"I Can Only Imagine . . ."
This time last year we were preparing to Celebrate the Life that Travis lived here on Earth with us for 19 + years. He has now spent a full year in Heaven. How exciting for him, but how difficult for us at times. Perspective - that is the only thing that gets us through when the thought of loosing Travis in this life gets too much to comprehend. So studying about Heaven, and what Travis is doing these days, and what it will be like when we join him brings a measure of comfort, when nothing else works.
Randy Alcorn has written some amazing things describing Heaven - from our handbook about the subject that God inspired - the Bible (if God created the Earth, and everything in it, then we have to look to him for what our future home will be like, otherwise we'd just be guessing). Here are a few things he has described from his study - he has much more on the subject in his book 'Heaven', and 'Heaven for Kids' and 'Heaven - Biblical Answers to Common Questions'.
Here is some of what we've learned:
What is the Present Heaven Like?
The Heaven we go to when we die is a place without suffering, but it is not the place where we'll live forever. Our eternal home, where God will come down to dwell amount his people, is called the New Earth (Revelation 21:1).
The place where we go when we die is called the Intermediate Heaven. It's the place without suffering where we'll live until our bodily resurrection. In the Intermediate Heaven, we'll be with Christ, and we'll be joyful, but it won't be our permanent home.
The departing for believing loved ones is not the end of our relationship with them, only an interruption. We have not lost them, because we know where they are. They are experiencing the joy of Christ's presence in a place so wonderful that Christ called it Paradise. And one day we're told we'll be brought back together in a magnificent reunion to "be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words" (I Thess. 4:17-18).
Knowing God is preparing a place for us - the New Earth - I can't help but think that some of the skills Travis learned on this Earth he is using right now to help Jesus prepare our new homes, because Jesus said "In my Father's house are many rooms/mansions. . . I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going." (John 14:2 - 4).I can just imagine. . .
What Will The Future Heaven Be Like?
The Bible give us many images that are full of implications about Heaven. Put them together, and these jigsaw pieces form a beautiful picture. For example, we're told that Heaven is a city (Hebrews 11:10; 13:14) When we hear the word city, we shouldn't scratch our heads and think, I wonder what that means? We understand cities. Cities have people, building, activities, gatherings, art, music, athletics, events of all kinds, and goods and services.
Heaven is also described as a country (Hebrews 11:16). We know about countries. We also know what Earth is like, and thus we know much of what the New Earth will be like. If we can't imagine our present Earth without rivers, mountains, trees, and flowers, then why would we try to imagine the New Earth without these features?
If the word Earth means anything, it means that we can expect to find earthly things there - including atmosphere, mountains, water, trees, people, houses - even cities, buildings, and streets.
Just as a new car is a better version of an old car - but with all the same essential components (four wheels, an engine, transmission, steering wheel, etc.), so too will the New Earth be a far better version of the old Earth, but with the same essential physical components.
The New Earth will be God's dwelling place, but it will also be fashioned by God for resurrected people to live there. We'll love our eternal home, and we'll love being with Jesus and his family - which will be our family forever.
What Will We Look Like in Heaven?
We will have "new bodies". When God speaks of these new bodies, do we shrug our shoulders and say, "I can't imagine what a new body would be like?" Of course not. We know what a body is - we've had one all of our lives - and we can remember when it looked better! We can imagine a new body, without pain and weakness. We are not past our peak - we will be raised to a new life and a new body on a new Earth, all beyond our wildest dreams.
In our resurrected bodies, we will be as physical as we are now. After the new Earth is established and we are relocated there, we will be forever physical but no longer subject to sin, death, suffering, and the Curse.
Christ is a carpenter. Carpenters not only create things; they also fix things that need repair. Do our bodies, minds, and attitudes need fixing? He's going to fix us. He's going to fix the universe itself.
Don't underestimate God's plan and Christ's redemptive work. He created us, our bodies, and the earth. He's committed to repairing them . . . permanently.
What Will we Do for All Eternity?
Both in the Intermediate Heaven and on the New Earth, we'll find our greatest pleasure in God. We'll worship and thank him as we see him revealed in the wonders of creation, including our fellow creatures.
Furthermore, incredible though it may seem, God has decided that we're actually going to help him run the universe (Luke 19:11-27)! He will give us renewed minds and bodies so that we will be whole people, full of energy and vision, eager to undertake new projects for God's glory and our enrichment.
We'll reign with Christ over the New Earth, where we'll exercise leadership and authority, making important decisions. This implies specific, delegated responsibilities for those under our leadership, as well as specific responsibilities given to us. We will set goals, devise plans, and share ideas. Our best workdays on Earth - when everything turns out better than we planned, when everything's done on time, when everyone on the team pulls together and enjoys each other - are just a foretaste of the joy our work will bring us in Heaven.
