And so shall we ever be with the Lord. –First Thessalonians 4:17
F. W. Myers, author of a famous poem called “Saint Paul,” once asked a woman whose daughter had died what she thought happened to her soul. She said, “Oh, I suppose she’s enjoying eternal bliss–but I wish you wouldn’t speak to me of such unpleasant subjects.”
In A.D. 125, a Greek by the name of Aristides spoke of “a new religion called Christianity.” In a letter to a friend, he described this unusual faith. “If any righteous man among these Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God; and they escort the body with songs of thanksgiving, as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”
As a result of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Peter wrote, believers have been reborn to “a living hope.” (First Peter 1:3) Our hope for the future involves a resurrection of our own, followed by an eternity in heaven.
We who follow Jesus are hemmed in by no small ambitions.
The biblical concept of hope includes two elements: desire and expectation. You want a thing to happen and you have every reason to expect it. God made us for Himself, so in our innermost being we want to live with Him. Jesus promised us that we would, so we expect to do so.
I have been thinking about Heaven, thanks to some terrific things I’ve been reading….
–I’ve been reading the Bible, first and foremost. Some passages that thrill my soul are Job 19:25-27; John 3, John 13-17, and First Corinthians 15. Scripture spares no effort to make certain you and I know the amazing destiny the Father has in store for His children. We are infinitely blessed and enriched by such knowledge.
–Kathryn Ann Lindskoog in her book, C. S. Lewis: Mere Christian, writes that in the long history of Christianity, few people have entered the Christian faith with less interest in the afterlife than Lewis. However, she adds, “Few have ended up with a more radiantly exciting vision of heaven.” She explains, “Once Lewis firmly believed in God, he could face the truth of heaven.”
Pause and reflect on that last statement a moment, please. Belief in God changes everything.
According to C. S. Lewis, the imagery Scripture gives us about Heaven–golden streets, pearly gates, lavish feasts, and sparkling crowns–are not to be taken literally, but are symbols of the realities we shall find there: the joy, glory, beauty, and timelessness. “It is now as if we are on the outside of the world, on the wrong side of the door. We respond to the freshness and purity of morning, but we don’t become fresh and pure thereby. We are separate from the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”
Rustling with the rumor. Oh man, how I love that. Dwell on that for a while.
–Philip Yancy draws from the insights of Lewis’ book The Weight of Glory when he says that C. S. Lewis “awakened to the reality of another world through such pleasures as Nordic myths, nature, and Wagnerian music. He senses in our longings not just rumors but ‘advance echoes’ of that world. Flashes of beauty and pangs of aching sweetness, he said, ‘are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard.’” (Yancey: Rumors of Another World, p. 35-36.)
The scent of a flower unfound, echo of a tune unheard. My heart understands.
–Joe Bayly, editor and Christian thinker, was facing major surgery in the mid-1970s. Like so many of us who have trod that path, his mind centered on dying and Heaven. After emerging from surgery and finding himself still on this side, Bayly put his thoughts into a small booklet titled, appropriately enough, Heaven. In it, he envisions entering Heaven and the conversation going like this….
“I’ll say, ‘Hello, Lord. I’m tired.’
“And He’ll say, ‘Rest, because I have work for you to do.’
“‘Yes. Remember that I myself rested on the seventh day of creation. So rest is not incompatible with heaven’s perfection.’
“‘Of course. Did you think heaven would be an eternal Sunday afternoon nap? My people serve me in heaven. I have work for you to do.’”
Later, as the conversation unfolds, Bayly asks if he will recognize his loved ones there.
“‘Didn’t my servant Paul tell you that the assurance of reunion with your loved ones should bring you comfort? Where would the comfort be if you couldn’t recognize them?’
“‘How about people like Moses, or Abraham, or Stephen?’
“‘You’ll know them, too. Didn’t my disciples, Peter, James, and John, know Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration?’”
Bayly remarks that Heaven seems more of a city than anything else.
The Lord answers, “Yes, it is a city–not people living in isolation, like on a vast Texas ranch, but living together. Not independent, everyone living his own life, but living together in perfect love, perfect harmony, perfect cooperation. Some of my children may have lived lonely lives on earth, but never here in heaven. Isolation, the ultimate loneliness, is not for my people but for those who would not respond to my Spirit, who would not trust me for life eternal.”
Isolation seems to be a trait of hell, if Luke 16:19-31 is any indication.
–Douglas Connelly pastors a church in Flushing, Michigan. In The Promise of Heaven: Discovering Our Eternal Home, Connelly tells of a friend who was dying. She whispered to Pastor Connelly, “I think I saw heaven last night. I saw the lights of a great city–and it looked like home.”
Home may be the best word in any language. Scripture assures us “We prefer to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord”(Second Corinthians 5:8). Jesus described heaven as “a place prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34) and as “my Father’s House” (John 14:1).
–In her book Heaven: Your Real Home, Joni Eareckson Tada cautions, “Trying to grasp heaven without faith is like trying to admire the outside of a huge great cathedral with grand windows. Standing outside, you see an impressive but imposing structure. The building is striking but has no real glory. But if you go inside the cathedral–which is a little like looking at heaven through eyes of faith–you are breathless as you stand washed in glorious colors from the light that streams through the window.”
“One day,” she continues, “no more bulging middles or balding tops. No varicose veins or crow’s feet. No more cellulite or support hose. Forget the thunder thighs and highway hips. Just a quick leapfrog over the tombstone and it’s the body you’ve always dreamed of. Fit and trim, smooth and sleek.”
Joni says, “It makes me want to break into giggles right now!” This dear sister in Christ who broke her neck in a diving accident and has lived all her extremely productive adult life as a quadriplegic says, “In Heaven, I’ll be free to jump up, dance, kick, and do aerobics. And although I’m sure Jesus will be delighted to watch me rise on tiptoe, there’s something I plan to do that may please Him more. If possible, somewhere, sometime before the party gets going, sometime before the guests are called to the banquet table at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, the first thing I plan to do on resurrected legs is to drop on grateful, glorified knees. I will quietly kneel at the feet of Jesus.”
Then, after a while, Joni writes, “I shall spring to my feet, stretch my arms, and shout out to anyone within earshot of the whole universe, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and might, honor and glory and blessing!’”
As for me, I plan to be standing in the wings taking in this incredible sight, then applauding this precious sister’s antics.
Martin Luther said, “If you’re not allowed to laugh in Heaven, I don’t want to go there.”
Tom T. Hall’s line works here: “It could be that the good Lord likes a little pickin’ too.”
Heaven is bigger, broader, fuller, and more-everything-else than we have imagined.
Well, we have to end this sometime, so I’ll wind it down with this. C. S. Lewis says there are five things about heaven taught in scripture: we shall be with Christ, we shall be like Christ, we shall have glory, we shall be in some sense fed, feasted or entertained, and we shall have some sort of official position in the universe.
I can’t wait. Apparently Paul couldn’t either. He said, “For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven.” (II Corinthians 5:2) And this: “…having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better…..” (Philippians 1:23)
I seriously and genuinely cannot wait.