Will heaven be boring?
One of my favorite Mark Twain books is Letters from the Earth. The first part of this book is composed of letters that Lucifer, who went to earth to investigate the situation, wrote back to his fellow archangels, Michael and Gabriel. He begins by writing about the human view of heaven and he is astonished that the view of heaven man has created consists of things man does not like to do.
He writes that men do not like to sing and can take not more than two hours of listening to someone else sing. Only about two in a hundred can play a musical instrument and only four in a hundred would like to and yet in heaven everyone stands around playing a harp and singing. He says people are quickly wearied of monotony and yet they sing and play the harp for eternity.
He concludes by writing that
in man’s heaven there are no exercises for the intellect, nothing for it to live upon. It would rot there in a year – rot and stink. Rot and stink – and at that stage become holy. A blessed thing: for only the holy can stand the joys of that bedlam.
Where did this idea come from, that in heaven we will play harps and sing songs? It might have an earlier origin, but at the end of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) we read:
Now I saw in my dream, that these two men went in at the gate; and lo, as they entered, they were transfigured; and they had raiment put on that shone like gold. There were also that met them with harps and crowns, and gave them to them; the harps to praise withal, and the crowns in token of honor.
Pilgrim’s Progress has been translated into 200 languages and has never been out of print in the 333 years since it was first published. It has influenced our thinking about heaven and hell but what we need to remember is that it is an allegory, not a literal description of things as they are.
I look forward to our worship on Sundays at RIC. But if I had to sing all day on Sunday or all week, let alone for all of eternity, I would go nuts.
From time to time we sing a song: Over the Mountains and the Sea that has this chorus:
I could sing of your love forever,
I could sing of your love forever,
I could sing of your love forever,
I could sing of your love forever,
We sing this one time and it is ok. We sing it a second time and I am hoping the worship leader does not go back but then we sing it a third time and meanwhile I have quit singing and have to endure hearing the chorus being sung two or three more times at the end.
I find myself talking to God, “OK, I do want to sing praises but I can’t sing this chorus over and over and over again. To sing this song for eternity would be hell. I need variety.”
I want to assure you that Mark Twain was wrong, Pilgrim’s Progress is allegorical, there will be variety in heaven and it will not be boring. How do I know? Jesus was anything but boring and because Jesus reigns in heaven, his kingdom will be an exciting place to be.
Jesus turned a picnic into a miraculous feast of bread and fish. When he came to Peter’s house for supper, he healed Peter’s mother so she could make dinner. He stopped at a well for a drink of water and the town burst out in revival. He turned a funeral into a celebration when he invited the corpse to come out of the grave and be the guest of honor at a celebration feast. He showed up in the middle of the lake in a storm walking on the water as if to say, “I was in the neighborhood and thought I would drop by and say hi. And by the way, does anyone want to come walk on the water with me?” He took three of his disciples to a mountaintop meeting and met with two men who had been dead for hundreds of years and yet looked more alive than anyone the disciples had ever seen.
A place where Jesus is in charge could never be boring.
What does the Bible tell us about heaven?
First, the peaceful, blissful heaven we read about in Revelation 21 & 22 has not yet come. It is not yet a reality. There is a supernatural battle taking place in which God and his angels are fighting against fallen angels aligned with Satan. This battle is taking place in heaven as well as on earth and is described in Revelation 12
And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. 8 But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. 9 The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.
In a climactic, supernatural battle, Jesus died, Satan celebrated, and then Jesus broke the power of death by rising to life. Satan was defeated and was cast out of heaven, but he is still active and dangerous.
To use the analogy of WWII, the resurrection of Jesus was D-day when the Allied troops landed on the coast of France. With that successful invasion, the course of the war was determined. There was still a lot of fighting that took place before the troops arrived in Berlin and the final surrender of Germany, but the critical battle was at D-day. In the same way, the final defeat of Satan was set when Jesus rose from the dead, but there is still a lot of fighting to go before the end.
John continued in Revelation 12:
12 Therefore rejoice, you heavens
and you who dwell in them!
But woe to the earth and the sea,
because the devil has gone down to you!
He is filled with fury,
because he knows that his time is short.”
The devil is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short and we suffer from his rage.
