My friend and trusted colleague, Haywood Smith, went to be with the Lord this week. Kinston mourns a faithful & Christ-exalting pastor. Westminster UMC will miss him deeply. The Lord Jesus will carry us near his heart! (Isa 40:11) A couple of years ago, I wrote the following, prompted by a friend’s email about what heaven is like. Here it is.
My friend emailed me recently:
“Talked with my doctor the other day, and he wanted to understand about our concept of heaven. I know you have thought lots about this. Please give me your thoughts……not religious talk…..just really how you think about what it is like for your Dad. How will you know him? Does he know what you are doing? Can he feel sensory pleasure in heaven?”
His doctor is from another faith, and they were talking. My dad died 33 years ago, and I have thought lots about the experience of heaven. My son died 7 years ago in the womb, and I’ve thought even more about it. Here’s what I wrote back:
The one word I have for heaven is this: INVIGORATING. It just has to be if God is there and if we’re free from sin! The greatest experiences on this earth are truly wonderful: the gorgeous sunsets, the joy of snowboarding, laughing deeply, hugging your son, making tender love to your wife, a T-bone steak, seeing a new believer step out to honor Christ… there are so many amazing experiences. And, this is a world coming apart and getting worse, and I am a man who is filled with selfishness and anger and pride and greed and lust and stupidity. Imagine being in a world where I’m not shot through with sin, and the world itself is not decaying and falling apart.
Heaven cannot be boring. Cannot be banal. Cannot be dull or monotonous. Because God is there, and he is not boring or banal. He is the most life-giving and life-loving presence there is.
When Jesus told the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus (Lk 16:19-31), he surely indicated there was sensory knowledge in the afterlife: both in heaven and in hell. As well as a remembrance of people on earth (Rich man wanted Abraham to send Lazarus to tell his brothers about the afterlife…). Of course it’s a parable, but it feels like he’s constructing a parable out of principles that are in place. I don’t think I’m in left field to consider that my dad has met my son, Joshua (who died at 20 weeks). Or that Jesus has introduced your dad to my dad… imagine! Why? Because God loves to make relational connections. I think “holy imagination”—the connecting of dots in Scripture’s laconic record on heaven’s actual experiences—permits us to ponder that my dad knows a good deal about Kinston through your dad and Paige Patty and Robert Singleton. I wouldn’t split a church over this, but I also don’t think I’m falling into a silly sentimental wishful thinking.
Of course, where the dead are today is not the end. When Jesus returns to earth, resurrects all people, and renews the heavens and the earth, we will start a whole new story. As NT Wright says, “there’s life after life-after-death.”
As CS Lewis writes in the Last Battle, this entire life (we’ll discover) has not been the whole story, it’s only been the prologue! Amazing to consider what it will be like to hike the Himalayas or dive in the Marianas trench or make new symphony music, poetry or novels, create new desserts, and just plain laugh in the company of friends in the New Heavens and the New Earth.
No, if redemption means anything, it means that EVERYTHING in the final state is exponentially greater than ANYTHING in this fallen state. Think about this: What’s the deepest relationship in this world? Husband and wife… who become one in flesh and spirit. But, Jesus says that in the next age there will be no marriage. This deepest of relationships will be “denied” us in the eternal state. A step backwards? Obviously not. That means that the depth, joy and intimacy of marriage even pales in comparison to what our relationships will be.
Invigorating. Fulfilling. Ultimate. Epic. Amazing. Joy-filled. Awe-full. Holy. Finally, we will know what it means to be fully human… and we will fall on our face in worship of the One who bought us and brought us to be with him. And (I think this is right) He will be the lifter of our heads, and will say to us: “Well done… enter into your rest!”
Love you man! I’m smiling now. Jason