As I’ve been discussing so far in this series on heaven (see the first two posts here and here) there are a lot of misconceptions out there even amongst Christians about what the afterlife will really be like. But if I’m going around saying that many of us are on the wrong track, I’m certainly obligated to explain what I think the right track is, right? Well, I’m no learned Biblical scholar, but I have been doing a good bit of reading and pondering lately, both on the Bible and on books written by those wiser than myself, and I’m going to present a couple of my takeaways for your consideration.
Expect the unexpected
First things first: Before getting down to specifics, it’s key to acknowledge that we have good reason to expect heaven to exceed our expectations in every way possible, regardless of the actual details of our day to day activities and experiences there. Heaven was created by the One who most intimately knows our needs and desires, so of course it will satisfy them. God created our desires for food, fresh air, companionship, etc., and He fulfills them in wonderful ways even here in this fallen world. I can only imagine that in heaven, where there is no sin to separate us from the Author of all our desires, that our needs will be met even more deeply and fully than they are here.
One thing we do know, that we can’t even conceive of what we have to look forward to:
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9, NLT)
But, I do believe that there are hints and clues in Scripture to give us some food for thought.
How will we pass an infinite amount of time?
As a child, sometimes I was a bit worried that Heaven would be boring. I know that I was often bored during church services, and to my young mind, the idea of praising and worshiping God forever just sounded like a never-ending church service. Who’d want to do that? But I’ve been greatly relieved to discover that that is not the case at all. There’s a great passage in the book One Minute After You Die by Erwin W. Lutzer that explains this rather well — I really felt as if it was written directly to me.
[E]veryone in heaven will be happy and fulfilled … Of this we may be certain: Heaven is not a place of inactivity or boredom. It is not, as a Sunday school pupil thought, an interminable workshop service where we been on page one of the hymnal and sing all the way through. God will have productive work for us to do … Whatever our activity, we can be sure that our infinite Heavenly Father will have infinite possibilities.
So, we’ll be busy bees in the restored garden. But what exactly will we spend our time doing? I like to think that I’ll be a writer in heaven as well — I suppose journalism would still be needed to record discoveries and write about inventions or works of art, though I won’t miss investigating wasteful government spending or covering violent crime. Perhaps blogging will still exist in heaven, with a perfect version of the Internet and a bug-free computer! The possibilities are endless, as Lutzer notes.
Precedent: The Garden of Eden
When trying to construct ideas about heaven, the Garden of Eden is important to consider, since in it we have a fairly detailed account of an unsullied, pre-sin way of existence for humankind and God. One of the things that jumps out at me the most is that in perfect Eden, Adam had a vocation, as a farmer. The Garden was a perfect heaven on Earth, and Adam and Eve weren’t sitting around strumming harps all the time, they had meaningful and necessary (but not wearisome or frustrating) work. Adam surely derived satisfaction from gardening just as plant enthusiasts do today, without the added struggle of weeds and thorns which came only after the fall.
The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it (Genesis 2:15 NLT)
Adam and Eve also clearly had a need for one another, as God said that it was “not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and created Eve. If the Holy Trinity felt that Adam could benefit from human companionship while he was still living in the Garden, with no sin to separate him from a perfect relationship with God, human relationships must be of unbelievable value. Why shouldn’t we have work and relationships in heaven as well as the garden?
A few actives that are referenced in the New Testament as part of the afterlife include:
- Feasting (Luke 13:29)
- Reigning (Revelation 22:4)
- Worshiping God (Revelation 22:3)
- Interacting with other people (Revelation 7:9, 1 Corinthians 13:12)
It’s also worth noting that worshiping God could take as many forms in Heaven as it does on earth. While when I first think of the saints worshiping God in Heaven, the first image I see in my mind’s eye usually involves figures in white robes singing before a radiant throne, I don’t see why creating paintings or serving others oughtn’t be worshiping God in Heaven just as on earth. While I’m sure that if God had designed Heaven to consist mostly of singing eternal praises to His Name, He would have done so with the knowledge that it would make all of us incredibly happy forever, I can’t help but imagine that our creative faculties will be more active and prolific in Heave rather than less.