There is yet to come the final judgment and it is at this time that the angels, as well as us, will be judged. Until then, the battle rages on. Until then there is not peace in earth or in heaven. Heaven, as well as earth, longs for the final redemption when Satan will be cast into oblivion and Jesus will ascend the throne and then the heaven described in Revelation 21 & 22 will be a reality. (Revelation 21:3–4)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Second, when we die we “fall asleep”, as the New Testament puts it, and enter into a bodiless state. Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 4
Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
“The dead in Christ will rise first.” This seems to indicate that when we die we enter into a state without a body and wait. Some in the church, including those we read about in the New Testament, have been dead in Christ for two thousand years. It is not until the end, when Jesus returns to judge the nations, that we will all be raised to be with him, And only then we will receive our heavenly bodies and enter into the eternal rest of heaven.
This raises some questions. This is not how we think about heaven or what we say to people when we are trying to comfort them at a funeral. Where is it we wait?
In The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis presented a picture of heaven and hell and in this book he wrote that the place where we wait, if we are eventually judged to have been faithful to Jesus, will always have seemed to be heaven. And if we are eventually judged to have been rebellious, the place we wait will always have seemed to be hell.
There are some hints in Scripture about heaven, but it is always difficult to know what is metaphorical and what is not. These hints do seem to say that after we die we will be with God. Revelation 6 talks about the martyrs waiting in heaven for the rest of those to be slain to come into heaven. After Hebrews 11, the great chapter of the heros of faith, chapter 12 begins:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses
This may be metaphorical or a real description that those who have died are watching the events on earth. Perhaps they have some part to play in how things work out. Maybe our work for God is not done after we die.
When Peter wrote his second letter towards the end of his life he said, (II Peter 1)
I think it is right to refresh your memory as long as I live in the tent of this body, 14 because I know that I will soon put it aside, as our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. 15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.
He may have been talking about putting his stories about Jesus in a book or he may have been talking about using whatever influence was available to him after he died.
The truth is we do not know very much at all about what it will be like and what role we will play in this period of waiting. Paul certainly did not think it would be a long time of waiting. Perhaps if Paul had known that 2,000 years later we would still be waiting for Jesus to return, he would have spent more time thinking and writing about what this waiting state would be like.
Let me say as well that our primary problem in understanding the sequence of events in heaven is that we are limited to our four dimensions and God exists in the presence of additional dimensions. So for God, in a way we cannot understand, everything is present.
C.S. Lewis suggested at the end of his Chronicles of Narnia that all those who die arrive in heaven together and it seems there was no delay between their death and coming into his kingdom.
We insist on a past, present and future but God is not limited by our dimensions which will always make it difficult for us to have a true picture of what will happen in our future.
I like to think we have a purpose after we die and while we wait for the final judgment. I like to think that Peter and Paul, Mary and Joseph, and all the rest of the saints who have preceded us in death have been working with Jesus throughout the centuries of earth time. Perhaps they have been able to encourage those who did not choose Jesus during their life to reconsider now that they have a better perspective. Who knows?
One way or another, God is taking care of his children in these years between his ascension to heaven and his return.
Third, at the end of time this earth and heaven will be destroyed. They were created together; they will be destroyed together and then they will be recreated together.
Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 51:6)
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment
and its inhabitants die like flies.
But my salvation will last forever,
my righteousness will never fail.
And in John’s Revelation (21:1)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
Earth and heaven will be destroyed and then recreated.
In summary, the heaven of the New Testament was and is a place of conflict. God exercises wrath against the demonic attack that threatens to remove him from his sovereign throne. Satan has been defeated but he is being permitted to cause trouble until it is time for Jesus to call an end to time.
Therefore, as Christians, we do not look to this world or to the current heaven for our ultimate rest since this heaven and this earth still suffer from the presence of evil.
Christians on earth and those in heaven are looking forward to the day when Christ will appear as Lord and by his divine power he will end the demonic threat. Satan and his angels will be judged and cast into oblivion. Jesus shall ascend the throne and we will receive our transformed bodies and eternally reign with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the new heaven and new earth.
This is what the Bible teaches about heaven.
Let me engage in some speculation of what I think heaven, after the final judgment, might be like.
In speculating, let me take you through a reasoning process. 1. We are created in God’s image. 2. Who we are is deformed by sin. 3. In heaven we will be without sin, as God created us to be. 4. If we want to know what heaven will be like, look at who we are now and remove what is sinful. What is left is who we will be in heaven.
