It Can Be Hard To Imagine Heaven
Back in 2012, Newsweek did a cover page article on how to know if heaven is real. It is true that we are told such weird things about heaven because people don’t really know. The Bible does tells us a great deal though. It answers many questions. The rest comes down to faith that God will make it spectacular just as he promises in His word.
The Christianity Today article refers to the Newsweek article. It begins with explaining that the Bible refers heaven to earth…
In Heaven as It Is on Earth
John Lennon sang, “Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try.” Although there is little in his song that agrees with what the Bible has to say about heaven, Lennon got it right on one point. It is easier to imagine that heaven does not exist than it is to imagine heaven as it does exist. There are many good reasons we find it difficult to “get a handle” on heaven.
For one thing, heaven is hard to put into words. It contains that which no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has conceived (1 Cor. 2:9). Earth is the only frame of reference we have this side of eternity. If we cannot understand heaven in terms of earth then we cannot understand it at all. It is not surprising, then, that we would try to imagine heaven in earthly terms. What is more, there is some biblical warrant for doing so. The Bible itself often uses earthly analogies to describe heavenly realities. The old clichés which characterize heaven as a place where the streets are paved with gold and the city walls are made of jewels come from biblical descriptions of the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10–21).
On this side of eternity we must live with the tension between these two realms, proclaiming the gospel of grace and announcing the approach of Christ and his kingdom. This involves both action and waiting. As we act on Christ’s behalf, we announce the good news of forgiveness through Christ and pray for him to reveal the reality of his dominion in our daily experience. These prayers combined with our own Spirit-empowered effort create points of entry where our experience on earth correlates with the order of heaven. God’s will is done in us and around us. But this good effort does not and cannot fundamentally change the nature of the fallen world. We are not trying to draw heaven down to earth by sheer effort. Nor are we attempting to renovate the earth and turn it into heaven. Redemption is not merely rehabilitation. Jesus meant it when he told Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). The world as we know it is passing away and will one day dissolve in fire and heat (1 John 2:17; 2 Pet. 3:10–12). We are waiting for a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:13).
It’s a lengthy article, but it finishes up with some encouragement …
The Marriage of Heaven and Earth
Here, then, is the ultimate remedy for my fear. The Bible promises that one day the division between heaven and earth will finally be removed. The result will not be the elimination of one or the other but a marriage between the two. The book of Revelation pictures a day when heaven and earth will be made new and the city of God will descend from heaven “prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Rev. 21:1–2).
In this new creation the old distinction between heaven and earth will no longer be meaningful. Earth will be the dwelling place of God as much as is heaven. Intimacy with God, which was previously only symbolized in the tabernacle and later embodied in the incarnation of our Savior, will be experienced by all who dwell there. God will be “with us” and will wipe away every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:3–4). What will this experience be like? The information which the Bible provides is not specific enough to paint a picture in detail. Yet we do know some things.
We know that our experience will be an embodied one (Job 19:26; 1 Cor. 15:42–49; Phil. 3:21; 1 John 3:2). We will not float about like ghosts. Our experience will also be personal and relational. We will not lose our identity or be absorbed into a divine “Other,” but each of us will continue to possess our individual consciousness and soul. If the scenes described in the early chapters of the book of Revelation are any indication, we will recall our past experience and will worship in community with other believers (Rev. 6:9–10; 7:9–10).
Out of the ashes of the old world a new and better paradise will be created. It will have some of the features of the old. For example, the tree of life will be there (Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14). But there will also be significant differences. There will no longer be any night. The light of the sun will not be necessary in this new world. God’s servants will reign forever (Rev. 22:5). Our relationships will continue but they will change, since we will no longer marry “but will be like the angels in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). Beyond this, relatively little is known. We can guess, perhaps, but we cannot know for certain what our experience will be like.
However, if heavenly experience surpasses earthly, as Jesus implied in his remark to Nicodemus in John 3:12, then we can be certain that it will be far better than anything we can hope or dream. If “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18), then neither are our present joys or pleasures.