The book’s main thrust revolves around the understanding that one of the central and God-given characteristics of human beings is that of desire. God has placed such within humanity and this is not inherently evil, though with the fall, our desires have gone haywire and need to be redeemed and re-imaged in Christ.
With this book, I’ve always loved one particular passage, one about our misconception of heaven.
Now, let me preface this by stating that most Christians do acknowledge that heaven is not simply about life after death. Eternal life is not so much something that begins at a later date, but the life of God’s kingdom rule that we enter into even now.
We’ve got it. That’s settled. At least for most.
But I believe we still have misconceptions concerning what it will all be about in the age to come, or what we will actually be involved with and doing. Eldredge paints the picture like this:
But of course we aspire to happiness we can enjoy now. Our hearts have no place else to go. We have made nothing of eternity. If I told you that your income would triple next year, and that European vacation you’ve wanted is just around the corner, you’d be excited, hopeful. The future would look promising. It seems possible, desirable. Whatever it is we think is coming in the next season of our existence, we don’t think it is worth getting all that excited about. We make a nothing of eternity by enlarging the significance of this life and by diminishing the reality of what the next life is all about. Nearly every Christian I have spoken with has some idea that eternity is an unending church service. After all, the Bible says that the saints “worship God in heaven,” and without giving it much more thought we have settled on an image of the never-ending sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever and ever, amen. (p110-111)
Sound a familiar concept?
And our heart sinks. Forever and ever? That’s it? That’s the good news? And then we sigh and feel guilty that we are not more “spiritual.” We lose heart, and we turn once more to the present to find what life we can. Eternity ends up having no bearing on our search for life whatsoever. It feels like the end of the search. And since we’re not all that sure about what comes after, we search hard now. Remember, we can only hope for what we desire. (p111)
I am not sure where this all began, though we could theologically, philosophically, historically and socially examine such a view. Maybe it finds its roots in medieval theology or a rationalistic philosophy that tore us into two parts known as ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ or possibly with earlier dispensational views of the kingdom of God/heaven.
But it’s probably not just a mere misreading of passages in Scripture like Revelation 4. Rather we now read those passages through the lens of everything else that proceeded.
However it came, the epidemic still exists. We are ok to admit that eternal life starts now (which does mean we are confessing that heaven has begun now). But our view of ultimate heaven, the fulness of the age to come, is that of the unending church service sing-along.
And, I’ll go ahead and be honest and say I want nothing to do with such.
But what about Revelation 4?
Well, I’ll take a stab and say that John was describing something that 1) was already taking place and 2) it was a vision with great imagery to explain the reality of the worship of our God.
But who said anything about worship being limited to sing-alongs in white robes.
The age to come, or heaven, is a lot more than just choir robes, halos, harps and clouds. Remember, the goal is not to go up there. It’s to see the rule of God fully established on earth and to make all things new in this good creation – hence Jesus’ prayer in Matt 6:10 and the description in a few differing places of the new heavens (not God’s abode but the cosmos) and new earth being renewed (see Isa 65, Rom 8, Rev 21-22).
As Eldredge said, ‘We make a nothing of eternity…’
An all-eternity choir practice truly is making nothing of eternity. There is much more at hand, much more TO DESIRE.
I don’t know all the in’s and out’s of the age to come, but we do get a glimpse of it here and now, since we know that God created all things (all earthy things) good. That was His pronouncement – good. So we can learn some things from surveying the good things God gives us now.
And I sense there will also be work in the age to come. Yep, work. For such existed before the entrance of sin and, as in one of Jesus’ telling parables, the reward given to the faithful servant was: Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness (Matt 25:21)!
It’s just that this work will not yield thorns and thistles and sweat and pain. AT ALL! Work will be part of the joyful worship of our Creator.
And if we think we have seen some beautiful things in creation now – African wilderness, Swiss snow-capped mountain tops, islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, red-orange sunsets in your back garden – none of this compares to what we will enjoy with our good Father when all things are made new.
So I think it’s time we move past a misconception of heaven that some of us have held. I consider myself in Christ, and thus spiritual because of his Spirit at work in me. And so I believe it a spiritual statement to dispel the notion that heaven is that boring, yes boring, unending church service. Oh, I imagine we will creatively and masterfully weave some songs together as an offering of loving worship and honour to our Father. But that will simply be one aspect of enjoying all our God and all that He will have renewed.