Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Will You Like Heaven?

In 2001, the movie, “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,” was released in theaters. This was Peter Jackson’s acclaimed portrayal of the first of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy of novels by the same name. The central love story in the film is between Aragorn, the future king of men, and Arwen, an Elven Princess. (Stick with me here, there is a point!)  Like all Elves, Arwen can choose to live eternally. However, should she choose to marry Aragorn (a man) she could forfeit immortality in exchange for human mortality. In a famous scene from the movie, on the eve of Aragorn’s dangerous journey, Arwen declares her love for him by giving him the Evenstar, a jewel that is mysteriously joined with her life spirit. In doing so, she tells Aragorn, “I choose a mortal life.” While this makes for an interesting plot twist and moving gesture of love, isn’t this really a foolish choice? Why do we watch a scene like that without cocking our heads in disbelief? Do we not value immortality? Do even Christians find the concept discomforting?

When my children were younger I asked them if they wanted to live forever. And, surprisingly their candid answer was no. They were a little frightened by the concept. After being shocked by their response, I started routinely asking other teenagers the same question with similar results. Why would the concept of eternity frighten so many Christians? David Lloyd George may have the answer when he said, “When I was a boy, the thought of Heaven used to frighten me more than the thought of Hell. I pictured Heaven as a place where time would be perpetual Sundays, with perpetual services from which there would be no escape.”

Our problem is that we have bought a lie about what eternity in Heaven will be like. And, we compound this by teaching the same lie to our children. Truly, this is a much bigger problem than we care to admit. The enemy uses such lies to twist our thinking so that we don’t look forward to eternity. This becomes an effective tool for removing the foundation of our salvation and faith, which is hope. Eternity in Heaven is as much a part of the Gospel and our salvation as the concept of home is a part of marriage and family. In John 14:2-3 Jesus said of our marriage to Him, “In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” He is speaking about the culmination of our salvation in marriage to Him. He is speaking about Heaven, which is the eternal home that He has prepared for us, His Bride. And, this is something to be greatly anticipated.

So, what does the Bible truthfully teach about the nature of eternity and Heaven? To answer that question, we will not necessarily focus on the end times or on what Heaven is like today. Rather, we will begin our discussion in Revelation 21. This chapter of Revelation describes what Heaven will be like after the Rapture, after the Great Tribulation, after the Second Coming of Jesus, after Armageddon, after the Millennium, and after the Judgment. This Heaven is the eternal “New Heaven.” By the way, for more in-depth study, Randy Alcorn authored a book, “Heaven,” which is an excellent and exhaustive resource analyzing all of the many scriptures on this subject. I highly recommend every Christian read it. I gained a fair amount of inspiration for this and related posts from Alcorn’s faithful analysis of these Bible passages.

When you are asked about what Heaven or eternity will be like, what pictures come to mind? What we are taught about Heaven often depicts us wearing white robes, sporting tiny wings and harps, and flying around on clouds singing. Alternatively, we are taught in church that we will spend eternity bowing at God’s throne singing praises all day every day. But, does the Bible truly support any of this? The answer is “No!” These pictures are not even true in describing angels in Heaven, much less humans. No wonder we look at eternity or Heaven with discomfort, because such descriptions are totally void of appeal, even to God. Does any Christian live their life that way now? Do people have to drag you out of church every Sunday because you just can’t stop bowing and singing? Does any Christian want to live every moment this way? Does God really want us to live every moment this way?

You have probably heard it said that this world is not our home. This is accurately lifted from Hebrews 13. But, which “world” is this passage actually referring to? Does this passage imply that there will be no “world” at all in eternity? The answer is no. In the final two chapters of the Bible God reveals to us that He will ultimately re-create both a New Heaven and a New Earth. Then, He will literally join the two for eternity as has never been done before. It is God’s plan to renew all of creation, not just man. He will renew the Earth and He will even renew Heaven. And, the New Earth will be a physical place. In fact, Revelation 21-22 along with other passages describe this New Earth as having atmosphere, mountains, water, trees, people, animals, houses, cities, buildings and streets, just to name a few. God will re-create Earth into a global Paradise that makes the Garden of Eden look like your back yard. And, in Revelation 22:3, we are told that we will serve Christ on the New Earth, working for His glory. Can you imagine how awesome that will be to live with a perfect body on a perfect Earth rapturously enjoying 100% of everything we do? In doing so, remember that we should not read into the New Earth anything that is wrong with the current Earth. This New Earth, its global paradise and its permanent physical access to the New Heaven will be our new and eternal home. It is what we were originally designed to enjoy.

The truth is that our human identity is a fusion of both Spirit and flesh (physical). God purposefully created us as physical beings. In contrast, God and angels are spiritual beings. And, God will re-create us into new physical beings even for eternity. Therefore, we will be eternally physical. And, our New bodies will be perfect (1 Corinthians 15:40-44). Imagine all of the pastimes that you love to do here on Earth today, including swimming, running, climbing, diving, and possibly even flying. Biblically, there is no reason to believe that we will not continue doing all of the things we enjoy forever. The only differences are that we will be able to do physically more, and perfectly so in perfect surroundings. And, most importantly, we will take frequent advantage of free physical access to God, our Heavenly Father, at all times. That is true immortality that we would forfeit for no one.

Will you like Heaven? I sure will. And, I can’t wait to get there!