When you think “heaven” what comes to mind? Pearly gates? Clouds and harps? What if I said that the cartoon version of heaven (halos and all) falls short of what Christianity and the bible really have to say about it? I think, at least here in America, we have some false ideas. We have been told that what Christianity really wants to tell us is how to avoid hell and get to heaven after you die. I think that this is misleading and more or less false. Not that there isn’t really a heaven or that you shouldn’t want to get there, but the heaven we envision as well as God’s plan for this earth is something that may need an adjustment.
To get a more correct view of heaven, there are a few things that we will have to change in our minds from what pop culture has told us. The first thing that we have to take care of is what the bible mens when speaking of heaven versus what most think. I am lead to believe most people say heaven to talk about a “final resting place.” However, when the bible references heaven it speaks of the place in which God resides. I do not believe that the heaven mentioned in the bible is envisioned as the final dwelling place for humans. Throughout most of scripture when words are translated to heaven it seems to be in reference to either the sky, the place above, or the place where God resides.
You might be thinking that so far this doesn’t seem to far off of what the cartoons have to offer. “When I die won’t I go to this heaven place where God is?” In short I would say yes, but the biggest shift that needs to happen isn’t what heaven is as much as when heaven is. Doesn’t make much sense? Hold on I’m getting there. So heaven and earth have now split as a result of sin entering the world, and this world is now fractured. The place of God is not the place of man. When those who are in Christ die on earth they are present with Christ, who is in heaven (1 Cor. 5:6-8). But here is where it gets good. Heaven isn’t final. This is not God’s ultimate plan for us, and to settle for it would be to settle for less than God has in store for those whom He loves.
Heaven is indeed life after death, but the bible and God speak of a greater hope, a life after life after death. This description really gets at the heart of the confusion. We envision this reality as a spirit being that takes place up in the clouds to be our final resting place, but it is just one stop before the real finale and the real hope.
This is where we begin to see that Christianity is about much more than trying to avoid hell. This is about God stopping at nothing to push forward His plan to get rid of evil, set things right, and make all things new. The bible speaks of a glorious future where we don’t sit on clouds or play harps. It describes a time where the rightful king of the world, Jesus, returns and finally sets all things right. The dead are raised to life and given new glorified bodies, just the same as what happened to Jesus (1 Cor. 15). And creation shall be renewed just as our bodies will be (Romans 8).
This is the final hope of the Christian. To live for eternity on an earth that is redeemed and restored just as we will be. We won’t be spirits floating around. We will have our bodies, they will be better than ever before. We will recognize those around us. We will be able to live as we were always intended to. When heaven and earth are reunited we will know what it means to be truly human. There will be no more death, sin, or decay. God will be made king in the way that He was always supposed to be, and we will be co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).
The image of a harp and clouds pales in comparison to the glory being prepared for us. Heaven will be great. Upon death I will be in paradise with Christ, but as great as that will be, I can’t wait to leave heaven. I cannot wait until God becomes all in all and creation is healed. This is the wonderful hope of anyone who identifies as a Christian. I write this hoping that anyone who is reading might begin to hunger and thirst for new creation. I want Christians groaning for the healing of the world and the resurrection of the dead. That is the life that we will have after that middle stage. I want people to start thinking past heaven. I want people to anticipate a God who is coming back to set all things right.
As I sit here writing there is a window in front of me. I look out it and see beauty and great things, yet I also know that there is death, decay, sin, pain, and poverty. I am so grateful that one day I will live on an earth that has none of the bad and all of the good, and that is why I really can’t wait to leave heaven.