The book of Hebrews talks about how this world is not really our home, about how we are wanderers who are passing through on our way to a better country, a Heavenly one.
As wealthy and non-persecuted Christians, we form a distinct minority among the historic community of Christians… while there may be some exceptions, suffering is a present and notable reality for most people across most of time. Contemporary American culture is a painkilling culture which tries to use distractions to mask the reality of suffering, but historic Christianity has taken a different approach.
One of the things done in historic Christianity, in part in response to suffering, instead of trying to make everything be perfect on earth (which is what the Teacher in Ecclesiastes put a lot of effort in to, coming to the conclusion that “Everything was meaningless… under the sun.” (Eccl. 2:11) — without involving God, everything is meaningless, and the attempt to make a life without suffering is vain), is instead to place a major emphasis on Heaven, and on hoping for what we will have in Heaven.
There was one believer who was being tortured in China, inside a container of water through which electric shocks were run. In between the shocks, he asked his torturers, “How much? How much are you getting paid for this?” He was able to patiently wait through the pain, knowing that he was going to be paid an eternal reward in Heaven; his torturers eventually gave up in frustration.
Heaven is perhaps the ultimate embodiment of Paul’s words about how God can do “immeasurably more than we all ask or imagine.” It will have wonders far beyond our current ability to fathom, and, as Lewis wrote in his introduction to _The_Great_Divorce,_ any detailed description we can write must be highly speculative. Paul and John barely scratched the surface in their writings about Heaven, and they both had detailed visions of Heaven (which I have not). But there are some things which are available for us to look forward to in Heaven, and even they are amazing…
Here are some of the things which I am looking forward to in Heaven:
- We will see God face to face, and develop with him the most full and intimate relationship which we can have.
- We will be freed from the now unending struggle with sin and temptation. We will no longer, in a spiritual sense, shoot ourselves in the foot.
- Evil will no longer impede the action of good. It will be like, after all your life walking with a heavy load on your back, having that load taken off and being able to dance freely.
- God’s redemption will be complete. This will mean, among many other things, that things will be better than had there never been a Fall.
- More will be said of this later.
- As to God’s specific redemption — God who has manifested his power by choosing the weak to shame the strong, the poor to shame the rich, the foolish to shame the wise (I Cor. 1:27 and context) — I would like to quote another chapter of “The Way of the Way”.
The blind will see God’s face.
The dumb will sing praises to him.
The deaf will listen to the eternal song.
The lame will dance for joy.
Those convulsed by spasms will rest in perfect stillness.
The leprous will feel God’s touch.
But all this is dwarfed by the shadow of the wonder beyond wonders.
Sinners will be made holy.
- We will be in community with all of the saints across all of time… with Mary, with Paul, with Peter, with John, with Abraham, with Moses, with Elijah… We will be able to speak with the many giants whom history has paid scant attention to but who are great heroes in God’s Hall of Fame… with everyone. We will be reunited with loved ones who have passed away. With all of them we will be able to slowly develop close friendships.
- A child once described Heaven as one big, long hug… We will be able to hug and kiss and tickle and chase and roughhouse with the other saints.
- Perhaps one of the greatest treasures we will have in Heaven will, apart from God, the angels, and the other saints (for God and all that there is will, in a very real sense, belong to us), not be so much in what we have as who we become. We will become perfect in virtue, fully united with God (and yet even now we are of one spirit with the Father (Rom. 6:17)), and we will have great joy in God and in who we will be even if there were no other blessing to Heaven.I’m not sure how to express this adequately… Much of Western thought has sought to create happiness by the control of external circumstances — what possessions you have, how other people treat you, and so on and so forth. And indeed, those things have a great impact on day-to-day mood swings. But other philosophies (ergo, many Eastern, and for that matter at least some of Western — ergo, the Catholic ascetic tradition)) have sought another route, that of changing internal circumstances. When Paul says that he has discovered the secret of being happy in every circumstance, he doesn’t give something which will radically alter external circumstances to what he would like. Rather, he says that it is what he has in Christ that makes him happy — if that may be called internal (I am using clumsy wording to try to avoid conveying the impression that God is just a part of us), with due respect to the fact that God is more than us and exists independently of us, it is internal circumstance, who we are in relation to God, that can make us happy.
God is not, ultimately, God because he lives in Heaven, or because he is omnipotent and omniscient, or because he created “Heaven and earth, … all things visible and invisible”… A malevolent deity could theoretically have all those attributes and still most definitely not be God. He is God because he IS. Those other things are consequences of who HE IS (which capital letters are what the sacred Hebrew name ‘Yahweh’ means).
