall and shrinking. She was an older saint that lived in a small house in his neighborhood. The shades were always drawn and she never came out of her house except on Sundays. In the service, she would always stand and testify about the coming of the Lord and how she was going to witness it before she died. Eventually she died. Years later, Peterson said he imagined himself as a 10 year old again and before Sister Lychen dies. He went to her house and she invited him inside. He threw open the blinds. He then led her across the street and down a trail to a swampy place. Turtles and frogs, a nesting osprey and the downy heads of chicks just visible on the nest. In his imagination, Sister Lychen is amazed. White-tail deer leap from a tangle of cattails. The next Sunday, she stands up in worship but she doesn’t say her usual words. Instead she says “An angel visited me this week and showed me wonders I’d never seen. He said he’d come back and show me more. I’m not sure I want to leave and be with the Lord just yet.” Every Thursday, Peterson said he imagined himself going and releasing her to enjoy the world God made. And every Sunday, he imagined, no longer was a rehearsal of escape about the second coming; it was an exposition of her week. Her concluding words week after week were: “I’m not sure I want to leave quite yet.” Says Peterson: “If the blinds are drawn while we wait for Sunday, we aren’t in touch with the work that God is actually doing (71).” “…Sky and earth, plants and trees, stars and planets, fish and birds, Jersey cows and basset hounds, you and me!” If you want to know what a New Earth is going to be like, look around you! Subtract out the disease and death and you begin to get an idea. This present earth gives us a foretaste and glimpse into the New Earth. Every joy on earth is a whisper of a greater joy. The Grand Canyon, the Alps, the Amazon rain forests, the Serengeti Plain – as glorious as these are, they are all marred remnants, a shadow of what is to come. Earth is crammed with heaven. “The best things of life are souvenirs from Eden, appetizers of the New Earth.” “Just like the Garden of Eden, the New Earth will be a place of sensory delight, breathtaking beauty, satisfying relationships, and personal joy (Alcorn, Heaven: Biblical Answers to Common Questions).”

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