[BIBLE VERSES TO FOLLOW]
Please note that when I use the term “Heaven” in this particular post, I am using it to refer to an afterlife to be conducted here on earth for a thousand years after the second return of Christ. What happens after that thousand years? I don’t know. I don’t know whether “a thousand years” is a Biblical metaphor for “forever”. I don’t know whether we will then go up to Heaven proper to be with God, Jesus and the angels forever. All I do know is that either way it is going to be good!
Well I’ve recently shared my annual “Helloween” post on Facebook. This is a post where I talk about the unexciting reality of hell. I was thinking, as I have been thinking for years, that I as a Christian tend to focus so much on hell. I have come across it many times that people who don’t believe in God often accuse Christians of using hell and the fear it inspires to blackmail people into accepting Christ.. I am extremely sensitive to that accusation, so I thought I would spend time thinking about how wonderful Heaven is, so that the beauty of Heaven instead of the negativity of hell can compel people into the arms of Jesus.
And now, after having spent literally just a few hours thinking about Heaven, I realise how incredibly amazing it is going to be. How wrong I have been to be overly focusing on hell and utterly missing the delights of Heaven! So I put it to you that I and anyone else who has been focusing on hell has been doing that because we don’t truly understand how fantastic Heaven is going to be. Trust me, you want to make it to Heaven! Heaven by itself is more than enough to compel anyone to embrace Christ, even if there was no hell. Crucially the Bible teaches that Jesus is the only way to God, and because of that He is also the only way to Heaven. To spell it out in all its politically incorrect glory, that means that no other faith offers a path to Heaven. You know what? I almost don’t want to admit this because I know that some people will cling to it desperately as a reason for false hope. However, I do believe that there are a few provisos that God can apply (like for instance, when someone never heard about Jesus during their lifetime). However, the point is that these provisos are for God to apply. You know like when a decision is made at the discretion of management? As far as we humans are concerned, the only way to Heaven is through Jesus, and the safest thing to do is to just put your faith and hope in Jesus right here and right now. This is why as a Christian, I know it is politically incorrect, and I know it is controversial, but I do set out to share my faith with other people who already have their own different faith, because I believe that no matter how sincere you might be in your faith, only Jesus is going to offer you a true path to Heaven away from hell.
What exactly is hell?
Before I launch into the joys of Heaven, a few more words about hell. What exactly is it? It is a deeply negative place, or state of being. At the very best, it can be described as eternal death, or the end of your life, at the very worst living in eternal darkness and torture and flames. If you are not a person of faith, and I told you that rejecting Jesus meant eternal death, that could not be considered blackmail, could it, because eternal death is what anyone of no faith would reasonably expect anyway! So at its most positive, the Christian message could be considered like this: if you embrace Christ and His message, then you don’t have to remain dead, as you would ordinarily have done, but you can look forward instead to eternal life with Jesus. And this eternal life is going to be so amazing that it is going to be more than worth it! This definitely is good news! I would secretly love to believe this, because in this way the Christian message would not condemn anyone to a worse fate than they would reasonably expect anyway. There is scope for believing this in the Bible. However, Jesus Himself also talks about a lake of fire, and eternal torment. So it is going to be between these two possibilities. Many Christians, including myself, “secretly” hope that the lake of fire, and the description of eternal punishment are just metaphors. However, the very real possibility is there that it is all literal. This is why I fixate so much on hell, because the idea of a literal hell is so awful that I would not wish it on my own personal worst enemy. For the worst enemies of humanity, people like Hitler and his ilk, I am a little less decided. Still it is so gruesome that the thought of any human having to endure that just makes me shudder.
Turning now to Heaven, traditional depictions of it involve lots of sitting down on clouds and playing harps. To be honest, this sounds to me a tiny bit boring to do forever! I think though that what it does get right is the idea of having loads of leisure time, and being surrounded by beautiful music.
In Heaven, or on Earth?
When I talk about Heaven, I generally mean the afterlife. And yet there is a strong argument that this afterlife would actually be conducted in a very familiar place, at least for the first thousand years – right down here on Earth! And this is where for me it gets really exciting.
I think that one of the problems of talking about Heaven is that it is going to be so different from what we know that we just can’t picture it.
What if – “life after death” looked a lot like life before death, but with all the pain and negativity and death stripped away? Would you not want to see what this planet could look like, if it was literally lit up with love 24 hours a day? Would you not want to see what life could look like, how we humans could interact together without racism, or sexism, or domestic violence, or absolutely anything negative? Or the gender paygap, if talent was rightly recognised and acknowledged, always, if there was no injustice in making decisions, no corruption in Governments or anywhere else? Would you not like to see Africa thriving at its full potential, unscarred by the history of colonialism or the slave trade? I know I certainly would! And Asia too, and the Americas, even Europe, and everywhere!
