What does the word heaven mean to you?
Heaven is a word complicated by many things. From cultural misconceptions to religious misrepresentations, heaven is typically thought of as one dimensional and boring. As such, it can be hard for many people to honestly say they want to go there.
A group of my friends has been reading and discussing Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven. In it, he offers quite a bit of evidence, laced with Biblically based imaginations, of why heaven is going to be fabulous. In other words, we aren’t going to be giving up anything to go there. And that seems to be the crux of it for most people. They have life to live here on this old earth. They have plans.
We just finished going over Section Nine in the book, which has the subtitle of “What Will Our Lives Be Like”. One of our friends couldn’t make it to our last meeting, so asked if I would write a bit about our discussion. Section Nine covers covers chapters 28 to 33 on pages 270 – 324 of this 457 page book.
Some of my readers might be surprised that there is really so much to say about heaven, but the Biblical narrative refers to it often. God wants us to have hope and excitement about His promises. It is not His idea that a “spiritual life” should be somber and uneventful. The following summary is just a taste of the fun my group is having just talking about it!
Who will we be in heaven?
God’s references to heaven seem to assume our continued individuality in heaven. This is covered in various ways throughout the whole book, Heaven, but in this section the emphasis is humorously limiting.
- We will not be angels
- We will not be gods
- We will not be infinite
- We will not be all-knowing
- We will be perfectly human
This should not discourage us. It means we will be us on a new earth, in a world that is free from the curses of sin. Our limits are currently so entangled with how sin affects our lives that it can at first be hard to imagine how this will feel “okay,” but a little thought should convince us otherwise. And comfort us about “living our lives.” We will be able to “live our lives” like we have never been able to do it before!
No time will be wasted. (The continuation of sin-free time is discussed elsewhere.) With bodies that never fail, communication unencumbered by the curse, curiosity in it purest form will be able to thrive, explore, and invent. The subject of jumping off of cliffs came up. If we are finite and the new earth has gravity, what will it be like? We guessed that if our new bodies are anything like what Jesus’s new body was, we may have some new physical skills. All of the thrill, none of the mess? haha
It is okay to imagine some things about heaven?
Among all the possible things, for some reason many people wonder if they will shine in heaven. After all, there is the story of Moses shining post conference with God, as well as Jesus glowing a bit on that mountain. Our general conclusion was that if we do “shine” it will be part of the overall vividness of life. It may get to seem normal, but it will probably also just be a minor factor in the joy of existence there.
Along the same lines, clothing may be optional! There will not be any shame. There are robes spoken of in various places in the Bible, but that may be metaphorical and cultural, because God didn’t see the point in getting into this particular issue. It really is much more important to understand the *no more pain and sorrow* part. Still, we may very well have fun with clothes. Can you imagine the printed t-shirts? “Wave if you are from the 18th century!” or “I walked with dinosaurs before you did.”
This brought us to mentioning that it doesn’t matter if we imagine some parts of heaven wrong. Imagining various details of what paradise might be like does not change our core doctrines or relationship with God. It is rather like reading a travel book before going to a country you have never been to before. The book helps with the fun of anticipation, but seeing the real thing cannot be replaced by the book.
Who will be married to whom?
The Bible says there is no “male or female” in Christ, which obviously does not mean that we are not male or female, but that there is no special standing in Him based on that category. In this section of the book Heaven it is suggested that because our gender is so intrinsically part of us, that we will still be male or female in heaven. At this point, most of us skipped ahead to the next section (specifically pages 327 and 335) because we really love our husbands and can’t imagine life without that relationship.
There we found that age-old reference to the 7 brothers marrying the same lady and whose wife will she be in heaven, anyway? Any woman with a happy marriage tends to be discouraged and/or upset about Jesus’s answer. Talk about pulling the rug out from under us in one swift move!
So we spent a while talking about why this bothered us and how could God be that mean… well, not really how He could be mean, but how could heaven still be great if such a major good part of our lives was changed? We came up with some basic concerns, such as removing marriage relationships seems to remove family and a sense of belonging, from our current perspective, at least. Who would we live with? Who would listen to our deepest thoughts? For most of us, this is the relationship that we depend upon most in life. Our husbands are our best friends. If he is no longer our husband, it is like taking our best friend away. Or so our limited minds suggest to us.
It turns out these concerns also lead us to the quite possible answers. First of all, we know that marriage is a picture of Christ and His bride. We WILL be married in heaven, to the most perfect, loving husband imaginable (no offense, dear husbands). I have also discussed this issue with my husband and he cheerily quipped that it will be weirder for him than for me, because he has never been a bride before.
Home and family more inclusive and loving than we can imagine
As for family, we will all be brothers/sisters in Christ, so there is every reason to believe we will be one big happy family. We will have eternity to get to know lots of people. If we don’t see someone for a while, they won’t die and they wont’ age.
Home won’t have the same constraints. We won’t need it for safety or shelter. We will probably fully understand that “home is where the heart is.” Since there will be sinless communication and relationship, deciding who to spend time with, where, and when, will be like choosing which favorite cookie to bake this time. Home can be both cozy in terms of relationship and vast in terms of enjoying our surroundings. Maybe my house will be your house in a new way because we will have so much more time to visit each other?!
Please pass the wine
In all of this relating, the idea of feasting seems to be a strong Biblical theme. Say that word again. Feasting. Eat, drink, and be merry. This does not sound boring. The kingdom of God may not be a matter of eating and drinking at the core, but that doesn’t mean feasting isn’t part of it. Consider friendships. The core of friendship is not eating or drinking, but it is definitely part of it.
So, again, we talked of food in our little group. We will be able to eat whatever we like and/or we will only want to eat what is prefect for us. Any digestion will be free from the curse.
And wine is mentioned at the final feast. This suggests that there are many processes in life that we associate with the decay of sin that are not limited by or to sin. It seems reasonable to assume that any wine in heaven will taste at least as good as that which Jesus made for the wedding in Cana.
The best learning and economic environment ever
Most of us had never thought of learning or having books in heaven before. Since we will still be finite and since we will have a whole new earth to explore, there will be a lot to learn. Since God is vastly superior to us, it is not hard to imagine that such learning can keep us happily busy for an eternity. Add to that that learning usually has a creative component and we may find that our new and sinless civilization will have the joy of inventing many marvelous things, things that we will always see God’s glory in.
There will very likely be writing and books, too, although whether they be in the forms we are now used to remains to be seen. One big question is whether or not past books, works of art, compositions of music, and so on, will be carried over into the new earth. Would God possibly create new copies of them like He will create new mountains and homes for us? Will our memories be so good that we can recall past creations and copy them down?
Of course, we can’t know these things for sure, but we can be reasonably certain that any story that is of use or recalls meaningful stories or is just plain good fun will be possible. Some stories won’t be needed, some won’t survive the refining fires, but stories seem to be a part of the fabric of life.
All of this reminds us of how the Bible talks about the wealth of nations being brought before God’s throne. Wealth implies ownership. Wealth is a measure of prosperity, which incidentally is NOT dependent on someone being poor. There may well be a perfect system of producing and trading. As people learn and create things, there may be a perfect system of commerce worked out. No fraud and no jealousy. Just everyone getting along.
In God’s timing, I want to go to heaven!
The bottom line is that heaven will be a place of more vivid pleasures, not fewer. Heaven is not going to be one long, sleepy sermon. When we rest, it will be someplace comfortable, with sweet dreams about the next day. There will be no guilt, no remorse, no disappointment. But it will not be because heaven is a big void of nothingness. There will not be those things because heaven will be full of abundant life with God and his children.