And we will be children of God, conformed to the likeness of Christ, ever changing from glory to glory.
- We, as Christ’s bride, will be united to him. Christ, who gave his life for us as his body and bride to make us holy, has been keeping himself pure for us, and will make us pure for him. Then we will be united with him, and it will be like a wedding night.And — this thought struck me over the summer — we aren’t the only ones who are eagerly awaiting that time. Christ is, too.
- God created us as persons, with both an individual and a community side. In this fallen world, societies have usually quashed at least one of these sides — this is collectivism and individualism respectively — and often at least part of both.In Heaven, we will be made perfect in both our individual and community sides.
On the individual side… For me to become more like Christ does not mean that I should speak Arimaic and Greek, create yokes and other wooden items, and wear first century clothing. It means that I should speak English and French, study mathematics and pursue my other interests, and wear twentieth century clothing. Imitating him more closely, becoming more and more the person he wants to be, means in some ways becoming more and more clearly distinguished from any other person — just as, the more and more an object comes into view, clear lighting, and good focus, it looks more and more unlike any other object. So, by becoming more and more like Christ, I will become more and more unique and distinctive, more and more the one single person God wants me and no one else to be.
On the community side… It means that we will all be united with God, perfectly and seamlessly integrated. It means that we will be brought completely into moral and spiritual connection. It means that we will have close and intimate relationships that (even though husband and wife can now become one flesh, which will not be possible then) we know only the slightest hints of here. It means that there will be perfect order. As a body, we are not a conglomeration of cells of different species, but rather cells of one single organism that all bear the one single and universal genetic code — the genetic code of true life.
To bring them together… We are different parts that will make up one single pattern together with God. We are like the different parts of one single body — for if you take one of those parts and cut it off from the body, it will die and cease to be itself; united as a part of the body, it is both every bit as much integrated as it could possibly be, and every bit as distinguished from the other as it could be. (In this regard we are both unlike a drop of water returning to the ocean, which becomes united only when it ceases to be a drop — which is how the Hindu faith pictures a spirit being united with God — and like a drop drawn from the ocean, which becomes its own entity only by ceasing to be a part of what it was before.)
- I have a lot of interests, and if I had a thousand lives to live, I would be quite able to find interesting things to do in each one. I have chosen primarily to study mathematics, but I would very much enjoy studying languages… or medicine… or writing… or…In Heaven, there will be time and opportunity to cultivate each of those possibilities in as much detail as I want. And this is equally true of the interests of other people as well.
- We will be able then to drink freely from the wellspring of Truth. Now, we see darkly and through a glass; then, we shall see fully, face to face.
- “In my Father’s house there are many rooms…” It is difficult for me to imagine that the dwelling-places prepared for each of us in God’s mansion are not specially and uniquely prepared for each person, and that we will not perhaps at least have some creative power and choice in what is put in the rooms (but even if we don’t, it will be good and perfect).
- In Eden, man was given the power to create. That ability has been twisted by the Fall, but we can still create incredibly beautiful materials now. I can’t wait to see what creation will be like in Heaven.
- An acquaintance, who is a musician, talked about what it will be like to spend thousands and thousands of years working at perfecting melodies.
- Role play is an enjoyable recreation now, with a fallen creativity and imagination and nothing created except in the imagination… in whatever forms it may take in Heaven…
- The Second Coming will be the last chapter in one story — the story of the Great War, which began when the highest angel set himself against God and a third of the angels joined him to become dragons, worms, serpents, demons, and devils, which has been unfolding throughout all of history, with the Incarnation as its central event, in which every person has a role, and which will close with the total defeat of Satan and all his minions and the perfection of the saints to be united with Christ. But it will also be the firstchapter in another story, a story greater still, a story in which we are “ever changing from glory to glory”, a story with an infinitude of chapters, a story which not only words but knowledge and imagination utterly fail me to describe.
- In Eden, man saw by lights God created. In the New Jerusalem, there will be no lights, for the Lamb himself will be their light. (Rev. 22)
- In Eden, man was given a natural, physical body. In the New Jerusalem, men will be resurrected, and their bodies will be resurrected to become even more glorious, even more wonderful — supernatural, spiritual bodies.
- In Eden, man was created in the image of God, and in the psalms, men are even called gods. In the New Jerusalem, the redeemed will share in the divine nature. (II Peter 1:4)