This reasoning leads me to the conclusion that in heaven we will be curious. We will want to know more. We will have a thirst for knowledge. We will have a desire to learn more about God’s creation. There will be a new earth and a new heaven to explore. Imagine a new earth without all the sinful affects of our exploitation and neglect of the environment.
When I was a new Christian I used to think that when I died I would know everything. But I have come to understand that even in heaven I will be a created being in the presence of my creator who preexisted creation. Because of this there will always be a lot we do not know and a lot for us to discover.
God created us with a body, a spirit and a mind and all three of these will be present and active in the new heaven and the new earth.
There is a description of the wisdom of King Solomon in 1 Kings 4:29–34
And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, 30 so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt.
33 He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall. He spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish.
God gave Adam the task of naming the creatures in the Garden of Eden. Solomon was praised for his wisdom which consisted, in part, of his interest in and knowledge of plants and animals.
I have been impressed in reading biographies that many of the leading theologians of the church have been lovers and explorers of nature. Jonathan Edwards spent hours walking in the woods. He kept notebooks in which he wrote down the questions that arose from what he observed. “Of all insects, no one is more wonderful than the spider, especially with respect to their sagacity and admirable way of working.” He learned by observation how spiders seemed to be able to fly great distances from tree to tree. “The appearance is truly very pretty and pleasing, and it was so pleasing, as well as surprising, to me, that I resolved to endeavor to satisfy my curiosity about it.” He learned that the filament spiders released from their tails was lighter than air, so that by simply letting enough of it out they could ascend or simply float in the air. He started a study of optics to answer the question why a spider’s filament is so small it can barely be seen when it is close to us, but can be seen from a much greater distance when it is between us and the sun.
As a graduate student in his early twenties, he kept a notebook titled, “Things to Be Considered and Written Fully About,” in which he listed questions such as: Why is air necessary to preserve a fire? Why are all mountains pitched westward? Why are no two trees exactly alike? What makes a bubble break? Why is the heat of the sun’s rays greater nearer the surface of the earth than higher up? Why do waves form as they do? Why does lightening not travel in a straight line and why do repeated flashes follow the same pattern?
This curiosity and thirst for knowledge is God given and part of what I think will be in heaven.
I imagine that angels might give lectures on physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, psychology, literature and history. Maybe in heaven I will finally learn how to paint – and understand the geometrical proofs I memorized.
I think there will be humor in heaven. Humor is not sinful. It can be, but it does not need to be. I imagine there will be joke nights in which we will judge who made the silliest prayers and everyone will laugh, including the one who prayed the prayer. I remember one night when Ken Morrow and Tracy Troxel traded jokes back and forth in our salon and we were all doubled over in laughter. Can you imagine the laughter in heaven with jokes flying from all directions?
I believe we will enjoy rich diversity in heaven, not only races and nations but the riches of cultures that died out a long time ago. The musical celebrations will be incredible as we blend the musical styles of the world and time.
We will be unique in heaven, no two of us alike. God enjoys variety. Look at insects and flowers and birds. Look at us. We are made differently and because of that we have different preferences and tastes. We have different points of view.
This makes me think we will have debates in heaven. None of us will have mastered the truth of God. The pre-existing God will have a lot of depth to explore. So we will discuss and debate as we are led into truth. Intellectual snobbery and pretense will not be present. The goal will not be to win the debate. Everyone will be eager to learn and be led into truth. This will make the discussions exhilarating.
I believe we will meet those who lived before and after us. We will hear their stories and as we listen, we will discover how intricately and dynamically God worked in us and used us in the lives of others. We will meet those who influenced us and we will meet those we influenced. The focus will not be on us but we will grow in our astonished wonderment at the orchestration of God in our lives.
If Mark Twain had been told 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, he might have been a bit more interested.
Whatever heaven will be like, I know it will be wonderful. At the end of his seven-book series, The Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis writes:
And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures… had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Heaven will be more exciting, more intellectually stimulating, more pleasurable, more satisfying, more adventurous than you can possibly imagine.
What will we look like in heaven?
Paul wrote about our bodies being tents.
2 Corinthians 5:1–2
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling,
The body we have now is not the body we will have in heaven. (This comes as good news to some of us.) Whether our body turns to dust in the grave or is cremated, in either case it will be left behind. But we will have a new body in heaven, made the way God created us to be. We believe in the resurrection of the body. We will not be disembodied spirits.
