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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Heaven or Where's Rob Bell When I Need Him? 4

Today I'm reading John 14:1-3
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that 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."

I’ve had late meetings every night so far this week so I’m cheating a little on today’s blog. I’ve found that many Christians don’t really want to think about heaven – maybe because they associate it with death and that’s not pleasant. Or because of misconceptions they have about heaven. This excerpt from Andy Alcorn’s excellent 12book “Heaven” is a great treatment of that issue.
Gary Larson captured a common misperception of Heaven in one of his Far Side cartoons. In it a man with angel wings and a halo sits on a cloud, doing nothing, with no one nearby. He has the expression of someone marooned on a desert island with absolutely nothing to do. A caption shows his inner thoughts: “Wish I’d brought a magazine.”

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain portrays a similar view of Heaven. The Christian spinster Miss Watson takes a dim view of Huck’s fun-loving spirit. According to Huck, “She went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. . . . 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.”

The pious Miss Watson had nothing to say about Heaven that appealed to Huck. (And nothing, if we’re honest, that appeals to us.) What would have attracted him was a place where he could do meaningful and pleasurable things with enjoyable people. In fact, that’s a far more accurate depiction of what Heaven will actually be like. If Miss Watson 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—now that would have gotten his attention!

When it came to Heaven and Hell, Mark Twain never quite got it. Under the weight of age, he said in his autobiography, “The burden of pain, care, misery grows heavier year by year. At length ambition is dead, pride is dead, vanity is dead, longing for release is in their place. It comes at last—the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them—and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence; where they achieved nothing; where they were a mistake and a failure and a foolishness.”

What a contrast to the perspective that Charles Spurgeon, his contemporary, had on death: “To come to Thee is to come home from exile, to come to land out of the raging storm, to come to rest after long labour, to come to the goal of my desires and the summit of my wishes.”

We do not desire to eat gravel. Why? Because God did not design us to eat gravel. Trying to develop an appetite for a disembodied existence in a non-physical Heaven is like trying to develop an appetite for gravel. No matter how sincere we are, and no matter how hard we try, it’s not going to work. Nor should it.

What God made us to desire, and therefore what we do desire if we admit it, is exactly what he promises to those who follow Jesus Christ: a resurrected life in a resurrected body, with the resurrected Christ on a resurrected Earth. Our desires correspond precisely to God’s plans. It’s not that we want something, so we engage in wishful thinking that what we want exists. It’s the opposite—the reason we want it is precisely because God has planned for it to exist. As we’ll see, resurrected people living in a resurrected universe isn’t our idea—it’s God’s.

Nineteenth-century British theologian J. C. Ryle said, “I pity the man who never thinks about heaven.” We could also say, “I pity the man who never thinks accurately about Heaven.” It’s our inaccurate thinking, I believe, that causes us to choose to think so little about Heaven.


So – how do you feel about heaven, really?

Today's prayer:

Dear Father.

I praise Thee for the life that stirs within me.
I praise Thee for the bright and beautiful world into which I go;
I praise Thee fir earth and sea and sky, for scudding cloud and singing bird;
I praise Thee for the work Thou hast given me to do;
I praise Thee for all that Thou has given me to fill my leisure hours;
I praise Thee for my friends;
I praise Thee for music and books and good company and all pure pleasures.
O Thou who Thyself art everlasting Mercy, give me a tender heart today towards all those to whom the morning light brings less joy than it brings to me;
Those in whom the pulse of life grows weak;
Those who must lie abed through all the sunny hours;
The blind, who are shut off from the light of day;
The overworked, who have no joy of leisure;
The unemployed, who have no joy of labour;
The bereaved, whose hearts and homes are desolate;
And grant Thy mercy on them all.
Let the Spirit of Him whose life was the light of men rule within my heart till eventide. Amen
(John Baillie, A Diary of Private Prayer)

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