When I trusted Christ as a young boy, I remember thinking that the one downside of being a Christian was the boring afterlife that now awaited me. “I hope Jesus doesn’t return before I go to high school… before I get married… before I have kids,” I thought. There is a classic Gary Larson cartoon that captures my worst fears about heaven: “Wish I’d brought a magazine," the bored saint reflects.
I recently asked a group of sixth grade boys what they thought heaven would be like, and their picture of heaven mirrored what mine was at their age: a worship service that never ended, standing around the throne of God and singing song after song after song after song.
I mean, I liked church more than the average kid. I even sat through “big church” with my parents and liked the singing and preaching. But doing that forever? In the words of the old hip hop group OutKast, “Foreva eva?”[i]
Good news, friends. This won’t be the sum of heaven.
I recently finished Randy Alcorn’s classic book Heaven and so enjoyed his practical and thoughtful exploration of an engaging subject that is littered with misconceptions. Over the next few weeks I’m going to engage several subjects that Alcorn takes on in Heaven—most I heartily agree with, and a few I have some disagreement with.
Perhaps the most important argument that Alcorn makes is how significant it is to understand the reality that our final destiny as followers of Christ will be in new (physical) bodies living in a new (physical) earth. “We should stop thinking of Heaven and Earth as opposites,” Alcorn insists, “and instead view them as overlapping circles that share certain commonalities.”[ii] When we sing the old gospel songs “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through,” and “Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly, I’ll fly away,” we speak half-truths at best.
The truth is that every mountain vista, every breathtaking sunset, every bubbling brook, every stunning piece of architectural beauty points us to a world that we were designed for and will one day inhabit. The pictures of the new earth we have in scripture (see Isaiah 25, John 14, Revelation 21-22) are a combination of breathtaking natural and human-designed beauty that blends Eden and architecture.
Most Christians readily reject the liberal notion that the resurrection of Christ wasn’t bodily. As John Updike so powerfully put, “Make no mistake: if He rose at all it was as His body; if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle, the Church will fall.. Let us not mock God with metaphor, analogy, sidestepping transcendence; making of the event a parable… let us walk through the door.” And yet, as Alcorn reports, 2/3rds of Americans who believe in resurrection of the dead do not believe we will have bodies.[iii] We don’t understand the implications of the powerful truths we hold to. If Jesus' resurrection was bodily, so will ours. Heaven will be physical!
What is your favorite activity? Swimming? Hiking? Playing basketball? Playing an instrument? Reading? Sculpting? You’re going to do that in heaven. Will we have the best worship services you can possibly imagine with mind-blowing music of every style you could imagine? Yes! But will we also worship as we work and worship as we recreate! Absolutely. What a joy to consider the life we will enjoy into eternity. What exploration! What fun! What worship!
Near the end of CS Lewis’s final book of his masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia, we find the world-weary gang at the end of their travels at the new Narnia, and the new land breathes life into them: “The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.”
A world more real, more physical awaits us. We will see colors we can’t see now, experience things we can’t experience now. When we get there, we’ll know what that means. Until then, friend. Let us count the days like a child counts down to Christmas or a Disneyland trip. And let us have eyes that are able to experience the world with expectation, joy, and mystery. Until then…
Photo credit: Artem Sapegin/Unsplash
[ii] Randy Alcorn, Heaven, 54.
[iii] Alcorn references a survey taken in Time, March 24, 1997.