I’m looking forward to long walks with good friends, shared meals without rushing, and endless laughter at no one’s expense.
I’m anticipating meaningful work with plenty of time for reading, photography, fishing, and community service. For occasional entertainment I haven’t written off stadiums and ballparks. If my hunch is right, competition between friends will be healthy in heaven. I’m wondering if there might even be hockey without fights, soccer without brawls, and basketball playoffs where losing well is valued as much as winning. There may even be a safe form of boxing and NASCAR.
Frivolous speculation? Maybe. Insulting to God? I hope not. I’m trying to imagine a heaven that builds on the good we know while leaving behind the evil.
As a child, I feared heaven would be boring. I missed the point of gold streets and pearly gates. As a 10-year-old, what I really liked doing most was playing baseball, collecting fossils, and hunting frogs.
In the years that followed, the deaths of family members and friends have changed the way I think about heaven. But I still have questions. What will we do after enjoying long embraces, tears of laughter, and catching up? My mind still locks up like an overloaded computer when I try to weigh imponderable questions about a hereafter that will last forever.
Ironically, what gives me the most peace of mind is not cutting loose my imagination, but rather learning to trust. I find rest in the thought that God doesn’t want us to know what He has planned for us. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear such a God say something like, “If I told you, I’d have to take you.” Or, based on the apostle Paul’s experience, “If I told you how good it’s going to be, I’d have to make life more difficult for you now.”
Paul seemed to imply as much when describing what he thought might have been an out-of-body experience. By his own admission, he wasn’t sure what happened. But he said he was caught up to Paradise where he heard things he wasn’t allowed to talk about (2 Corinthians 12:1-4). Apparently, whatever Paul heard was so exhilarating that it would have distracted him from an ongoing dependence upon the grace of God. So, for the duration of Paul’s time on earth, the Lord of heaven let him suffer at the hand of Satan, to keep him on his knees (2 Corinthians 12:7-9).
I’m convinced that the God who taught Paul to depend on Him one day at a time is now teaching us to rely on Him for an eternity that is beyond our ability to understand.
So how much then does He want us to know?
Heaven in the Jewish Scriptures
Moses and the prophets tell us only a little about heaven. Asaph, the worship leader of Israel, tells us as much as anyone when he says to his God, “You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You” (Psalm 73:24-25).
Later the prophet Isaiah predicts a new relationship between heaven and earth. He foresees a day of international peace, when God will live among His people on earth, when even wild animals will no longer prey on one another (Isaiah 2:4; 65:25). Isaiah envisions the eventual renewal and restoration of earth and sky when he quotes God as saying, “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. . . . The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, nor the voice of crying” (Isaiah 65:17-19).
Heaven in the teachings of Jesus
Jesus spoke often of the kingdom of heaven. It was His way of speaking of the realm of God’s rule. In prayer, He taught His disciples to say, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
Our Teacher, however, described heaven as more than the seat of divine government. He also called it His Father’s house. He told His disciples He was going there to prepare a place for them. “That where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). This will be a place of happiness and everlasting reward where treasures don’t rust, wear out, or get stolen (Matthew 6:19-20).
Heaven in Revelation
The last book in the Bible brings together into one great vision many themes of God’s original creation. In Revelation, heaven comes to earth. The city of God descends to us. God lives among His people and wipes away every “tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).
Now and forever
So do I still warm to the possibilities I mentioned earlier? Only in a limited sense. Competition where everyone wins might be the equivalent of gold streets or pearly gates. I don’t know. I want to hold those lightly. What I’m more sure about is that our God wants us to hold tightly the anticipation of living with Him forever.
I’m convinced that God is planning one surprise after another, and that heaven will be far more than we ever imagined, not less. And whatever it involves will center on the One who assured His friends with the words, “Let not your heart be troubled . . . . I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).
Father in heaven, we become confused in the darkness of what we don’t yet understand. Thank You for being so patient with us. Help us to see that the grace You have shown us today is only a taste of Your ability to use all eternity to surprise us again and again with Your goodness. —Mart De Haan