Heaven Isn’t Our Final Hope

When I was a kid, my aunt told me that everyone who dies becomes an angel, is given wings and lives in a perfect place called heaven. Secular society has built up this idealistic fantasy of a place that’s floating in the clouds somewhere, where all “good” people go and spend forever in paradise.

People generally make heaven out to be whatever they think is ideal—whether that is where they get to be with late family members, see their deceased pets again, eat their favorite food, or do all of their favorite things, forever. This may sound good on the surface, but I have always been skeptical about where this idea came from, and whether it’s realistic at all. A part of me felt like society was cheapening the word “heaven”, and I wanted to know how to build it back up to its true meaning.

When I started to read the Bible for myself to understand heaven, I had to let go of pre-conceived ideas and simply read the Bible for what it is. As a result, a very different image of heaven emerged.


Heaven is about God’s glory

God’s glory is a difficult concept to understand. His glory is the magnificence of his presence, and it’s what makes heaven heavenly. I think it’s a tough concept to grasp because most of us, if we’ve experienced it at all, have only experienced tiny glimpses of God’s glory. Here on earth, we can see evidence of God’s magnificence in the creation he made and miracles like the rising and setting of the sun, child birth, or the love shared in a family.  Imagine that the truly good and glorious things we see now are sort of like a footprint of his true glory – they’re evidence of what God is like, they give us an idea of his ability, size and power…but experiencing the “footprints” of God’s glory is nothing like experiencing it face to face.

The Bible shares many examples of people reacting to visions of God’s glory.  When the Lord came down in a cloud to meet with Moses, he bowed down and worshipped (Exodus 34:8). In Ezekiel’s vision, he couldn’t help but falling on his face before God’s glory, unable to speak (Ezekiel 2:28, 3:23).   When Isaiah saw the glory of God on His throne in a vision, his response was to cry out “Woe to me! . . . I am ruined!” (Isaiah 6:5). Seeing God’s glory – even in a vision – forced Isaiah to see himself and all of mankind for what they were without Christ’s cleansing sacrifice, which was so, so unworthy of being anywhere near God’s perfect glory.

You see, it is more than just God’s magnificence that compels us to worship in this way. In the presence of God’s perfect goodness and divinity, we are faced with the reality of our sinful nature and that our rightful stance before God is trembling in unworthiness.

No man or woman has ever seen the full radiance of God’s glory in the flesh and lived. Our sin stands in the way. When Moses was so bold to ask that he should see God’s glory, God only granted him the view of His back, thus preserving his life (Exodus 33). Even with this very slight exposure, Moses’ face continued to shine so brightly that once down the mountain, Aaron and the Israelites were afraid to come near him. Moses ended up wearing a veil to cover his glowing face (Exodus 34:29-33).

These Biblical accounts of man’s humbling responses to God’s glory should help us in realizing that, as sinful people, we have no right to be in the presence of God’s perfect glory. Our sin is too great of a separation. Yet what makes it so amazing for Christians, is that when we get to the other side of eternity—purified by Christ’s sacrifice—we will be able to stand in the full glory of God’s presence and live. And when we fall face down before Him, it will not be because we are so wrecked by the conviction of our sin, but because we are gripped by worshipful awe of God’s supreme beauty and the atonement he worked out so that we could come before him, forever cleansed from sin.

After reading through these biblical accounts of encountering God, I wasn’t able to mentally shift back to the idea of heaven described by my aunt and society without feeling the immensity of how much it misses the mark. It pales in comparison.

Society’s idea of heaven is limited to what we know as good in this life (family, friends, activities we enjoy). This portrayal of heaven is man-centered. But I know the reality of being in God’s presence is beyond imagination, as I cannot fathom what it will be like to see God’s face and stand before him. This is why the concept of “heaven” that is so popular today, is not where a Christian’s hope rests. A Christian’s hope rests in the promise that someday will be able to be in God’s presence.


