I have to confess, I have never heard a sermon or talk on heaven that actually made me want to go there. I take that back, some sermons make me want to go there for about a two-week vacation—kind of like when your neighbor describes this fabulous condo he stayed at on Lake Tahoe. It’s just that the sermons never make me want to spend eternity there.
Now don’t get me wrong. I want to go to heaven, no matter what it is like. The alternative has never really seemed that inviting.
Now, when people think of heaven they want to know: What does it look like? Who will be there? What will we do? Preachers try to answer those questions. Most preachers when they plan to talk on heaven gather up all the verses in the Bible they can find pertaining to it, and then try to paint a picture of it for us. We get the streets of gold, the multitudes upon multitudes worshipping God, the wiping away of all tears.
They tell us we will spend eternity with our family never to say goodbye again (maybe not a great selling point for some). Or we can talk to all the people we wish we could have met on earth—Peter, Paul, the Gatlin Brothers. Sure talking to the famous personalities of history that actually made it to heaven would be a hoot. But this is eternity we are talking about here. Eventually we will have talked to everyone, and eventually we will start hearing the same stories again. “Yeah Paul, we’ve heard about the road to Damascus—about 17 million times, now!”
Of course, God will be there—with those multitudes upon multitudes surrounding Him. And you are back in the nosebleed section on cloud #6,043. How long is this receiving line going to last? Oh, yeah, we’ve got forever.
I heard one preacher say that heaven would be just like church. If you didn’t like going to church, then you weren’t going to like heaven. Now, I like church, but the prospect of one long, uninterrupted praise service that never adjourns to Luby’s just doesn’t appeal to me. How can there be church without Sunday lunch at Luby’s? And there won’t be any watches there that you can check and ask yourself, “How much longer is He going to talk?”
Once we start describing heaven so we can see it in our minds, all sorts of questions start to occur to us. Will my dog be there? Will there be golf in heaven? Can I have a mansion that looks like an Italian villa?
If you could design your own heaven, what would you put in it? What is it you really want? Pets? Golf? Mansions? Are these the things that satisfy? How soon would you get bored with that stuff? Perhaps, you might dispense with the material things and go for, say, friends, intelligence, a good conscience, peace of mind. Would that satisfy?
Peter Kreeft in his book Heaven, the Heart’s Deepest Longing says,
That might take a few more millennia to bore you, perhaps. But aren’t all imaginable utopias ultimately boring? In fact aren’t the most perfect ones the most boring of all? Doesn’t every fairy tale fail at the end to make ‘they all lived happily ever after’ sound half as interesting as the thrills of getting there? Can you imagine any heaven that would not eventually be a bore? If not, does that mean every good thing must come to an end, even heaven?… Would you have to invent death in your ideal, invented heaven? What a heaven—so wonderful you commit suicide to escape it!
And this, my friends, is the problem with descriptions of heaven. These descriptions appeal to our heads, to our reason. And when we think of them, we realize that no matter how much pleasure we can have in heaven, it won’t be enough. It will not satisfy because we don’t really know what we want.
C.S. Lewis thought a lot about what it is we really want, about our inner longing for something we can’t put our finger on. In my next post, I will tell you how he thought about eternity and how Kreeft explores the idea of longing as the avenue for perceiving God and heaven.
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