“Everybody wants to go to heaven. It beats the other place, there ain’t no doubt. Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wanna go now.”¹
So declares the old country song, and we may find ourselves unconsciously nodding along to those lyrics. Most of us really don’t want to go to heaven–at least, not right now. We know we should, and we know it’s better than the other place, so we do want to go, just not in a positive way. We see heaven not as attractive, but as an alternative to Hell.
And who can blame us? According to our culture, Hell is a party, while Heaven is sterile and white. As Christians, we’ve discarded the idea of the former, but I’m not so sure about the later. We know Hell isn’t fun, but we’re not convinced Heaven is either. Simply look at the pictures we’re given from “Christian” sources.
If we believe the paintings, eternity is spent sitting on clouds and strumming harps; if we believe those who have supposedly been there and back again, it’s full of wings and happy feelings. But deep down, we know that after a couple million years, happy feelings will get bland. We’re the generation that is seeking for a purpose, willing to work and fight and strive to do the hard things to make a difference in this life–so it’s a bit of a let down to imagine a sedentary state in the next one. These pictures of Heaven hold little appeal for us.
But maybe we’re picturing those pearly gates all wrong.
The True Heaven of Now
To begin, those pearly gates aren’t even in Heaven–at least, not as we think of it. The Bible uses the term “heaven” to refer to several things:
- The sky and space (Gen. 15:5, Heb. 12:26)
- The place of angels and God’s throne (sometimes given special names, such as the “heaven of heavens” in Deut. 10:14, or “the third heaven” in 2 Cor. 12:2)
- The new heavens and earth (Rev. 21:1)
While there’s many nuances and discussions you could have about these, when we think of heaven, we most often think of the second. While the Bible doesn’t say much about it, Isaiah and John both got glimpses and paints us a picture of it–one radically different from our modern view of heaven. Heaven isn’t made out of clouds, though the throne is surrounded by thunder and lightnings and rainbows (Rev. 4:3,5). There’s no harps in sight–but there’s thousands joined together in powerful worship. This is the heaven we enter into when we die, where we are “absent from the body, and…present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). But there’s not too much more we know about what it’ll be like or what we’ll do.
In fact, that leads us to the second thing we need to right in our view of heaven, its duration. If we think of Heaven solely as the second definition, we’re missing a huge piece, and the whole rest of eternity. After all, God’s-throne-room-heaven has existed forever, or at least during Isaiah’s time–but Jesus speaks as if one is coming in Matthew 25:1, and in many of his other parables. Heaven shall shake (Heb 12:26), open (Rev 19:11), and there shall come something greater–a New Heaven and a New Earth. (Rev. 21) This is where eternity is spent, and this is where all wrong is made right again.
The Heaven to Come
This New Heaven shatters all our preconceived cultural notions. We’re worshiping, yes, but that worship is manifested in many ways. It’s not just playing harps and singing–it’s working and ruling cities and making good things (Luke 19:17). It’s not just happy feelings–it’s dwelling in the presence of Him who is fullness of joy (Ps 16:11), who is the fulfillment of all our longings, who satisfies us with good things. We will spend it discovering and plumbing the bottomless depths of the goodness of the King.
The King, who is not some soft teddy bear nor Santa, but the King who just burst in on His white horse, raised His sword against the swarming armies of darkness and evil and hate and oppression, and cut through them like a shaft of light (Rev. 19). That victorious conqueror, who is also our dear friend (Jhn. 15:15). It’ll be much like when Lucy and Susan romped with Aslan after he returned from the dead–not sure whether it’s more like playing with a thunderstorm or a kitten. We’ll be in awe of the Sovereign, yet He’ll walk beside us just like in the Garden again.
But we won’t be in the Garden of Eden anymore–we’ll be in a city. The centerpiece of the New Heaven and Earth is New Jerusalem–filled with all the goodness of the Garden, with plants and a river and the tree of life–yet also something more, something better than the Garden. There’s people, there’s activity, there’s things to be done–and all of it without sadness or tears or disease or death–and we’ll have all that is good to do now that all sad things are made untrue. And all of this is worship to God. As Randy Alcorn says, if we have a small view of worship, we’ll have a small view of heaven.
But when we see worship for what it truly is, when we remember that Jesus gives life, and that abundantly, we realize that eternity with Him must be Life as it truly was meant to be, and that the marriage feast of the Lamb will be a feast indeed, with laughter and dancing loud and free and made new and redeemed.But when we see worship for what it truly is, we realize that eternity with Him must be Life as it truly was meant to be, and that the marriage feast of the Lamb will be a feast indeed, with laughter and dancing loud and free and… Click To Tweet
Right Your Picture to Right Your Living
Can’t you see how we need this better picture? If heaven is boring, then the enticements of the world, the whispers to leave behind that stuffy, sterile religion and live it up now, have tempting weight and fatal allure. Our clouds and harps heaven might succumb. But when we know the truth, we can laugh at the world’s empty claims. We shall feast as kings and queens–what need have we of paper crowns and fast food chains?We shall feast as kings and queens--what need have we of paper crowns and fast food chains? Click To Tweet
If heaven is just ok, then the sacrifices of the Christian are regrettable; but when we know the truth, sacrifices barely merit the name, for we are assured that God’s no’s have an infinitely great yes. We have hope, in tribulations and persecutions, and even death, for we know that they shall all be as old tales.²
If we have a small view of heaven, we will have a small view of life, of purpose, and of God Himself. But when we see the startling beauty and satiating goodness of God’s presence that is to come, then our picture of heaven and priorities in life are made right. Our cadence is not “everybody wants to go there, but nobody wants to go now,” but rather, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phl 1:21, emphasis mine). We live our lives putting treasures in and pointing others toward heaven, knowing its true goodness. We see Heaven not as boring, but as everything good, and so can full-heartedly and longingly say with John,
“Even so come.”
1: Everybody Wants to Go To Heaven, Kenny Chesney
2: After the Last Tear Falls, Andrew Peterson