The new heaven and earth is a restored heaven and earth

In the Old Testament, heaven is where God is (Psalms 33:13). Passages like Philippians 1:21–23 and Luke 23:43 in the New Testament suggest that it is a place where people who die are able to be with Christ. At the end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, heaven is mentioned again. But this time, we’re promised something even more spectacular.

God’s glorious dwelling won’t be limited to heaven! He promises to make both heaven and earth new! God’s glory will be so illuminating that there will be no need for the sun (Revelation 21:23). Satan and all sin will be forever vanquished (Revelation 22:3), leaving the world free of death, mourning, crying and pain (Revelation 21:4). Unlike the Israelites who caught glimpses of God’s glory and still fell into deep sin, all of God’s creation will spend eternity declaring glory be to God, as they are finally and completely freed from the hold of sin. Everything will finally be the way it was meant to be, and God will dwell and live among His people not only in spirit, but in full (Revelation 21:3).

In the refreshed, restored world, we too are restored. Romans 1 tells of the horrific exchange mankind made when we despised the glory of God and worshipped instead the glory of created things. But in God’s mercy, Christ’s great exchange—our sin for His righteousness—welcomes us into God’s redemptive work for His glory. We are destined to be God’s children, co-heirs with Christ, enabled by the Spirit to walk faithfully with Him (Romans 8). As we keep our eyes on His goodness, we will be transformed into His likeness with ever increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). There will be a glorious harmony in our relationships with the earth, our neighbor, God and with ourselves. The beauty in God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth is complete restoration of what he has already created!


The kingdom of heaven is now!

Even though complete restoration is something that will only come when the current heaven and earth give way to the restoration that God will bring, Jesus also makes it clear that the kingdom of God is now.

In Luke 17:20–21, He tells the Pharisees and his disciples that the kingdom of heaven is in their very midst. In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus prays, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). I think the kingdom of heaven has started already. Right now, God is saving His people from sin, brokenness and captivity, as He brings them to know Him. He’s already active in the work of redemption and we see it by how He is redeeming His people!

God’s redeeming power brings people into relationship with Him. This glimpse of the great restoration to come motivates me to be active now. When I see the darkness of the world, I am no longer destined to discouragement. I can actively call on the Lord to do restorative work in my life and the lives of my loved ones now. And if the restoration doesn’t come now, I can rest in the assurance that it will come in full once we live with God in the new heaven and new earth.

Also, this broken, hard world is the only chance we have to be used by God to bring more people into the promise of the new heaven and new earth. I feel the urgency to share the Good News with all of the lost people around me. How great is the hope I have in Christ and in God’s promises, and how great is my desire for other broken people to know the same!

As we move forward from the Easter season, we celebrate that Jesus rose from the grave and overcame death. It is because of this sacrifice and victory that Christians are able to have hope. We have hope for ultimate restoration in the new heaven and new earth, and we have hope for the restorative work that God has started to bring people to him even now. May this truth motivate you to be bold witnesses for Christ today. He will make and is making all things new!

The Day We Were Robbed

Written By Shelley Pearl, New Zealand

“I’ve to run. My flat . . . someone’s entered my flat. I must go,” I told my boss in a barely audible whisper.

I could hardly believe my ears when I received a phone call from my sister to say we had been robbed. We live in a very safe suburb, so to learn that our flat had been entered into was shocking. Questions raced through my head as I drove home on the motorway, barely registering the trucks and cars on the road.

I was certain that my computer, iPad, and laptop would have been filched. But when I pulled into the driveway and saw that nothing seemed out of the ordinary, I breathed a sigh of relief. “Maybe it’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” I thought.

But the nightmare began the moment I stepped into my unit. Initially, my mind refused to register what the eyes saw—the room was a mess. The burglars had gained access through my bedroom window; its security latches had been hacked in half.

Drawers had been emptied of their contents, and their contents were strewn all over the floor and on the bed. An armchair that used to sit next to my bedroom window was now in the middle of the room. The contents of my backpack were scattered all over the floor and my backpack was gone; the burglars had likely used it to take away their stash.

