This article is a continuation of a different article I wrote this week, called The Purpose of Our Salvation. While it can easily stand alone, reading the first one might make my comments below about heaven and salvation make a little more sense.
Since heaven represents the fruition of salvation, how we imagine heaven is a crucial indicator of how well we understand who God is and who we were created to be.
If you’ve still got your seat belt on from the first article, you’re going to want to pull it a little tighter. The road we’re about to venture on together is largely untraveled in our culture.
Contrary to popular belief, heaven is not for people who are simply afraid of going to hell. Heaven is for people who take joy in Jesus and who know that simply being in His presence is the ultimate reward. For those people, the prospect of being permitted into His perfect presence despite the problem of their unworthiness (thanks to what He did on the cross) is reason enough to worship Him and tell as many people about Him as they can.
The common response to God’s coming judgment is to ask, “How could God not let me in?” Everyone else tells us how amazing we are so it’s easy to think we deserve to be in heaven. How could God not be crazy about us, even when we have little to no interest in following His ways? But think about it–wanting to go to heaven without any taste for living God’s way is possibly the most ironic statement this side of eternity. Heaven is where everything is God’s way 100 percent of the time. For someone who doesn’t trust God’s way, that actually sounds like a miserable and terrifying place.
For a good portion of my life, I thought of heaven as a pleasure-filled paradise where I would basically just sip Mai Tais on the beach and hang out with my friends. I read the promise of “no tears or pain” and thought “no sunburns or hangovers.” It was one eternally blissful party, with myself as the guest of honor. It was only a few years ago when I realized what I was ultimately saying about God: He’s not enough. I felt that I needed things other than Him in order to receive my ideal pleasure. But as someone who has since been made aware of the goodness of God, the most euphoric sense of pleasure I can think to receive would be to have direct community with Him who created that “other” pleasure in the first place.
We also tend to hear a lot of people talking casually about heaven being a place where we will watch over our loved ones. This view is so common now, I think we hear it and just assume the Bible affirms it somewhere–except it’s actually about as unbiblical as it gets.
Think about it. Would there be anything more stressful and miserable than being consumed with the mistakes and dangers your kids and grandkids get into? Besides, what happens three generations down the road when we each have 25 “guardian grandparents”? This view may be comforting, but it doesn’t add up from a theological standpoint. God is found in neither the beach party scene nor the guardian grandparent theory.
From a heavenly standpoint, this doesn’t sound at all like the paradise we’ve been promised. I’m imagining the ancestors temple in the movie Mulan. Great movie, but I wouldn’t go so far as to put it in the “Christian” category.
If our truth is found from scripture, we must consider paradise to be where we can witness and worship the glory of our Creator. Simply that. I’m confident we will be among our loved ones who also put their faith in Christ, but I don’t think any of us are ultimately going to pay much attention to each other considering Who else is there.
Finally, there’s the heavenly misconception that thinks heaven is an eternal romantic getaway with our spouses. This one is possibly the most common of them all. Again, I’ve been guilty of this myself. But the crazy thing is that the theological truth of this is built directly into our wedding vows: “Till death do us part.”
I’m about to be married in just a couple months, and I’m completely psycho-crazy about the woman who will be my wife. Scripture tells us very plainly, however, that she will not be my wife in heaven. This is a perfect illustration of how our cultural idols have influenced our theology. If you break this down, however, there’s no way this would work. A successful marriage relationship (the kind we would expect in paradise) requires 100 percent intimacy and commitment between a man and a woman, but Jesus explains unapologetically that heaven is where all intimacy and commitment is with God. In heaven, there’s no room for intimate relationships with others outside of what we have with God, just like there’s no room in a successful marriage on Earth for other relationships that even come close to the intimacy we have with our spouses. Again, this is right there in our most basic theology: the Church is called the bride of Christ.
You might be thinking that this view of earthly marriage doesn’t sound very romantic. But the counter intuitive part is that this view of marriage is actually what allows it to be as strong as it was designed to be. Eternal relationships with our spouses or even our kids cannot be our end goal. As soon as they start becoming the end goal, our experiences start becoming major disappointments because other sinful people were never meant to be the source of our fulfillment. We just aren’t worthy of God-status for each other.
When our view of heaven is defined by our own pleasure rather than worshiping God, we put ourselves at the focus of God’s purpose. That is exactly where we were never meant to be, and actually explains the entire nature of our own sin. Our eternal relationship with Him is the end goal, entirely fulfilling, completely undeserved, and beyond comparison.