A Problem Called Heaven
This is both a derivation of, and a response to, a work by David A Schrader
By Stephen M. Golden
Copyright © 19 August 2015
Note: Except as otherwise referenced, all items in quotes were from David A Schrader’s work.
What a lovely thought!
No more tears.
No more suffering.
No more pain.
No more death.
Who could have a problem with that?
Actually… we all do.
“Once one gets beyond the simplistic
‘home in the sky’ notion, the Biblical concept of heaven is a difficult one.”
—John Clayton, paraphrased
What do you mean? How can heaven be a difficult concept?
The concept of heaven often comes up in religious discussions.
People look dreamily into the air with their own ideas of what it might be like.
Then, the discussion often stumbles upon difficulties such as loved ones who died but were not saved, whether pets will be in heaven, or complexities of other earthly ties bearing on our hearts.
What would "heaven" be like for you?
What would make you "happy" for eternity?
said, "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in
What does that mean for us who are happily married?
Will we still have a relationship with our earthly helpmeet?
But… I don’t want to go!
Because of troubles this creates in our minds and the healthy, happy, and secure lives many of us have here on Earth, most of us (at least in the United States) are not sure we want to go to heaven.
If we are honest with ourselves, we really wish Jesus would return and rid the world of evil and death while allowing us to continue the lives we are living.
I say “we” because, in the United States at least, not being under hardship or persecution, we would rather stay on this earth than go to heaven.
Don’t believe me?
When a person becomes deathly ill, do we pray for them to get well? Or do we pray for them to go to heaven?
What if an exchange like this were to take place:
Person 1: “My mother is really sick and in the hospital.”
Person 2: “I will pray for her to pass on and go to heaven.”
Person 1: “Oh My God!”
Most people would be aghast if this conversation were to take place in their presence, but it makes my point.
If we are honest with ourselves, we really wish Jesus would return and rid the world of evil, pain, suffering, and death while allowing us to continue the lives we are living.
We want Jesus to fix what's broken in our world while leaving the rest alone.
Our typical view of heaven is "this-worldly."
It’s all we know.
When challenged to imagine what heaven will be like, people come up with thoughts like…
“Streets of gold, and walls of gemstones seem gaudy to me.”
"I much prefer cobblestone pathways near a lake at evening time. If heaven is some gaudy and absolutely unearthly place, I really don't want to go."
“I imagine heaven as sitting on the porch with my wife at a lakeside cabin.”
The problem is…
Heaven is an entirely different kind of kingdom. It is something entirely new.
We have an earthly point of view.
"We cannot conceive what we have not seen. All our conceptions are formed by life as we have experienced it."
When heaven is described in the Bible as streets of gold, lined with gemstones, with everything bright and shiny, the intent is to describe a place the opposite of the sad, gloomy drudgery to which the people of the day were accustomed.
That doesn’t work for us.
Most of us don’t have gloomy drudgery in our lives.
Gold streets, bejeweled walls?
What about the beauty of "earth tones"— greens and browns?
“I am a human being in a physical body …[I] think in earthly terms.”
Would it work better for us if we had better explanations of what heaven is like?
Jesus gave His disciples more detailed descriptions of things.
Mark 4:33-34 "…privately to his own disciples, he explained everything."
But this didn’t help.
They still didn't get it. They
still argued over things like who would be first or sit at the right or
Luke 9:46; Mark 10:37-41
"When we do away with earthly conceptions of heaven… life in the 'hereafter' reminds us [of]…death."
Scripture tells us we will be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:51 “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — ”
1 John 3:2 “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. ”
We will be like Jesus “…we…will be caught up together with them in the clouds …”
"Will I have any conscious recognition of my former earthly self?"
Will I remember my relatives and friends? Will I still have relationships with them?
If not, what's the point? If you don’t remember this life, it's the same as being eternally dead. Without those memories and relationships, you’re not you.
A common theme for the Church is communion — a drawing together.
Heaven involves a drawing together.
Communion also involves what we bring to the “table.” It is our “mutual participation, intimate fellowship, and sharing.”
In heaven, there will be "Complete unity and oneness, in God, through Christ and with each other, this is the promise of heaven.”
Oddly, I find no comfort in that.
Again, "Will I have any conscious recognition of my former earthly self?"
As I mentioned earlier, one of the major problems people have with heaven is the thought of going to heaven and remembering loved ones who didn't make it.
There doesn’t seem to be clear Scriptural comfort for that.
W. R. Golden, Evangelist, used to say, “We will see all things through God’s eyes. We will see through His holy and righteous perspective and know that it is right.”
There is the idea that in Heaven… "our worthy moments from the whole of our life, put together as eternal and given back to us as a crown of glory and accomplishment…" "[Therefore, we should] …make the most out of each and every moment…“
“You will remember all the love you experienced on Earth.”
“By turning your moments over to God in thanksgiving and praise, you make them eternal.”
“If you are the one who sensed love, even if the other person was not sincere, you will have communed with something beyond yourself! The moment was real for you.”
Those are some amazing thoughts.
However, I don’t find any scriptural justification for them.
"Communion has more to do with ourselves and God than with anything else." Jesus said whatever we do for others, we do for Him.
Heaven, then, is receiving "the communion of the saints and communion with God."
Hell is… being cut off from that communion.
Perhaps “God is collecting all of our precious moments and saving them for us.”
Nevertheless, there is a difference between what we will remember and what heaven will be like.
John 14:1-2 has in the past been translated “In my Father’s house, are many mansions." (KJV) More recently, translators have been saying "many rooms," but it can also be understood as "many dwelling places." (NASB)
When you combine this with 2 Corinthians 5:1-4, which speaks of being clothed with our eternal dwelling, Jesus is not speaking of a room, a house, or a mansion, but a body for our spirit to inhabit eternally!
In heaven, we will wear our “dwelling.”
What else can be used to comprehend heaven?
Heaven — "…timeless moments of communion with each other and God, restored to the saints in eternity and for eternity."
It still doesn't sound attractive to me from an earthly point of view. And while I understand that heaven should be viewed from a spiritually, Godly point of view,
for it to be perceived as a reward upon the end of our time on earth, it has to be attractive from an earthly point of view.
Otherwise, heaven seems like a consolation prize: "At least I didn't go to hell!"
Surely, our lack of enthusiasm for heaven must be the result of our inability to comprehend heaven.
Here’s a thought that is rarely taught:
We will not be in heaven for ever.
Is that blasphemous?
Not at all.
Heaven is not our final destination.
Scripture does not say, “So shall we ever be in heaven.”
It says, “So shall we ever be with the LORD.” —1 Thessalonians 4:17
We will be on the New Earth, living in New Jerusalem.
Isaiah 65:17 “ ‘Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.’ ”
Isaiah 66:22 “ ‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ ” declares the LORD, ‘so will your name and descendants endure.’ ”
2 Peter 3:13 “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”
Revelation 21:1-2a “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. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,…”
Aside from the phrase “The former things will not be remembered” in Isaiah 65:17, this is a much more interesting prospect.
In any case…
We Can’t Imagine
Because we can’t imagine what heaven will be like — because we don’t have any context aside from our earthly context — probably the best way to look at heaven is that it will be far better than we can ever imagine and the most perfect place we could ever want to be.
“‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’” —1 Corinthians 2:9