My year-old camera was gone as well, and the container I used to keep it in had been thrown underneath my bed. The other things in it had been taken too—my passport, a small sum of foreign currency, and a stack of coffee loyalty cards that resembled credit cards (no doubt the thieves would be disappointed upon discovering the cards were useless). Our electronics, however, were left intact. The desktop was presumably too heavy and the iPad was of an older model.

As my sister and I surveyed our flat, our heart sank with each step we took. Our walk-in cupboard was a wreck, and the burglars had pawed through our storage units, foraging through our winter wear. They had taken handbags, probably attracted by the faux diamonds on the bags. Our designer jewellery, given to us as birthday presents and at other important occasions, were also missing.

I was sad, angry, and devastated all at once. I was sad that I had lost my valuables, as I had worked hard to buy them. And I was so angry that there was someone out there who thought he could help himself to things that weren’t his. Growing up, we were taught not to take what wasn’t ours, so why was it OK for these people to do just that?

Exhaustion washed over us as we trawled through our unit; the rapidly cooling evening air blowing through my broken bedroom window was a reminder of how our little haven had been shattered, our privacy violated.

Still, we were thankful that no one was hurt and we still had each other.

As horrible as the incident was, it made me realize how fleeting our material possessions are. When I left for work that morning, our valuables were sitting in their respective places; in less than two hours, they had vanished without a trace.

The burglary made me see the truth in Jesus’ words about not storing our treasures on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19). For the longest time, I had seen this verse as something that parents used to discourage children from desiring the newest and latest items their friends had.

Now, I saw how temporal our earthly possessions really were—here one minute, gone the next. A week or two after my camera was taken, the manufacturer announced the release of a newer model with added features. Really, there is no way of keeping up with the latest and greatest. And, to be honest, my life doesn’t feel any less without some of these items which I had bought thinking they would add value to my everyday existence.

Unfortunately, the police were unable to catch the culprits and closed the case. Meanwhile, our apartment has been fitted with alarm and CCTVs, and we are also looking to do grills for the windows.

When my sister’s workmates heard of the news, two of them swung by on a Saturday morning to help us tidy the flat. One of them brought her daughter to help, and they even brought us some food, knowing we would be too overwhelmed to think of cooking. We were moved by their readiness to give up their precious Saturday morning, when a text of “thinking of you” could have sufficed.

The incident reminded me of how Jesus told us to store our treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20), which I believe means investing in things that have everlasting value. The actions of my sister’s workmate showed me that these things include relationships. When we spend our time investing into the lives of others, be it helping someone who is going through a difficult time or taking the effort to befriend a lonely person, we are sowing treasures in heaven.

These treasures, unlike our earthly possessions, are safe from opportunists. For example, many years ago, a woman came up to me to say she remembered the time a group from my church had dropped by her house to help clean her place. But no one has ever come up to me to say they remembered a lovely dress or handbag I had. You see, I believe no one remembers what we own, but they remember what we have done for them.

Admittedly, it has been awhile since I have taken the time to sow into the lives of others. I cannot remember the last time I had intentionally invited a friend out for a lunch just to catch up. By the time the weekend rolls around, I’m so exhausted from working, swim training, and doing household chores, that all I really want to do is sit at home with a book. Imagine how many of my relationships have withered due to my lack of investment in them (I’m not keeping tabs because I don’t want to find out!)

It is so easy in our era of social media and endless consumerism to feel we need to have beautiful things for our life to be meaningful. While there is nothing inherently wrong in desiring nice things, I believe it must not be our end-all and be-all of life. I would be lying if I said the burglary completely wiped out my desire of owning nice, new things. No, I still love shopping, but these days, I am more mindful about what I invest in.

The burglary has showed me that the items I counted as precious were really quite mundane—photos of my friends and my family, my book collection, my wetsuit for ocean swims, and laughably, my newly bought pillows and duvets, which had cost me a fair bit. Yet, as these items had no resale value, the thieves had left them. I have learned that it’s not worth putting stock on material items, as they can disappear in the blink of an eye.

From now on, I’m going to work more on storing my treasures in heaven. I know, it does sound a bit dull not being able to show off your latest wears, but I believe when we quietly build a rich storehouse of good works, our reward in heaven will make any earthly possessions look like rags.

