September 20, 2020
Last week, I told you that I really don’t think God is a nice old man in soft white robes sitting on a cloud and playing a harp.
Neither do I think that Heaven itself will be an experience that is oft-portrayed in pop culture, cartoons, and literature—all of us adorned with haloes and angel wings and perched on a fluffy cloud kind of just doing…just about nothing (except perhaps, strumming a giant gold harp)…as though we were all eternally stuck on some kind of ethereal desert island. Just Google “Gary Larson Heaven” for a perfect cartoonish portrayal of how most folks these days portray life in eternity!
Neither (to use an analogy you psychonauts out there might relate with) do I believe that Heaven will simply be one big long extended and eternal version of a giant blissful hit of DMT, which is how I've often heard plant medicine enthusiasts describe their notion of Heaven to be.
Don't get me wrong: I certainly think that there is an appropriate, responsible and purposeful use God intended for plant (or synthetic) medicine in the very same way there is an appropriate, responsible and purposeful use for a nice Bordeaux, a touch of tobacco from a cigar or pipe, or a double espresso shot pumpkin spiced latte. For example, I personally derive a great deal of energetic and creative benefit from the left and right merging of the brain hemispheres, the increase in sensory perception, and the neuronal growth that occurs when I microdose with a bit of psilocybin or LSD on a long writing day; the relaxing or the socially and sexually enhancing benefits of a touch of MDMA or cannabis; and even the enormous spectrum of insights and ideas I gain from a more intensive so-called “journey”. Plant medicine, when used responsibly, can be a blessing – but, just like alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, St. John's wort or any other popular substance humankind has discovered to adjust dials in the brain – can also be used as an addiction, an escape and a dangerous replacement for God.
But I digress now from my original point…
…which is that I doubt Heaven is going to be an “infinity version” of how you feel when you’re just lazing around doing absolutely nothing without a care in the world on a quiet Sunday afternoon. While I certainly acknowledge, as you'll read later, that in Heaven we will indeed experience blissful relaxation beyond our wildest imagination, I also believe we will be in a state in which we are also inspired and enjoy to do other things, like hiking, swimming, playing, creating, socializing, singing and laughing. I actually can’t think of anyone – even the busiest and most stressed folks I know – who could just “sit around and do nothing” for any longer than about a month before beginning to go stir crazy.
Author Mark Twain had an astute observation on this topic. Growing up, I loved Twain's novels. I still think he’s one of the most talented writers America has ever produced. But despite my love of Twain, he also portrays a similarly boring view of Heaven. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck tells the tale of what the widow Miss Watson, who was the strict, old, obnoxious Christian sister of Huck's main guardian, informed him about Heaven:
“She went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. . . . I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said, not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that because I wanted him and me to be together.”
Twain’s Huck seemed pretty disappointed (and rightly so) with this pious Christian spinster’s view of Heaven. What he really desired a place a boy would love—a place of adventure, meaning, magic, pleasure, and friendship. As Randy Alcorn says in his book Heaven (which I highly recommend as an epic read):
“If Miss Watson had told Huck what the Bible says about living in a resurrected body and being with people we love on a resurrected Earth with gardens and rivers and mountains and untold adventures—now that would have gotten his attention!”
John Eldredge, another favorite author of mine (who I’m hosting on the podcast in just a few weeks), sums the problem with this boring view of Heaven up quite nicely in his book The Journey Of Desire:
“Nearly every Christian I have spoken with has some idea that eternity is an unending church service. . . . We have settled on an image of the never-ending sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever and ever, amen. And our heart sinks. Forever and ever? That’s it? That’s the good news? And then we sigh and feel guilty that we are not more ‘spiritual.’ We lose heart, and we turn once more to the present to find what life we can.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Randy and John. I just really don’t see evidence in the Bible that Heaven is going to be like sitting in a stale, regimented church service that seems a bit like a Groundhog Day experience, but for a million, billion, infinity years.
Instead, there are a multitude of epic, thrilling, and blissful experiences I look forward to in Heaven, including:
- A brand new beautiful and fully restored planet Earth, the way God originally intended it to be, with all masterfully designed flora and fauna co-existed with us humans for all eternity in a garden city of the most exquisite proportions…
- Fish, birds, animals, and all living and breathing creatures restored to their perfect state and living in harmony with us…
- Heavenly feasts of scrumptious food and mouth-watering drinks beyond our wildest culinary imaginations…
- Massive libraries of the greatest books ever written, both new and old, with an eternity of time to read them all…
- The greatest collection of instruments the world has ever known and the ability to be able to play them all while singing songs of deep, loving worship to my Creator, forever and ever…
The list goes on and on and on, ad infinitum. Just read Heaven if you want a full Biblically-based insider view of all the glorious experiences we'll enjoy in Heaven.