Heaven is a physical place, not just a spiritual realm
We do know that we won’t merely be disembodied spirits floating about in the ether once we die, and thank goodness, because that sounds horrible. I often wonder what my heavenly body will be like. Will I look like I do now, just healthier? Will I have the same shape and size, but none of the earthly issues like tinnitus and asthma? How old will we be in Heaven? The age we were when we died? Will we even have an age?
While I don’t know many specific answers (I’ll just have to find out when I get there!), we do know that Jesus had a real, corporal, physical body after He was resurrected. This indicates we’ll live in a real, corporal, physical place in Heaven — just one free from imperfections, like the Garden. We have New Testament accounts of Jesus eating with his disciples (John 21), and a record of the fact that they were able to touch Him (John 20). So, if Jesus is the “first fruits” from the dead, the example of what we can expect (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23) we know that we will have a body of the same sort, but one that won’t get sick or experience pain or die of old age. And if we have a body that’s similar to what we have now, but incorruptible, I would imagine (though I can’t prove it) that we will enjoy many of the physical pastimes in Heaven that we do on earth. If a hike along a lake in a corrupted world and an imperfect body can be serene and delightful, imagine a hike along a lake in a perfect world, with a perfectly healthy body! Or why shouldn’t we enjoy playing with animals in Heaven, with no fear of injury to them or us? (I assume that there will be animals and natural environments in Heaven based on Scripture including Isaiah 11.)
In regards to the age we’ll be in Heaven, there’s no knowing, but it’s safe to say that we’ll be at our best. Perhaps age will be impossible to define in Heaven, since it’s measured via time, which will no longer be binding on us, and decay, which will no longer exist. One of the most interesting ideas in Lutzer’s book is his theory about what might become of babies or young children who die. Will a baby be an infant in heaven, for some or all of eternity? I always imagined that a baby would be an adult (whatever ‘adult’ may mean in heaven), since he or she died on earth due to sin and corruption, and therefore wasn’t able to develop mentally or physically. Those barriers would be taken away in heaven. Luther suggested that perhaps parents who have been bereaved by the loss of a child on earth could raise that child in heaven — that they could arrive and discover their stillborn infant or the grade school kid who died of leukemia growing in a perfect body that won’t hold them back. Who knows? But what a beautiful idea.
How does our eternal future change our temporal present?
We’re going to spend an endless amount of time in a paradise of belonging, fulfillment, joy and worship. We’ll be perfectly loved, and able to perfectly love ourselves. So how does that affect our existence in this flawed and frustrating world? I don’t know about you, but whenever I spend some time meditating on Scriptures, reading books about heaven or just sitting and imagining what it will be like, I feel a great sense of calm and peace. Knowing that whatever irritations and disappointments and pain I have to endure now is just a brief prelude to an eternity of joy and happiness really puts things in perspective. It’s kind of like that feeling on the last couple days of finals, when you’re rushing to polish up term papers and study for tests and you’re exhausted and you have a cold and the weather is miserable, but you know that soon it’ll be summer and the sunshine is coming and you’ll get some much-needed rest. It’s like that, but 1,000,000,000,000 times better. So next time you’re freaking out about a test or you go through a breakup or you’re struggling to pay tuition or bills, remember what’s in store for you, and be encouraged! Your struggles seem like a huge deal now (believe me, I know mine sure do some days!) but they’re “light and momentary” in the context of eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Interested in learning more about where you’ll spend trillions of years? I realized today that I’ve probably spent more time researching colleges (a place to stay a few years) than heaven (a place to spend infinite years, if years are still even a thing then). But I’ve been working to remedy that. If you’d like to do the same, I recommend checking out One Minute After You Die, mentioned above, for practical, scripture-based insights. Another book that I also found to have some fascinating ideas about heaven is a trilogy of novels by Scottish storyteller George MacDonald entitled The Curate of Glaston. The books are primarily a fascinating account of the spiritual awakenings and subsequent journeys of several people, but some of the conversations between characters include captivating ideas about theology and what heaven may be like. The book is worth reading just for those, and has many other merits. Another extremely well-known title on the topic is Heaven by Randy Alcorn. I have not read all of the book yet, so I can’t offer a full review, but so far I’ve found it great food for thought.
Feel free to contact me with any questions, comments, or critiques, and stay tuned for my next post, a review and give-away of the book Being a Christian by Jason K. Allen.