How Narnia’s Fantasy Led Me to the Truth

Photo taken from Official Trailer

Written By Dorothy Norberg, USA

At church as a child, when I was supposed to draw a picture of what I thought heaven would look like, I scribbled yellow crayon all over the page, conveying light and glory. Heaven was a mystery to me, and I feared it would be like my illustration: empty of all that I found beautiful in the world, characterized only by gold and blinding light. We would all be happy, and pain and tears would be gone, but wouldn’t praising God for eternity get tiresome?

My fears faded when I read The Chronicles of Narnia. In these classic novels by British novelist and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, children experience extraordinary adventures in another world and develop relationships with Aslan, the lion who represents God. Through the truths which these stories conveyed, I recognized God as the source and fulfilment of all beauty and goodness.

Fantasy stories are often criticized as escapist distractions from the real world, but The Chronicles of Narnia shaped my affections for God and showed me how to deeply love and engage with the world around me. The longings which fantasy awakes need not destroy one’s love for the real world or distract from what truly matters.

On the contrary, fantasy can highlight and communicate profound values which are too big and beautiful for us to fully grasp any other way. Someday, wrong will be made right, our Savior will return, and what we have lost will be restored to even greater beauty. Much of what we know about God comes from the incarnation: God taking on human flesh and dwelling among us. Because we know God primarily through Christ embodying Him on earth, it should not surprise us that we understand theological concepts best when they are conveyed to us through familiar form and symbols. Narnia’s influence endures because it illustrates how God can be both love and thunder, what it means to seek nobility and honor, and how goodness and truth will win out in the end.

My desire for a world like this did not cast gloom over or dissatisfaction with my dull life. Instead, it deepened my appreciation of material and spiritual realities, because I learned that they belonged together. Heaven is not an escape from the world, but the ultimate fulfilment and perfection of the world which God created and called good. If God could make this finite, temporary earth so beautiful, why would I ever think that a new heaven and a new earth would be dull and lifeless? I came to believe what Jewel the Unicorn said of heaven in the final book in the Narnia series, The Last Battle: “This is my real country. This is what I have been longing for all my life, though I never knew it until now.” When Christ returns, we will live in resurrected, perfect bodies, experiencing the presence of God and the final satisfaction of a story well-told.

The knowledge that we will one day experience everything good in its true and real form should lead not to dismissal of the world, but to deeper enjoyment of it. The feelings I experience when reading the Narnia books, gazing at sunsets, or watching sunlight filter through the trees in my backyard are not wasted vanities. They are opportunities for worship, and hints of everything to come. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, the earthly things we find most enthralling “are good images of what we really desire,” and only break our hearts if we depend upon them. “For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”

In heaven, I will experience all of the beauty and joy that I have felt in a piercing but inadequate sense in my time on earth. This redeemed, new world will be more beautiful than anything I can imagine, and until then, I am right to cherish the beauties and joys which will be magnified there.

Good fantasy is not a distraction from reality, but promotes hope that there is more to life than what we currently experience. Narnia affirmed my deepest longings and showed me how to direct them towards God. When I read the following quote from The Weight of Glory, my eyes fill with tears, because C.S. Lewis showed me this beauty through his fantasy stories and immeasurably impacted my faith: “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

The Compulsory Queue

Title: The Compulsory Queue
Materials: Illustration
In life, sometimes it feels like we are standing in a line. We move along the line — step by step — until we reach our journey’s end… and along the way, we collect things — memories, relationships, possessions, achievements, etc… These worldly treasures pile up over time and can cause us to get caught up in the hustle for more. We pile one thing on top of another as if we have to scramble to fill up an empty warehouse.

However, when we reach the end of the line — the end of our life — what worth do these worldly treasures hold? Whatever we have stored up here on earth will all be left behind. Everything from our hands will disappear but the treasures stored in our hearts will remain. What we store in our heart is our true treasure.

What are the kinds of treasures that God calls us to store up in heaven?