But if you were to put me on the spot today and make me list the top three things I’m most eagerly anticipating in Heaven—and you were to already account for the fact that being able to worship my Creator for the rest of all time was already a “given”—I’d tell you three things, each of which I’ve chosen because I feel as though I’m already getting a tiny glimpse here on Earth of how glorious the Heavenly version of these three things will be.
So, based on the tiny slice of Heavenly cake I’ve tasted in my mortal life on a broken Earth thus far, here are the three Heavenly morsels I’m licking my lips over (and pardon the alliteration).
Three Slices Of Heaven
Think about this…
…you and I were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and God is the great Creator. Human beings, therefore, dissimilar from all other animals, possess the unique ability to be able to “creatively create.” That is, unless you swallow the notorious argument that beavers create masterful dams or a trained elephant with a paintbrush can make a tree shape on a canvas or that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will create any given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare (look up the infinite monkey theorem if you are scratching your head).
Here during our finite, broken lives on Earth, we manage to create giant silver tubes that float gracefully through the sky carrying hundreds of humans 40,000 feet above Earth's surface, massive skyscrapers stretching into the clouds with luscious gardens adorned on their rooftops, and tiny, slick boxes we carry in our pockets that carry more information a fingertip's touch away than all the world's grandest ancient and modern libraries combined.
Just imagine being able to similarly create in Heaven, but in a much more expansive and profound way. What masterpieces could you form if you had millions or billions of years on your hands? This doesn't seem silly to me. God created the human constitution with a driven desire to create, experiment, design, manufacture, fashion, fabricate, and formulate (there's that darn alliteration again, sorry!). This isn't some modern evolutionarily acquired trait: archeology constantly reveals that from cave paintings to Stonehenge to the Pyramids, humankind has created from our very beginnings. It's the way God made us and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to take joy and pleasure in our Creation when we are in eternal union with Him in Heaven (which the Bible clearly tells us is actually a “new Heaven and new Earth”).
Being able to work on a watercolor art masterpiece for a thousand years, play a guitar until I have the skills of the greatest guitarist our current world has ever known, or design a new spacecraft that can carry me to the moon and beyond gets me pretty excited. Who knows? My passion for creating here on the “old Earth” is just a tiny slice of the creative cake I'll be blessed to consume on the “new Earth.” Possessing an infinite and unchained power of Creation is a pretty exciting and stimulating thought, isn't it?
As a quick aside, I encourage you to never underestimate this built-in core desire to create: If you aren't engaged in some type of creative work or hobby now, then I implore you to begin—it feeds the deep-rooted desires of your soul! And what is the opposite of creation? Consumption. Something deep down inside us humans would actually rather learn to craft the perfect piece of sushi instead of binge-watching cooking shows on Netflix, throw a flawless football spiral rather than burning our eyeballs out on a screen for three hours during a Sunday afternoon NFL game, or learn to tell a funny, entertaining joke or story rather than parking ourselves in front of a YouTube stand-up comedy channel, yet our inherent laziness and resistance to the call of creation can often drive us to instead stay stuck in consumption mode.
Take America for example: Once a land of innovation, creativity, and new designs and inventions, we are now severely outpaced by countries such as China in terms of our actual creation and production because we've become a largely consumeristic culture, and constant consumption is now considered normal and acceptable. But I guarantee you'll find yourself far more happy and fulfilled if you create more than you consume, every day. The world would be better for it.
In six days, God created the universe in a great display of the most meaningful “work” ever accomplished, then He rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2). Throughout the Bible, God shows how much he values rest and relaxation (e.g. Hebrews 4:11 “Make every effort to enter that rest…” or Matthew 11:28 “Come to me all you who are weary, and I will give you rest.”), setting aside days and weeks of rest and even resting the entire Earth itself every seventh year (Leviticus 25:4-5 – “…but in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.”)
The calm feeling that washes over you when you finally lay your head on a pillow after a full day of work, that glass of wine you enjoy on the porch while watching the sunset melt away the stress of the day, or perhaps most meaningfully, the entire day of blissful relaxation, celebration, and fellowship we all have the privilege to enjoy on the Sabbath are all just tiny tastes of the eternal constant and continual calm we will experience in Heaven.
In Heaven, despite our natural desire to creatively create, there will be actually no need to work, at least not in the way we think of it here on Earth. Certainly, as sinless humans did in the Garden of Eden, in Heaven we will very likely be gardeners, be caring for animals, be hiking epic mountain ranges, and be enjoying the new Heaven and new Earth in all its glory, but in a manner more like we do here on a relaxed Sunday—wandering out to the backyard garden to pluck a few fresh, ripe tomatoes, bringing our happy dog out for a walk, and taking the family on a long, scenic hike.
