Made for a Person and a Place
by Jack Wald | August 19th, 2018

Various texts

One of my favorite Mark Twain books is Letters from the Earth. This is a book that was not permitted to be published until 1962, fifty-two years after his death, because his daughter thought the material represented a “distorted view of her father’s ideas and attitudes”.

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. He says that 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.

Before I leave Mark Twain, let me read one more passage where Twain expressed his opinion of man’s view of heaven. He speaks through Huck in his book, Huckleberry Finn. (This is a novel of two boys, 12 and 13 years old, who live along the Mississippi River in the middle 1800s.) Huck was staying with Miss Watson in her civilized home where he wasn’t allowed to smoke his pipe or put his feet up on the furniture or slouch in his chair. So Miss Watson began to lecture Huck about the danger of going to hell:

Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn’t mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn’t particular. She said it was wicked to say what I said; said she wouldn’t say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn’t see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn’t try for it. But I never said so, because it would only make trouble, and wouldn’t do no good.

Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. But I never said so. 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.

I’m sympathetic to Mark Twain’s aversion to the view of heaven expressed by many people. I enjoy going to a concert but after a couple hours I am glad to be going home. I enjoy singing but after an hour I have had enough.

From time to time we sing a song: Over the Mountains and the Sea. It starts out with:
Over the mountains and the sea
your river runs with love for me,
and I will open my heart
and let the Healer set me free.
I’m happy to be in the truth,
and I will daily lift my hands,
for I will always sing
of when your love came down.

And then comes the 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.”

What is heaven like? It is certainly not the traditional picture with harps and clouds and St. Peter at the pearly gates. We will not spend eternity standing around the throne of Jesus singing praises.

Most of what the Bible has to say about heaven, and about hell which we will get to next week, is expressed in metaphors. The descriptions of heaven and hell are not meant to be read literally but as a means of expressing the truth in an image.

In the first seven years of my time in Rabat, once a week, I visited an elderly Scottish lady named Noreen Maxwell. I rarely missed a week except when I was away on vacation or at a conference. Since her eyesight was failing her, I read to her and still have fond memories of the books we read together.

She came to faith in Jesus at the age of 84, two years before I arrived in Rabat, and she wore out a cassette tape series of the Bible, listening over and over again to the Scriptures. I got her a CD version and she listened to those every day.

One day I came to see her and she was depressed. She had just listened to the book of Revelation and although she had listened to it before, this time it hit her hard and the description of heaven made her feel depressed. The part she struggled with was in Revelation 21 where heaven is described.
The wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass. 19 The foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone. The first foundation was jasper, the second sapphire, the third chalcedony, the fourth emerald, 20 the fifth sardonyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, and the twelfth amethyst. 21 The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate made of a single pearl. The great street of the city was of pure gold, like transparent glass.

“Why are you depressed about this”, I asked Noreen. She responded, “I’ve been so looking forward to going to heaven but now it seems that it has cheap, New York-Italian decor and I don’t want to be there if that’s how it will look.”

So I assured Noreen that the Biblical descriptions of heaven are mostly metaphorical. The streets of heaven will not be paved with gold – that would not be very comfortable. This particular description is metaphorical, indicating that what we value so much on earth will be worthless in heaven.

If the description of heaven in Revelation is literal when it says in Revelation 21 there was no longer any sea, then I will be very disappointed. I love the sea and hope my metaphorical mansion in heaven will be on the side of the sea. And I am hoping for green grass rather than gold for my walking pleasure.

We have lots of false understandings of what heaven will be like. Much of what most people think about heaven is uninformed, based on sentiment rather than Biblical truth.

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.
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
11 They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
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 climax of this war in heaven occurred when Jesus was crucified and then broke the power of death.

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. And now the devil is filled with fury because he knows that his time is short.

We await 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.

Second, there will be a final judgment of men and women and also of angels. And amazingly enough, we will judge the angels. Paul wrote as part of an argument to the Corinthians, (1 Corinthians 6:3)
Do you not know that we will judge angels?

I hope they give us an instruction manual for this – I have not a clue what I would do or say in such a situation.

We will come to this final judgment, not with any hubris, not with any pride or self-confidence. We all deserve the wrath of God – this is the argument of Paul in the opening chapters of his letter to the church in Rome. We deserve the wrath of God, but because we are so deeply loved by God, Jesus was born to life, die, and overcome the power of death. We will stand before Jesus, completely helpless, relying only on his grace and mercy that will welcome us into his kingdom.

Third, when we die we “fall asleep” as the New Testament puts it and enter into a bodiless state. Paul wrote in I Thessalonians 4 (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18)
Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For 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 word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until 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.

When we die we enter into a state without a body and wait. It is not until the end, when Jesus returns to judge the nations, that we will all be raised to be with him, And then we will receive our heavenly bodies and enter into the eternal rest of heaven.

This raises some questions: 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.

It does seem 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: (Hebrews 12:1)
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 1:13-15)
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 teachings in a book or he may have been talking about using whatever influence was available to him after he died.

There are some who speculate that evangelism continues to take place after we die. This is a doctrine called “postmortem evangelization.”

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 one of our problems in understanding the sequence of events in heaven is that we are limited to our four dimensions and if string theory is correct, then God exists in the presence of additional dimensions. So for God, in a way we cannot understand, everything is present.

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.

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. Who knows?

Fourth, 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.

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 might be like.

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.

I preached a sermon on Palm Sunday a few years ago titled, Jesus Is Always More Than He Seems. This is true now and it will be true then. Even in heaven there will always be more depth to the richness of Jesus that we will be able to comprehend.

I believe that in heaven we will continue to use the minds God has given us to explore and learn and seek the glorious wonder of truth.

I imagine that angels might give lectures on physics and chemistry and psychology and history. I would love to see a film of the planet earth with one large continent that slowly split apart into the form we see today. I would love to see a film showing how the land mass between Spain and Morocco broke apart and the seas of the Atlantic poured into the Mediterranean basin.

I imagine there will be joke nights in which we will judge who prayed the silliest prayers and everyone will laugh, including the one who prayed the prayer.

I believe we will discover how intricately and dynamically God 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 Miss Watson, in Mark Twain’s book, Huckleberry Finn, 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, 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.

How does what I believe about heaven affect me now?

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 the chorus we started church with this morning.
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 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.

How I treat people is affected by my view of heaven.

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 person who swept the hallways. The president will stand next to the plumber.

When I realize this, every person I meet becomes important. It is important for me to respect each person I meet. It is important not to take for granted the work of any person. The man who is the car guardian is as important as the waiter in the restaurant, is as important as the owner of the restaurant, 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 was a man who was harassing young women in our church and after several years of talking to him and setting limits and boundaries for 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.

I will be exploring the Biblical view of hell with you next week, but 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 kids, grandkids 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.