The hospice patient had fought a long and hard fight against cancer. Her body is wasted and worn out. She is at peace, having not just entrusted her life to Christ but also her dying and death.
She whispers this comment with a wry smile written across her pale face: “I am looking forward to having my curiosity satisfied about one question no preacher could answer satisfactorily: What is heaven like?”
We naturally want to know what Heaven is like. There is both Good News and Bad News about Heaven. The Good News is that Jesus called it Paradise, but the Bad News is that we don’t have a detailed description or picture! Not even Paul, who may have caught a glimpse of Heaven/Paradise, tried to describe it (II Cor. 12:1-40). Trying to describe what is indescribable can be most misleading!
What little we do know from biblical imagery encourages us to stay within our own reference points on earth and in the Bible. With these boundaries in mind, let’s make two biblically based observations.
First, the word “paradise” brings to mind a beautiful and wondrous Garden of Eden overflowing with sights, sounds, and smells beyond our wildest imagination! I agree with C.S. Lewis, who pictured even the most beautiful and wondrous aspects of life on earth as “Shadowlands” in comparison with the reality of Heaven. It helps to picture Heaven as the model for all that is created on Earth – all that is good, that is.
I think it can help us to draw upon our past and present experiences on Earth (in the Shadowlands) as we imagine what our future will be in our life after death. For example, let’s picture for a moment those joyous moments we have enjoyed in our lives. I call them Joyous Foretastes Of Heaven that lift us up and out of ourselves toward God and each other.
A “wee” sampling is as follows. As you read what has been most meaningful to me please think about your own “joyous foretastes of heaven.”
- Holding Hands with a loving loved one and feeling a tingling sensation run through our heart, soul, mind, and body;
- Listening to Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” sung by a spirit-filled choir, “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes or a “heavenly” rendition of “Imagine”;
- Seeing the sheer beauty of Yosemite’s glacier-carved valley, sunrise and sunset over the Grand Canyon, rainbows as if amidst Niagara Falls, the autumn brilliance in the Smokey Mountains, sunset over the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem from the Garden of Gethsemane, spectacular sun-lit stained glass windows, and the smile of a mother or grandmother cradling a newborn baby;
- Experiencing the joy of riding horseback through Monument Valley, hiking through the woods, snowshoeing across Colorado mountains, kayaking across the salt marshes of Glynn, and walking where Jesus walked, and standing in an empty tomb;
- Serving God by helping people somewhere and somehow knowing Heaven will be a “serving/sharing” kind of place!
Our Second Observation is that John’s “Revelation” of Heaven may be wrapped in mind-boggling symbolism, but what is clear as the crystal sea is that it is a place of joyous celebration. An English visitor to America was enraptured by a wondrous worship service full of life and love was both enticing and exciting, and lifted him out of himself toward God and those around him. It was a “heavenly” experience that he had never known in the rather cold and sterile services he was accustomed to in his home church. Here is a hint, just a heavenly hint.
Whatever Heaven is, we must not forget what Paul Harvey would call “the Rest of the Story” after the Return/Reappearing of Christ, the Resurrection of the Dead and the Re-Creation of a New Heaven and Earth, which we will discuss next time.
One thing certain about Heaven is simply this: Compared to the best we have experienced on Earth, it is as Jesus said: Paradise. We might add a Paradise reminiscent of all that is imagined about the Garden of Eden.