In Heaven, we'll rest. We know what it means to rest. And to want to rest. We will serve Christ there, working for his glory. We know what it means to work. And to want to work. We will work without any of the painful toil that came with the Curse, which will be forever lifted.
Won't Heaven be Boring?
If you picture the eternal Heaven as a disembodied state, you have reason to fear boredom - because God didn't make us for such a world. But when you understand the meaning of our bodily resurrection and the new universe, all thought of boredom will disappear.
The New Earth will be a place where the impulses to come home and to launch out into a new adventure will both be fully satisfied. It'll be a place where we're constantly discovering - where everything is always fresh, and possession of a thing is as good as the pursuit of it. Yet it's the place where we'll be fully at home - where everything is as it ought to be and where we find, undiminished, that mysterious something we never fully found in this life.
We will no longer be homesick for Eden. We will experience at last all that God intends for us. Because the joys of Heaven will overflow from the multifaceted wonders of God, Heaven will be endlessly fascinating, just as God is infinitely fascinating.
Will We Have Our Own Homes in Heaven?
Heaven is a place both spacious and intimate. Some of us enjoy coziness, being in a private space. Some of us enjoy largeness, a wide-open space. Most of us enjoy both. The New Earth will offer both.
Heaven isn't likely to have identical residences. God loves diversity. When we see the particular place he has prepared for us - not just for mankind in general but for us in particular - we will rejoice. We will realize it is truly the perfect home, tailor-made for us.
Our "friends" in Heaven appear to be those whose lives we've touched on Earth and who will have their own "eternal dwellings". Luke 16:9 seems to say that these "eternal dwellings" will be places where we'll stay and enjoy the companionship of our friends.
What Won't Be in Heaven?
No death, no suffering. No funeral homes, abortion clinics, or psychiatric wards. No rape, missing children, or drug rehabilitation centers. No bigotry, no muggings or killings. No worry or depression or economic downturns. No wars, no unemployment. No anguish over failure and miscommunication. No con men. No locks. No death. No mourning. No pain. No boredom.
No arthritis, no handicaps, no cancer, no taxes, no bills, no computer crashes, no weeds, no bombs, no drunkenness, no traffic jams and accidents, no septic-tank backups. No mental illness. No unwanted e-mails.
Close friendships but no cliques, laughter but no put-downs. Intimacy, but no temptation to immorality. No hidden agendas, no backroom deals, no betrayals.
Imagine mealtimes full of stories, laughter and joy, without fear of insensitivity, inappropriate behavior, anger, gossip, lust, jealousy, hurt feelings, or anything that eclipses joy. That will be Heaven.
There won't be churches or temples in the new universe, not because they're bad, but because they won't be necessary. We won't need to be drawn into God's presence. We'll live there, constantly and consciously. We'll thank God profoundly, and worship and praise him together, whether we're working in a garden, singing, riding bikes, or drinking coffee (no reason to think there won't be coffee trees on the New Earth).
Jesus said, "Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you . . . Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven" (Luke 6:21-23)
No one will go hungry, and all will be satisfied. No one will weep, everyone will laugh.
Will We Remember What Happened on Earth?
There's no reason to assume that in Heaven we will forget our lives on Earth. In fact, we'll likely remember much more there than we do here, and we'll probably be able to see how God and angels intervened on our behalf when we didn't realize it.
In Heaven, those who endured bad things on Earth are comforted for them (Luke 16:25). This comfort implies memory of what happened. If there was no memory of the bad things, what would be the need for, purpose of, or nature of comfort concerning them?
After we die, we will give an account of our lives on Earth, down to specific actions and words. Given our improved minds and clear thinking, or memories should be more, not less acute concerning our past lives on Earth. Certainly we must remember the things for which we will given an account.
Heaven cleanses us but does not revise or extinguish our origins or history. Undoubtedly we will remember God's works of grace in our lives, comforting, assuring, sustaining,and empowering us to live for him. On the New Earth human history will be remembered.
Can Those in the Present Heaven See What's Happening on Earth?
The answer is yes, at least to some extent.
We will remember what happened to us on Earth. Those on Earth may be ignorant of Heaven, but those in Heaven are not ignorant of Earth. Of course, in the eternal state we will not merely see what is happening on Earth, but we will live out our daily lives on the New Earth!
What Will Our Relationship with God be Like?
We will see God's face - we will look into God's eyes and we will see what we've always longed to see: the person who made us and for whom we were made. We will see him in the place he made for us, and for which we were made. Seeing God will be like seeing everything else for the first time. We will discover that seeing God is our greatest joy, and life itself. Every other joy of Heaven will be derivative, flowing from the fountain of our relationship with God.
Beholding and knowing God, we will see ourselves, and all other people and events, through God's eyes. We will spend eternity worshipping, exploring, and serving our great God. We will see his breath-taking beauty in everything and everyone around us.