In this world a beautiful body can hold an ugly soul. But I believe there will be no mismatch in heaven. I like to think that our bodies will reflect our souls. As we grow in faith our souls become more and more beautiful and that beauty will be reflected in our heavenly body. And if we have ugly souls, we will have ugly bodies, like the gargoyles that hang on the edge of cathedrals in Europe.
How does what I believe about heaven affect me now?
First, the reality of heaven should make me put more emphasis on the development of the beauty of my soul than the beauty of my body. We spend an enormous amount of money and time trying to make ourselves beautiful. We do this on a body that will deteriorate despite our best efforts and will be eventually left behind.
An eternal perspective helps us follow Peter’s advice: (1 Peter 3:3–5)
Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
We need to put far more attention on our coming heavenly dwelling than we do on our temporary tent.
Secondly, my view of eternal life makes a difference in what I live for.
One of our memorable family vacations was to the northwest of the US. We camped in the Olympia peninsula and then crossed over to Canada and camped on Victoria Island. It was beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.
On our way back to Seattle, we took a ferry and passed between a number of small islands with beautiful homes. I stood there thinking how beautiful they were, how much I would enjoy living there. I quickly dissolved into lust for these beautiful homes on beautiful islands in a part of the world that is so beautiful. And then I began to sing this chorus.
Heaven is a wonderful place
Filled with God’s glory and grace
I’m gonna see my Savior’s face
‘cause heaven is a wonderful place
This is, in fact, one of my coping strategies when I see something I really like that I cannot afford to buy. I sing this chorus to remind myself that this life will pass away and no matter what I see that attracts me so powerfully, one day, as beautiful as it seems now, it will seem cheap and tawdry compared to the wonders and delights of heaven.
Even the memory of a seven-course meal in an expensive French restaurant will seem bland when we sit at the wedding banquet and feast on the foods prepared for us.
Knowing that heaven awaits me allows me to focus on what matters here on earth and to be willing to pass by even the most tempting treats of this world.
Thirdly, my view of eternal life makes a difference in how I treat people.
The world tells us to pay attention to powerful and beautiful people but in heaven these earthly distinctions will not exist. The employer will stand next to the employee. The professor will stand next to the janitor. The president will stand next to the plumber.
When I realize this, every person I meet becomes important. My believe in an everlasting life helps me to respect each person I meet. It is important not to take anyone for granted. The man who is the car guardian is as important as the waiter in the restaurant, who is as important as the owner of the restaurant, who is as important as the people I am eating with.
When I pass by a beggar, I need to know I may one day be in heaven with that person. This does not mean I need to give money to each beggar or to any beggars, but I need to treat them with respect.
There is a man who was harassing young women in our church and after several years of talking to him I finally told him he was no longer permitted to come to church or to any of our church events. I told him this recognizing I may one day be standing next to him in heaven.
We do make distinctions between people in this world and sometimes we have to take actions others do not like, but whatever we do, we need to keep in mind God’s grace and the possibility that we will be in heaven together.
Finally, when we become aware of heaven we realize that there will be a judgment and we will spend eternity in heaven or we will spend eternity in hell.
Mark Twain had a dim view of man’s view of heaven, but he had a false view of heaven. Twain joked that you should go to Heaven for the climate and Hell for the company.
This is a great joke that pokes fun at the hypocritical church that views itself as morally superior to the sinners of the world. But when we truly understand the realities of heaven and hell, there is nothing to joke about.
It is far more than a matter of life and death. It is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. And as Woody Allen said, “Eternity is a very long time, especially towards the end.”
It is so important that we understand that we face a choice that has eternal consequences.
A longing for heaven and a fear of hell is not a bad place for us to be.
Randy Alcorn has written a book about heaven and in it he wrote:
You are made for a person and a place.
Jesus is the person, and Heaven is the place.
They are a package—they come together.
You cannot get Heaven without Jesus or Jesus without Heaven.
God did not create you to live on earth and go to school and go to work and get married and have children, grandchildren, maybe great-grandchildren and then die. God created you to live with him for eternity.
You were created to be with Jesus for eternity.
You were not created for earth, you were created for heaven.
You were created to be with Jesus in heaven for eternity.
Heaven is a wonderful place
Filled with God’s glory and grace
I’m gonna see my Savior’s face
‘cause heaven is a wonderful place
I pray I will be there and I pray you will be there with me.
Isaiah 25:6–8 (ESV)
6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
7 And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
8 He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.