Who knows what it will be like?
|“Heaven is where God is and, for that matter, hell is where God isn’t.” This definition seems to me to be self-evident, and I particularly like it because it cuts across much of the mumbo-jumbo that we hear about heaven. But let’s not speculate: what does the Bible say about heaven?
To begin with, the Bible uses the phrase ‘the heavens’ to mean the skies and all that is above them. This is a literal term, but also a representative one, referring to all that is above us, visible but unobtainable. It is easy to see how this term for all that is literally above us could also be understood to be referring to the realm in which God dwells; however, there is no developed idea in the Bible that God literally lives above the sky. Indeed the idea that God could be contained within a place, however vast, is one that is utterly alien.
This picture is confused, though, by the fact that the Bible does use the term ‘heaven’ to refer to the spiritual reality in which God can be more accurately said to dwell. And because the Jews were very careful not to use God’s name in vain, they often used the word ‘heaven’ instead of saying God. This is why Matthew (NT) constantly refers to ‘the Kingdom of Heaven’, rather than ‘the Kingdom of God’, for example, and why we still say ‘Heaven knows…’.
Today we most commonly talk of heaven when we are thinking about death. It is seen as the place where Christians (or sometimes just ‘good people’) go when they die. However, this picture is not an accurate Christian or biblical one.
We should be in no doubt that those who place their trust in Jesus in this life will live with him for all eternity. There will come a day, either when we die or when Jesus returns, when we will all stand before Jesus and the Father, and those who have followed him will be invited into their inheritance; welcomed to everlasting life with God.
However, what the Bible says is that God will create a new heaven and a new earth at the end of this one. Eternal life is not wearing a white nightie and waiting around on clouds! It is, rather, all that life was meant to be before we messed it up in a foolish rebellion against God’s ways. It is earthy, real and the very definition of home, peace, fulfilment and joy. You have tasted it in those infinitesimal moments of perfection that slip beyond your grasp in the very moment you perceive them.
It is life in all its fullness… but how do you get there? It’s only by saying ‘yes’ to Jesus and ‘no’ to self. For here is the greatest irony of all time; the perfection of heaven is opened to broken humanity only through the murder of God himself on the cross.
Pray: God, I’m not sure about heaven yet, but I am sure I don’t want it all to end when I die. If there’s something better—if you’re out there, and there’s a chance of being with you for eternity—then I want to explore that. Please reveal yourself to me, and put people around me who can help me to understand. Amen.
Watch the music video of Mary Mary's Heaven
Read a poem (click on ‘12 Poems’, and then choose ‘Heaven’)
See Gustave Doré’s illustration Dante and Beatrice Gaze Upon the Highest Heaven
Listen to a fascinating BBC Radio 4 programme about heaven, presented by Melvyn Bragg
Read 40 poems about heaven in the book Heaven in a Poem, edited by Lois Rock
Read the book The Message of Heaven and Hell by Bruce Milne
Read the book Heaven and Hell by Edward Donnelly
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