Would you not want to experience a body that is constantly zinging with life, that ever grows old, never experiences pain, never gets ill? I lived for the first 6 years of my life in Nigeria. I remember when people once described to us how cold it was in the UK, that people even had to wear winter coats! And my young eyes, used to the tropical heat of Nigeria, swelled with amazement – I just could not imagine anywhere being that cold. Now after living in the UK for decades, and experiencing it first hand, and having gone through countless winter coats myself I can definitely imagine it – in fact I no longer need to imagine it. And that is how it is with Heaven. So much of this present life is tied up with death and the circle of life, so I find it hard to imagine what life could look like when death has been completely removed from the picture. And yet this is what life was always supposed to be like all along. Death is a corruption of God’s created order, it was never supposed to be part of the picture at all. So Heaven is about restoring things to how they should always have been. Would you not like to have a taste of what life was actually supposed to be like all along? You know how people often say “life’s too short…”, well that is something we are all going to be able to stop saying!
I remember a while ago – a few months? Or possibly as far back as a year, or possibly even longer, I read that some whales live for hundreds of years! And I thought to myself: “Why on earth do whales need to live for hundreds of years, when after all, all they do is swim around?!” That is such an annoying fact when we as human beings, with all our creativity and big dreams, we who could actually make the most of that time, and produce great things, barely scrape 100 years! Well in Heaven, that is not going to be a factor anymore. Life is no longer going to be “too short”, for anyone. Rather we will have all the time in the world – and then some, to try out different projects, to indulge our creativity, to learn different skills. Because there is definitely going to be creativity in Heaven, and technology. In fact the Bible says that all the kingdoms of the world will take their glory into Heaven. So if not all, then doubtedly many of the amazing things that we have and enjoy right now will be happily present in Heaven (as long as we need them). So we could theoretically have some or even all of these following things such as the internet, mobile phones, maths, and creativity, beauty, peace. And, as mentioned above, gorgeous music, not necessarily all classical! So harps, yes, but also pianos, guitars, electric keyboards, flutes and saxophones, and undoubtedly countless new instruments that we have not had a chance to dream up just yet! And I don’t know where I got the impression but I believe that we will take our existing skills into Heaven. I do need to confirm that however if true it would mean that if you are a musician just now, you can continue being a musician in Heaven. But the fact is that we will now have infinite time to learn new skills, and do other things. Go travelling, explore all the wonders of this planet. Perhaps as humanity we could even try out space exploration. How far could we get within a thousand years?!
Would you not want to experience yourself at your very best, constantly growing, pushing forward to get better and better, without any shame, regrets, painful memories or bad habits?
You know, I have never bought into that theory that we need to experience pain to help us appreciate joy and laughter more. I’m quite sure that I would know I was happy, and I would delight in my own happiness, even if I never experienced pain.
Heaven is going to be a place of perfect community. So all the loneliness, heartache and rejection that we all experience right now is going to be forgotten, to be replaced with laughter, joy, acceptance. In fact, I believe that Heaven is actually what each of our hearts has been longing for all along, this life, but lived in peace, and security, without fear, being able to live in the rhythms of nature. Conversely this present life is so unpredictable, unstable and uncertain. Even people who look as if they have got it all can lose everything overnight. People who are able bodied can become disabled just like that. The whole thing, that is, someone’s whole life can just end so abruptly in a freak, unforeseeable accident, and whenever someone dies like that it often casts family members who are left into confusion, precarity, and lifelong grief.
Heaven is going to be about living with all or most of the creations of God but without any of the influence of the devil, who is the mutual enemy of all humanity.
Something that will be absent from Heaven is marriage, (and with it sex, and procreation) because no-one is going to die, so we don’t need to be constantly repopulating the earth. So because of that, I don’t know whether we are still going to be male or female, or simply “human”. There is not going to be any death, either for ourselves as human beings, or for animals. That said, the Bible does talk about a child harmlessly putting his hand into the hole of a snake, so it does appear that there will be children.
Pie in the sky?
One of the accusations that is often levelled at the Christian concept of Heaven is that it is all “pie in the sky when you die”. That is, it is a promise of all these fantastical things used to coerce people into obedience to authority down here on earth. However, one of the best features of Heaven is that it starts right here on earth! Heaven is a place that is under the complete jurisdiction of God. So when we give our hearts to God and invite Him to live within us and through us then we become a little microcosm of Heaven. As the character of Christ is developed in us more and more, then we become more and more a living, tangible expression of Heaven right here on earth! So it is no longer “pie in the sky when we die”, rather it is pie on your plate, no need to wait! So you know what that means? You can try it out for yourself right now, you don’t have to invest blind faith and wait until you die to see whether it is true.
So if you’re reading this thinking “Tosin this all sounds amazing, but I just don’t know whether it could be true!”, I invite you to go ahead, and give it a try right now! Invite God into your heart and ask Him to live in you and through you, and grant you His eternal life.
I would say this of course, but there is absolutely no doubt in my heart that I am living in God’s eternal life right here and now. There is still so much I need to learn, so much growth still available for me. However, I know that God has blessed my life with peace, and joy and so many other things. It is also absolutely true that the more I press into God, the more these beautiful things fill my life.