So will we “work” in Heaven? It's certainly possible. Work began before sin—shown by the primary intense work of God in creating for six consecutive days. But our work will be different. As Randy Alcorn says in Heaven:
“What kind of work will we do in Heaven? Maybe you'll build a cabinet with Joseph of Nazareth. Or with Jesus. Maybe you'll tend sheep with David, discuss medicine with Luke, sew with Dorcas, make clothes with Lydia, design a new tent with Paul or Priscilla, write a song with Isaac Watts, ride horses with John Wesley, or sing with Keith Green…”
We know that when people here on Earth “retire,” they often die much sooner. As image-bearers of God the Creator, meaningful work is woven into our DNA. But our work in Heaven will be purely joyful and fulfilling as we engage in the fully self-actualized, pleasurable pursuit of creating.
Just imagine the blissful calm of being able to lay back, interlace your hands behind your head, stare up at the sky, and realize that there's no actual pressure to do anything besides sing and worship and bask in God's glory while reflecting it back to Him for the rest of all time. No phone calls, no e-mails, no bills, no traffic, no rushing, and no stress. We get to experience 1/7 of that calm during our lives here on Earth, on each Sunday of the week, but we'll get 7/7 of that same calm, but with many, many upgrades, upon our arrival in Heaven. How peaceful that will be!
Many folks believe that we won't desire or engage in any relationships in Heaven aside from our relationship with God. For example, theologians Augustine and Aquinas both imagined that in Heaven we will focus exclusively on God and that any other relationships or friendships between human beings would be absent or insignificant.
But if, here on the Old Earth, meaningful human connections, beginning with the companionship of Adam and Eve, were assessed by God to take us from “not good” to “very good,” why would we expect Him to suddenly change his mind in Heaven and on the New Earth? After all, God designed us to need and depend upon our fellow humans and image-bearers of Him, creating in us a desire to depend not only on our relationship with Him for our ultimate happiness and joy but also our relationship with others. God is a Father and fathers naturally delight in their children's close relationships. God takes pleasure in our families, friendships, and relationships; and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so in Heaven.
Even near the end of his life, Augustine himself said:
“We have not lost our dear ones who have departed from this life, but have merely sent them ahead of us, so we also shall depart and shall come to that life where they will be more than ever dear as they will be better known to us, and where we shall love them without fear of parting.”
In addition, priest, church historian and orator Venerable Bede wrote of Heaven:
“A great multitude of dear ones is there expecting us; a vast and mighty crowd of parents, brothers, and children, secure now of their own safety, anxious yet for our salvation, long that we may come to their right and embrace them, to that joy which will be common to us and to them, to that pleasure expected by our fellow servants as well as ourselves, to that full and perpetual felicity…. If it be a pleasure to go to them, let us eagerly and covetously hasten on our way, that we may soon be with them, and soon be with Christ…”
“I know that Christ is all in all; and that it is the presence of God that makes Heaven to be Heaven. But yet it much sweetens the thoughts of that place to me that there are there such a multitude of my most dear and precious friends in Christ.”
In his book Heaven: A World Of Love, Jonathan Edwards comments that:
“…every Christian friend that goes before us from this world, is a ransomed spirit waiting to welcome us in heaven. There will be the infant of days that we have lost below, through grace to be found above; there the Christian father, and mother, and wife, and child, and friend, with whom we shall renew the holy fellowship of the saints, which was interrupted by death here, but shall be commenced again in the upper sanctuary, and then shall never end. There we shall have company with the patriarchs and fathers and saints of the Old and New Testaments, and those of whom the world was not worthy, with whom on earth we were only conversant by faith. And there, above all, we shall enjoy and dwell with God the Father, whom we have loved with all our hearts on earth; and with Jesus Christ, our beloved Savior, who has always been to us the chief among ten thousands, and altogether lovely; and with the Holy Ghost, our Sanctifier, and Guide, and Comforter; and shall be filled with all the fullness of the Godhead forever!”
Of course, friendships will be transformed into the pinnacle of perfect glory in Heaven, with none of the annoying and divisive cliques, exclusiveness, arrogance, posturing, belittling, and jealousy we currently experience. Instead, we can anticipate lounging with all our friends, both old and new, at God's great feast for the rest of all time—laughing, growing, playing, and sharing stories for millions of years, into eternity. I certainly relish the thought of Heaven not being an isolated experience in which I'm all by myself on a lonely cloud floating through the sky, but rather a giant gathering of parties, camaraderie, and joy the likes of which has never before been seen!
Of course, as I alluded to earlier, creation, calm, and connection are just a smattering of the smorgasbord of the joy and pleasures we will experience at the right hand of God forevermore. But my taste of the happiness derived from creative expression, a restful Sabbath day, and friendships and relationships here on Old Earth make me savor the ultimate richness of those same experiences I'll get to enjoy in Heaven.
Now it's your turn. So how about you? Will I share the joys of Heaven with you? Do you long for Heaven in the same way that I do? Share your thoughts, comments, and feedback below, and if you want to know more about how to welcomed into the loving embrace of Jesus and share in the eternal bliss of Heaven, then read about the Hero’s Journey here. You’ll discover exactly how.