Have you ever wondered what heaven is like? Have you ever longed for it?
When I was a kid I used to think heaven would be a bunch of castles on a cloud made of glass and gold and jewels. The only “jewels” I was familiar with were the ones in my Pretty Pretty Princess game and my mom’s costume jewelry, so in hindsight it was a tacky, tacky place.
Then, someone told me that heaven was where we “worshipped God forever,” so I took that very literally and assumed it meant that we’d stand and sing songs at God while he sat on a throne in front of us. Forever. Which sounded kind of horrible, if I’m being honest.
As an adult, I haven’t thought much about heaven until recently, until I was in a “rut”. “Rut”, for me, this time, can be translated as “I have woken up for five days in a row and carried on with the mindset that I am a general failure of a person.” Dramatic? Yes. True? Mostly.
For the first few days of my “rut” I tried finding perspective and deciding that I was going to “feel better because I should”. Sometimes when I’m feeling a little low, I forget that it can be a struggle to choose joy and thankfulness over “blah”. Being joyful on easy days is simple, but I often forget that being joyful on a difficult day is not a passive process.
Against all logic (You have a great family! Jesus! Great friends! A great job!), I’ll find myself back on the couch again, sinking deeper into a routine that does not feed my soul anything but junk. (Side tangent: Are you in a rut? Stop watching TV. Deactivate your Facebook. Seriously. Go outside. Read. Write. Feed your soul good things.)
During this time, I read Shauna Niequist’s blog post titled “You Are Enough“. In it, she makes the case that each of us is valued because we are created in the image of God. I read that, and decided I didn’t care – decided it just wasn’t “meeting my standard” to be valued equally right along with every other human on Earth (cringe). That didn’t sit well with me, no, I needed to be the best human out there! Sorry Mother Teresa, I’m gunning for your spot. (Someone could write a book on how everything I just said makes me a terrible human, but let’s carry on…)
Seeing such ugliness and self-centeredness in my heart led me to admit there was a deeper issue going on that I needed to get introspective about. Not pollen, not hormones. Sin.
We humans have quite a bit of capacity for good, but our real specialty is taking the good things God gives us and making them cheap and empty with our sin. When I pause to take an honest assessment of myself, I see that this world is not as it should be, and I’m part of the reason it’s not. Sometimes the things I like most about myself turn into the most self-destructive parts of my life. Ambition, for example, can be directed at worthy and purposeful things that I can do heartily unto the Lord. Or, I can get competitive and only think about being better than everyone else around me, which is all about me and completely rejects the Body of Christ God asks us to build up in 2 Corinthians. There are a thousand things that were created for good that we drive to ruin. Consider alcoholism. Consider the commercialization of sex.
From where I sit today, I don’t wonder or care too much about what heaven will look like. Is it even three-dimensional? Will the food be any good? Wait – will we eat? I don’t know much about how I’ll spend my time either, or if “time” will even exist in the way we grasp it now. I doubt it. But I think I can imagine how I’ll feel – whole.
God has given us desires – things we all desire. To love and be loved. To be valued. To be cared for. We all have these desires, and we all try to fulfill them in different ways. More times than I’d like to admit, I turn away from Jesus and what I need and toward something I think I want.
An example: We have the desire to love and be loved, but instead of “considering others better than ourselves” and “bear(ing) one another’s burdens” in deep relationship with each other (a way to healthily fill that desire), we are glued to Social Media. Instead of doing the dirty work of relationship, we want to be admired from afar and show only our “best side”. It’s cheap and empty. It accomplishes the exact opposite of what we really need. It creates distance and removes purpose instead of facilitating love and grace in real relationship.
In one of my favorite teachings of all time, Tim Keller talks about the biblical concept of shalom – universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. (Find it here: http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/justice) The idea of shalom is everything in God’s creation weaving together as it should. But we contribute to the breakdown of society when we put ourselves first, he says. We put ourselves first because we desire to be important and valued – and our pride leads us to believe that we aren’t important or valued unless we reach some threshold we’ve created in our minds. I’ll be ________ enough when I ____________.
“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” – C.S. Lewis
So now when I imagine heaven like this:
A place where I know fully what I sometimes believe on my best days – that I am already loved and valued by God in a way that I cannot acquire anywhere else no matter what I do. I will finally know and operate out of that in full.
I imagine heaven as a place where all the desires of my heart are fulfilled, but not the ugly, sinful desires that pride draws me to.
I imagine heaven as a place where I can enjoy God and others fully because I will see that I AM, in fact, deeply loved, wanted, and valued by my heavenly father. A place where I can finally enjoy the good gifts that a good God wants to give us, without trying to use them for my own selfish gain.
Can you imagine? A place where these desires we try to fill with all the wrong things are finally being filled with all the right things?
Can you imagine the joy? The contentment? Can you imagine the companionship you’ll feel with others when the thought of comparing yourself to them never crosses your mind? Can you imagine the freedom? The things we want on earth – peace, an end to suffering – all becoming true?
“When we look at the whole scope of this story line, we see clearly that Christianity is not only about getting one’s individual sins forgiven so we can go to heaven. That is an important means of God’s salvation, but not the final end or purpose of it. The purpose of Jesus’s coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world. God created both the body and soul, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both body and soul. The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world.”
– Tim Keller
I dream of a place where my soul feels at home. I see glimpses of heaven – in the commitment my husband and I share, in the love between my parents and I, in friends who embrace their broken parts and mine too. I used to get freaked out by the idea that I won’t be married in heaven (Matthew 22:30), but this paradigm shift opens up a whole new way of thinking – I now imagine being so satisfied in my desire for love and companionship that nothing will be lost. (I still hope I get to hang out with you in heaven, babe!)
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
So, do I long for heaven? Now I do. Definitely not the formal, stoic “let’s sing at God forever” heaven I used to imagine, but shalom. Every time I see my selfishness, I long for a day when I can fully consider others above myself. Every time I watch the news and my heart breaks for this world, I long for it. Every time a baby is born with no one to care for it, I want Jesus to come back. Every time a child is abused and my stomach turns and my chest tightens, I long for something that I don’t see here, but I believe will come.
I don’t long for heaven in a morbid way, not in eagerness for death. But in eagerness for life. For shalom.
“Has this world been so kind that you should leave with regret? There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis