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Often the reason people think that heaven will not measure up to its billing, is because we have the unfortunate tendency to think of heaven in non-physical ways. We think of heaven as the realm of the spirit. We think of eternity as a non-earthy, spiritual state, totally unrelated to our present experience and surroundings of this present earth.
I used to be one of these people. I was not far from the cartoon version of the afterlife that involved a lot of white-robed spirit beings floating on white clouds playing harps for eternity. I now believe heaven is an earthy, real place much like the present world we live in, but better. Here's why:
Remember, it is God who created the earth, and our physical bodies, and yes, they reflect the disastrous consequences of the fall of man . . . but God is not about to wave the white flag. He is not about to write it off and call it all a failure. Instead, he will, according to the scriptures, reclaim and redeem and resurrect those things which fractured in the fall, and renew them again.
Genesis 2 says we were made from the earth and made for the earth. It will most certainly be redeemed, and God will once again come down to live with his people. And when that happens, heaven and earth will be one, (Rev. 21:2).
There are so many things that we love, and that bring us joy and that we delight in on this present, first earth. We love music, and sports, and learning new things. We seek adventure, and feel safe and warm in culture, and family, and friendship, and laughter, and everything else that make us human. Who doesn’t love the desert at dusk, or the sun setting at the shore, or a thousand bright stars shining in the night above our heads?
I believe that all these things are not heaven . . . but they are a taste of the future heaven. We were made for things that bring us joy. We were made to enjoy the best this life has to offer, and so much more, forever. We were made for Eden, and even now we long for it in our hearts. We long for a perfect environment. We long for untainted relationships with each other and with our God. And folks, lets just say it . . . all our moving forward in science, and health, and in social constructs, are all attempts to get back to Eden. They are attempts to get back to the God who is the giver and source of all of our joy. This present earth may not be my permanent home, but the new earth will be. And it will have many of the characteristics of the old.
I had always thought of heaven as merely a place of rest and reward. But I now know that it will be a place of growth and creating, and learning. It will be a place where forever God will show “ . . . the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus,” (Eph. 2:7). I believe that the new earth will be a place where everything that we lost we will gain back. Everything that crushed our hearts will be restored. A place where everything we have missed out on, we will experience in full.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer the great German church leader was led to the gallows in the last few days before the end of World War II, he prayed, “Oh God this is the end; but for me it is just the beginning.” For all those who have trusted in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice on the cross, the best is yet to come.