Saturday, April 29, 2017

Heaven and Why I Want to Go There

A few weeks ago, I did a mini review of a book by Rob Bell entitled “Love Wins.” As you may remember, Bell has determined that heaven will be nothing more than a glorified earth where God will banish anything that is “bad.” I discussed at the time, that Bell’s concept of heaven has little to do with the scriptural idea and very much to do with the concept that man has of what heaven “ought” to look like. As humans, we have a tendency to fill in the gaps with our thoughts and ideas about what heaven, or anything we have not experienced or seen, is like.

 Which brings me to the thought at hand. To wit, the fact that heaven is real, and no, it is not just a glorified earth, and that I want to be among the number who will be counted worthy to inherit it. I don’t want you to misunderstand what I mean by worthy, however. I simply mean the word in the biblical sense and not that I will somehow do enough good things to earn the prize. Rather, if I am to be counted worthy at all, it will be because God has cleansed me and declared me righteous by the blood of Christ and nothing more (2 Corinthians 5:19-21).

I am confident that I am among that number. And I am confident of that fact because God has promised that, those who come to Christ in faith, will not be cast out (John 6). Thus, I can stand assured of my salvation, not because I can somehow hold on to it, but because God has promised he will not let me go (Jude 25). Further, he has given me the Holy Spirit as a pledge of that which is to come (Ephesians 1). All this leads me to the inevitable thoughts that often occupy the minds of the believers: what will heaven be like and what will I be doing when I get there?

I often talk to my wife about this subject. Many times, I ask questions such as the one above. Invariably, she will tell me that we will be worshipping and glorifying God throughout all eternity. Of course, that is biblical since, in the few glimpses that we do get of heaven in the New Testament, that is exactly what all those there are doing. But I often wonder if we’ll be doing other things as well. Sometimes I tell my wife that it would be really neat if God was to “replay” all the events  of history that are so well known by the Christian: Daniel in the lion’s den, the Exodus, etc. I would really like to be there when the water came back on the Egyptians and experience first-hand the awe that must have gripped the hearts of the Israelites at witnessing such an event.

But inevitably, one thing that comes up when we discuss heaven is the medium through which we will enter it. In other words, as Paul reminds his readers in 1 Corinthians 15, flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God. That means that, unless the Lord comes while we’re alive, we will have to “go through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23). As I heard one person put it recently, “it’s not so much death that I’m afraid of, it’s the method; I don’t want to suffer.” Although that was said tongue in cheek, the reality is that we, in our humanity, fear what we don’t know.

This is where the words of those who have gone on before us can gain special poignancy. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin discusses thoughts about the world to come. In a chapter entitled, “On Meditating on the World to Come,” he reminds his readers that the Christian should not only not be afraid of death, but should look forward to it as the passage into the world where no pain will abide. We should even hate our flesh, Calvin continues, not because we abhor it for its own sake, but because it is the repository of all that makes us the sinners that we are.

How different such attitude is to that of so many of us, who cling to our flesh with tenacity and whose every move and action is motivated by making our bodies feel or look better. I must confess that I all too often lose sight of the fact that it is the “things which are unseen” that are eternal (1 Corinthians 4:18). If we hold on to the world too tightly, however, we will eventually find out that we spent so much time taking care of the temporal, that we neglected the eternal, all to our everlasting chagrin.

But there is one thing that we are told about heaven and the consummation of all things that is, without a doubt, a most amazing event. Again in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul argues that the resurrection from the dead is a fact and not a myth. He argues against those who deny the resurrection, but also against those who claimed that the resurrection of Christ was a onetime event undertaken by a god and that we cannot expect that we will likewise be resurrected. In the midst of this argument, Paul declares that Jesus is to reign until all things have been placed under his feet. Then, he pens what to me is one of the most amazing passages in all of Scripture.

Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For He ‘has put everything under His feet.’ Now when it says that ‘everything’ has been put under Him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When He has done this, then the Son Himself will subject Himself to Him who put everything under Him, so that God may be all in all.”
                                                   1 Corinthians 15:24-28

Every time I read that passage I get goose bumps! I keep thinking about the fact that we will be witnesses of Christ submitting himself to the Father and God being all in all. As opposed to the misguided ideas of the Arians of yesterday and today (the Jehovah’s Witnesses being perhaps their greatest modern day disciples), this has no reference to the Father being better than the Son. But it simply shows how the Supreme Being of the universe is in harmony in everything He does and that the persons of the Godhead are perfect in their roles and in their humility. To think of the fact that we will be there to witness such a scene leaves me, literally, breathless.

In discussing heaven and the resurrection again Calvin spoke of those who speculate about what heaven will be like and their irresistible urge to try and equate it with the world that now is. “Independent of use” he says, “there will be so much pleasantness in the very sight, so much delight in the very knowledge, that this happiness will surpass all the means of enjoyment which are now afforded.” He finishes the thought by saying that “fruition, pure and free from all defect, though it be of no use to a corruptible mind, is the summit of happiness.”

And thus, after all is said and done, I can think of no better reason to want to be in heaven than to be in the presence of the God who saved us and to behold how the Father, the Son and the Spirit will demonstrate for us all what true service, humility and yes, greatness are all about. Just as he did while Jesus “tabernacled” among men!


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