Please believe me people, God is real, and all this stuff is true! As I often joke to myself, as I have joked previously on at least one of my blogs, it is not “too good to be true”. Rather it is “too good to not be true!” But if you want to get the best from God then you have to give Him your best too. Don’t hold anything back, don’t secretly construct for yourself a Plan B. Make God your Plan A to Plan Z, and continue to fix your eyes squarely on Him, no matter what challenges you may encounter.
While we are in this life, we are still to a large extent subject to the limitations of this life even when we are Christians and God is living through us as a microcosm of Heaven. However we can start to walk in the beauty and the peace and the joy of knowing Christ. That said, I think I can safely say, that no matter how Christian we are, how immersed in Christ we are right now, no matter how much of the Kingdom of God we experience in this lifetime, that actual afterlife is going to be utterly mindblowing, truly beyond anything that we could ever imagine.
So this is a challenge to any Christian reading this: does your life truly represent the Kingdom of God? Our mutual interaction with one another in church should be a little microcosm of Heaven, but it often fails to be because even as Christians our hearts are not sufficiently submitted to God. So if that describes you, dear Christian, I invite you, as I urge myself, to put that right, and to strive after God so that your life will start to glow, and people around you will easily be able to believe that God is living through you.
Life is worth living!
All of this might suggest a question: Well if Heaven is going to be so amazing, then why do we bother at all with life down here on earth?! Why not just skip the whole thing and just go straight to Heaven?! Especially when this life gets so challenging, and sometimes we even experience persecution for our faith…
Well firstly, as Christians, it is our responsibility to invite as many people to join us in Heaven as we can. So we want to make the most of this opportunity to do that!
Secondly, it is precisely because Heaven is going to be so good that we can afford to stay here, and give it our absolute all down here on Earth. Then when we do get to the afterlife, we can relax, confident that we have done our absolute best. No matter what we endure down here on Earth, it is going to be like the blink of an eyelid compared to Heaven. So knowing that, we can push ourselves down here on Earth, keep pressing forward. And before we know it, we too will be seeing Jesus face to face! And then all the frustrations of life on earth, the injustices, everything, will be forgotten forever!
So then, considering all this, does this idea of Heaven not intrigue you even a little bit?
Here’s the thing that is totally indisputable about Heaven and hell: there is no neutral position, so you have to choose one or the other. If you have to choose one or the other, would you not choose the place bursting with life and creativity? Have you ever heard this phrase “Choose Heaven for the climate, hell for the company”? Are you kidding me?! God is going to be in Heaven, and Jesus too! What company could possibly compare to that?! Furthermore, no matter how hell eventually looks, whether it is eternal oblivion or eternal torment, there is going to be no socialising there whatsoever. Or fun, or laughter. None of God’s beautiful creations. And remember that God created everything that is beautiful (and fun, and interesting, and fulfilling)! Also another (silly) saying (and completely untrue, even down here on earth – hello, Handel’s Messiah?!) “The devil has all the best tunes.” Well God created music. In fact the Bible says that when God created the world, the morning stars sang together, and the Bible even says that God Himself sings songs of deliverance around His people. In short, there are not going to be any tunes in hell whatsoever – perhaps just a screeching, discordant cacophony.
Marriage? Having written my post, I am going to make it relevant to marriage in the tiniest of ways: when I dream of my marriage, without even realising it, I have been dreaming of creating a little microcosm of Heaven down here on earth, to share with my husband, and so that the light and love and truth we create between ourselves can spill out to touch people around us.
Things that are not going to be in Heaven:
Creations of God that are not going to be in Heaven:
Marriage, Sex, procreation
Influences of the devil that are not going to be in Heaven (the devil is not actually capable of creating anything, except lies. He simply corrupts what God has created)
Pain, death, suffering, sickness, illness, injustice, racism, sexism, loneliness, anger, negativity, disagreements, pollution, climate change, violence, cheating, fraud, disappointment, war
Things I don’t know:
You know, there are lots of things I honestly don’t know about this future life:
– If there is not going to be any death, then there is not going to be any meat. Will we eat at all? The Bible talks about the “Marriage Supper of the Lamb”, where the Lamb means Jesus, but I don’t know whether that is metaphorical. Perhaps we will just eat for enjoyment as a leisure activity, without actually needing to do so? I’m pretty certain that if there is going to be food, it is going to be universally delicious!
– Will we still go to the bathroom? Will we still get dirty, will we need to bathe?
– If we are going to live down here on earth, will we still be subject to the laws of physics and science, or will these laws be amended to fit in with this new existence?
– Will we still operate with money? I know that everyone is going to have all their needs met, but will some people still be richer than others?
– Will we still have our different ethnicities?
– Will we still sleep? The Bible book of Revelation talks about a sun that shines 24 hours a day, so that implies that we won’t be sleeping. However in that case we also will not be getting tired. In fact, I think in Revelation it does say that we won’t grow tired. Sleep is in some ways a foreshadow of death so it would not be utterly surprising if a deathless life required no sleep either.
– Will we all be of the same age, or will we be different ages? How does age work if you are now going to be living forever?!