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Jonathan Edwards said, “It becomes us to spend this life only as a journey toward heaven . . . to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end and true happiness?”
In his early twenties, Edwards composed a set of life resolutions. One read, “Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can.” Unfortunately, many believers find no joy when they think about heaven.
A pastor once confessed to me: “Whenever I think about heaven, it makes me depressed. I’d rather just cease to exist when I die.” “Why?” I asked. “I can’t stand the thought of that endless tedium. To float around in the clouds with nothing to do but strum a harp . . . it’s all so terribly boring. Heaven doesn’t sound much better than hell.”
Where did this Bible-believing, seminary-educated pastor get such a view of heaven? Certainly not from Scripture, where Paul said that to depart and be with Christ was far better than staying on a sin-cursed earth (Phil. 1:23). My friend was more honest about it than most, yet I’ve found that many Christians share his misconceptions about heaven.
Scripture commands us to set our hearts on heaven: “Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1). And to make sure we don’t miss the importance of a heaven-centered life, the next verse says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things [alone].”
While the present heaven is a pre-resurrected state, the ultimate heaven, where God will forever dwell with His people, will be in a resurrected universe (Rev. 21:1–4). Because of the biblical emphasis on the resurrection (1 Cor. 15), I think God wants us to ponder not simply where we go when we die, but where we will live with Christ forever.
Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). He chose familiar physical terms (house, rooms, place) to describe that place. He gave us something tangible to look forward to — a home, where we will live with Him.
The heaven Jesus described is not an ethereal realm of disembodied spirits. A place is by nature physical, just as human beings are by nature physical as well as spiritual. What we are suited for — what we’ve been specifically designed for — is the place God originally made for us: earth.
Scripture tells us we should be “looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Peter 3:13). God has not abandoned His original design and plan for humanity to rule the earth for His glory. One day, He will reverse the curse and restore what was corrupted by sin. He will come down to dwell with His people on the new earth, bringing His throne, and heaven itself, with Him (Rev. 21:1–4; 22:3).
What’s your attitude toward heaven? Does it fill you with excitement? How often do you, your church, and your family talk about it?
If you lack a passion for heaven, I can almost guarantee it’s because you have a deficient and distorted theology of heaven (or you’re making choices that conflict with heaven’s agenda). An accurate and biblically energized view of heaven will bring a new spiritual passion to your life.
When you fix your mind on heaven and see the present in light of eternity, even little choices become tremendously important. After death, we will never have another chance to share Christ with one who can be saved from hell, to give a cup of water to the thirsty, to invest money to help the helpless and reach the lost, or to share our homes, clothes, and love with the poor and needy.
No wonder Scripture makes clear that the one central business of this life is to prepare for the next. What we need is a generation of heavenly minded people who see human beings and the earth not simply as they are, but as God intends them to be.
Theologians once spoke of the “beatific vision,” Latin for “a happymaking sight.” That sight was God Himself. Revelation 22:4 says of God’s people on the new earth, “They will see his face.” God is primary, all else is secondary. Joy’s tributaries are the overflow of the swelling river of God’s own goodness. He says to the one He welcomes into His presence, “Enter into your Master’s joy.” Anticipating the eternal joy of His presence allows us to get a head start on heaven by rejoicing in Him here and now.
Longing for that new earth, “the home of righteousness,” Peter says, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with Him” (2 Peter 3:14).
Knowing that our destiny is to live as redeemed, righteous people on a redeemed, righteous earth with our righteous Redeemer should be a powerful incentive to call upon His strength to live righteously today.