I don’t read as much as I should…or as much as I intend to. It’s a discipline thing. But JoAnna, my step-daughter, (who I love very much…) gave me a book for my birthday that I’m plowing through. The book is called Heaven by Randy Alcorn. In the last 5 years, Heaven, the place, has become an important subject as some loved ones are there now. I love thinking about the people I will be reunited with in Heaven, even though my thoughts of heaven itself aren’t well formed.
I’ve perused a lot of the book…read a couple of reviews, but only gotten through the first 5 chapters so far. It’s a really interesting read…I can see why it’s very popular.
Here’s what I have discovered and am rediscovering as I read. It doesn’t matter what I think about heaven. First, it is where Jesus is so that is where I want to be. Second, it’s the place he’s prepared for those who know him. Hey…I know him! So there’s a place for me. I don’t care where that is. I know what my loved ones who are in heaven now, looked like when they were with me. I know we want to be able to picture heaven and Jesus in some way that will give us hope and comfort. I get that. But I’m not sure how we do that and stay true to scripture without opening the door to speculation and risky theology.
I have seen lots of illustrations of heavenly things and heavenly beings by artists. I’ll bet you have too. They have portrayed Christ in every body form, from effeminate to burly. I have seen illustrations of the new Jerusalem that are mostly just glowing and undefined. Jesus and God the Father are often portrayed as faceless light. These illustrations aren’t necessarily malicious but rather the object someone’s kind thoughts and intentions. So I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about what heaven will really be like. It’s not that I don’t long to go there… because I do. But i’m just not smart enough to make the jump from the physical to the spiritual in my grey matter.
This morning I read through most of the scriptures dealing with heaven, and though I still don’t know a lot…I do know a few things. Not intrinsically, but rather because God has it written down for me. For instance, I know I’m going to heaven because I trusted Christ as my Savior way back when I was 15. Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life…no man gets to heaven accept by me.” I also know heaven is going to be amazing because God said in I Corinthians 2:9 “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” I know there are no words in my vocabulary (or anyone elses) to describe heaven, that would do heaven justice. I know I can’t imagine what a spiritual place will be like because I have nothing to compare it to or to fuel my imagination other than…well…maybe Star Trek. Finally, I know there is a lot about heaven we won’t know until we get there. Just read Deuteronomy 29:29.
Judging by the lack of books about Heaven on the shelves, compared to other topics, I think that a lot of authors feel that there isn’t enough written about heaven in scripture to write a credible book. (OK…so I’m not sure that is totally true.) Nonetheless, one would think that if authors felt they could confidently and accurately write about heaven based on the authority of scripture, you’d see more written on the subject. But you don’t. That should tell you something.
Randy Alcorn holds a lot of beliefs that are nice, but risky theologically…maybe even undefensible…but definitely a stretch. He believes I should be able to use my imagination in my efforts to accurately think about what heaven will be like. In fact, he states that God wants us to know what heaven is like. I’m OK with that statement until it relies on my imagination. When you think that Randy has written a book of 560 pages based on less than a page of scriptural bedrock…you can tell that he has had to excercise his imagination a bit to get that much information out of so little resource. He is either brilliant beyond belief or a gifted imagineer. (if that’s a word)
I’ve always been a proponent of taking scripture no farther than where God does. When God stops speaking about a topic in scripture…so do I. I think that’s logical, safe..and responsible. God has told us what he wants us to know rather plainly in scripture with the exception of Revelation. Yes there is a component of “study to show yourselves approved unto God” but in that statement it is implied that the study of the Word will lead us to right understanding…not to a place of having to use our imagination to get there. For us as finite beings to have any kind of thought that could come close to describing what an Almighty, Omnipotent, Omnipresent, All-Loving, Eternal God has prepared for us is arrogant at best and delusional at worst…at least in my thinking.
But here’s the real crux of the matter. I believe that God wants us to be absolutely ecstatic to be with Him where He is when we die. The fact that he is in heaven makes heaven an extremely desirable destination… far beyond the amazing details of the place. That’s not well-said, but I hope you understand what I mean. Even if heaven were floating on clouds with harps and halos as some mistakenly think, I believe that simply being in God’s presence would make that the most amazing eternal existence we could possibly hope for.
We as humans are limited in two ways. (at least by my thinking which is totally flawed at best :)) We are limited by our understanding and, we are limited in our understanding. What do I mean? Our intellect in and of itself is finite, which limits our ability to understand many earthly things (like algebra and trigonometry 🙂 ) …then… the resources that our mind can access about the spiritual realm is limited to us by God and what he has revealed in his word. Granted, we may be only using a small part of our brain power as some think…(some smaller than others…) but from all I’ve read, and from my own meager understanding… it tells me that on Einstein’s best day..he still couldn’t understand that which God said was not understandable. One day we won’t have these limitations…like when we’re in heaven!
So…can we only get excited about Heaven if it in some way compares to the best stuff we can think up? I don’t know about you…but my “thinker” stops pretty far short of God’s capabilities to impress…unless you count Star Trek (and please don’t) If that really is the case, perhaps we need to spend a few more brain cycles exercising our limited understanding as it pertains to the love of God and His work of creation, redemption and salvation… and beyond that…what a life completely dedicated to living for him and enjoying him looks like. But that’s probably just me.
So that leaves me in a position to trust God and let the Holy Spirit guide me through the hard patches of scripture and lofty spiritual mysteries,(knowing I may not be able to understand them)… to a landing pad of his revealed truth. This is not a bad place to be. God has made plain the things he wants us to have clarity about. And the other things? Well… as the old song says…”We’ll understand it better by and by.” I’m OK with that.