It’s happened several times now since I began preaching that Jesus is the savior of all: People will say, “That’s great. But to be honest, I’m struggling with the idea of actually going there because . . . Heaven sounds so boring.”
In tenth grade, I prayed to Jesus, saying, “I love you, but please don’t come back until I get my driver’s license and go on my honeymoon (this means sex).” I figured that they just didn’t do that sort of thing in Heaven, since, according to Jesus, there will be no “giving or taking in marriage.”
If “eternal” means “forever without end,” how could Heaven NOT be boring? And if “eternal” means timeless, how could one do anything or go anywhere—you’re already there? That’s boring.
Heaven sounds boring, ethereal, unfamiliar, embarrassing—everything is exposed to the light—and everyone must be thoroughly repressed. But the Prophets speak of a place that sounds so thoroughly different.
Isaiah prophesies a city on a Holy Mountain where God will make a feast of rich food and the best wine, where he will “swallow up death forever” and “wipe the tears from all faces.” He swears that to him “every knee will bow, and every tongue swear allegiance.” He tells his people to lift their eyes and see their sons and daughters coming to this city where the gates are never shut, and where God himself will be “our Glory.” (Think you’re cool now? Just wait until God is your glory!) All the nations come!
“For behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth,” says the Lord in Isaiah chapter 65. “I will create Jerusalem to be a joy… no more shall there be heard in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his years.” (That’s weird—there will be babies, and you know where babies come from… And it sounds like folks will die, although death will be no more; as if you could “die, yet live.” You could “lose your life and find it,” all in the same moment.) Then Isaiah prophesies that old sinners will “build houses and plant vineyards,” and none shall “labor in vain or bear children for calamity.”
Then he writes, “Rejoice with Jerusalem… that you may drink deeply from her glorious bosom with delight” (sounds not boring or repressed). Then Isaiah ends with all people looking down on the corpses of all people in the valley of Gehenna, praising God as one —one city, one temple, one body of ecstatic delight.
In the Prophets, Heaven is so NOT boring, ethereal, unfamiliar—maybe embarrassing, in some sense—but, definitely not repressed. It’s so very exciting!
And yet, people actually argue that the Old Testament doesn’t even talk about Heaven. Why do we have such a hard time believing the prophets?
1. Zionism: In the 20th century, powerful forces tried to convince us that the prophets were talking about modern day Jerusalem. But I’ve been there. It wasn’t what Isaiah described. Maybe what Jesus wept over, but it’s not the Jerusalem that comes down from God.
2. Modernism: In the 20th century, we were taught that space and time were constants, but now we know that, in the word of Einstein, “the distinction between past, present, and future is a stubbornly persistent illusion.” The Prophets speak of a coming age, the Lord’s Day—that day when “everything is good and it is finished.” And they don’t seem to think it’s just poetry.
3. Individualism: In 20th century America, we were all about saving individuals. The Prophets spoke of God saving nations—actually, the entire world.
Those are some reasons we don’t believe. And here are some ideas that might help us to believe:
1. Eternity (“aionios”). It means “of God’s Age.”
Eternity is not timeless; it contains all time. And eternity is not time without end; it’s all of time filled with the End, who is also the Beginning. Everything old is constantly new, and so it’s logically impossible to get bored in heaven.
We will have time, but time will no longer have us.
I have a friend who long ago lost five babies in the most tragic of ways, and deeply mourned the fact that she was not able to raise them. But Jesus would appear to her in visions holding her children. Once she asked Jesus, “Why are all my children still young?” She heard him answer, “They’re waiting for you to raise them.”
2. Reality. When Jesus rose from the dead, he walked through walls, not because he was an illusion and the walls were real, but because he is real, and all our walls are just a vain illusion.
3. Familiarity. “Whoever loses his psyche, for my sake, will find it,” said Jesus It’s your psyche (soul, life, relationships, hopes, and dreams) that you lose, and your psyche—not another’s—that you find. That’s Heaven, your heaven.
4. Communion. I suspect that I will not only live my life but Christ’s life. And he will live my life. And we will all rejoice in living each other’s lives. It’s what we do every time we share a story at a party. We will be many persons and one substance called love. “Father, make them one, even as we are one,” prayed Jesus.
It’s all rather thrilling, until I think of my mom “sharing” my heaven—my honeymoon… I trust that God will work it out, and perhaps I won’t experience “shame” just the same as I do now.
5. Shame surrendered to Grace. There’s no “giving or taking in marriage,” yet we’ll all be married to Jesus. And no one will want a divorce. The prophets prophesy that shame will be turned into praise.
6. The Infinite Game. “The wolf will lie down with the lamb.” Life is not “the survival of the fittest”—that’s the finite game; that’s death. Life is the “sacrifice of the fittest”—that’s the infinite game, the Great Dance, Eternal Life. The humble are continually exalted, as the exalted are continually humbled and all are constantly, ecstatically, happy.
7. Absolute Freedom. To imagine that you can make yourself God is evil. But what if God imagined that he could make you himself… somehow—like his own body, his own son or daughter, his image?
What if he were to reign and rule over all reality from a throne in the depths of your soul?
What if he invited you to sit there and reign with him?
Would that be boring?
And why does it matter?
Well, because you’re “knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door.” When it opens, if you don’t like what’s on the other side, the only place to run and hide is hell.
You can’t remain in hell forever without end, but why go there at all? When you hope in Heaven now, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, for the King is at hand, and he’s not boring.