By Randy Alcorn, author of Heaven, Tyndale, 2004.
We have come to think of heaven as utterly immaterial and non-physical, a home suited for body-less angels, not real people. Floating in clouds while strumming harps isn’t anybody’s idea of a great time. But the heaven God promises is for human beings, who aren’t just spiritual but physical too. This is why the biblical teaching of the physical resurrection and eternal life together is so critical. Nobody wants to be a ghost. We don’t get excited about a place we can’t imagine.
In this life we marvel at and talk about the wondrous beauty of mountains, beaches, sunsets, lakes, and deserts. We’re amazed by the experience of snorkeling with turtles, dolphins, and manta rays over ocean reefs. We talk about the majestic power of Niagara Falls and the overwhelming magnificence of the Grand Canyon, a thunderous herd of wild horses, the migration of humpback whales, and the breathtaking rings of Saturn. These move us to awe and worship— and because we use a vocabulary of wonder that pulls us in, holds our attention, and captures our imagination, we get inspired and dream about going beautiful places. We tell our children all about how great the place is we’re taking them for vacation.
Similarly, Scripture tells us “we are looking forward to a new heavens and new earth [a redeemed universe] in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). The problem is, many believers are not looking forward to this. They imagine this present life is the real life, their only opportunity to experience everything on their bucket list, when in fact, the place Jesus is preparing for us will be way better than the best of this life— all the present beauty and far more, with none of the sin and suffering.
Jesus repeatedly spoke of eating and drinking together at great feasts in God’s eternal kingdom, and everyone knew that feasts were full of fun and laughter and dancing. So God tells us to set our minds not primarily on this life, but on the person we were made for, Jesus, and the place we were made for: Heaven (Colossians 3:1-4). That way we get a foretaste of Heaven’s glory and wonder and beauty as we live our lives today. People will see that we’re different, because Jesus and His kingdom are our center of gravity.
“We know not what we shall be”; but we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth. Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like penciled lines on flat paper. If they vanish in the risen life, they will vanish only as pencil lines vanish from the real landscape; not as a candle flame that is put out but as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blind, thrown open the shutters, and let in the blaze of the risen sun…
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
–C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory
Colossians 3:1-4 — Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
II Peter 3:13-14 — In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
I John 3:2 — Dear friends, now we are children of God,and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Take from us, O God, the care of worldly vanities, and make us content with necessaries. Put away our hearts from delighting only in the honors, treasures, and pleasures of this life; and engender in us a desire to be with Thee in Thine eternal kingdom. Give us, O Lord, such a taste and feeling for Thine unspeakable joys in heaven, that we may always long for them, looking forward to that day when you come to take us to Thee. Amen.
–Archbishop of Canterbury Edmund Grindal (1519-1583)