Monday, July 11, 2005

Will heaven be boring???

Have any of you ever thought, as a child or as an adult, that heaven might actually turn out to be boring? I think as a child I had thought like that, but have long since abandoned such a notion. Yet I've heard it crop up again in various places, even among adults, which has caused me to ponder, "Why do people think that heaven will be boring?" Some of the images that no doubt lead to such a notion include: floating around on clouds playing harps and/or singing hymns to God for eternity. Maybe this picture of heaven seems almost as bad as getting stuck at choir practice for eternity :)

First off, I'd like to poll the readers here of what suggestions they have for the root cause behind the notion that heaven will be boring. (Ok, you with the short attention span :) --if you've lost interest already, please skip down to my third point and PLEASE read the sermon [it's not mine! :) ] )

Secondly, I propose my theory: I think that much of this fear of a boring afterlife is due to a subconscious gnosticism that views heaven as being the realm of disembodied spirits, rather than the fleshly bodies that Scripture teaches will be raised imperishable with Christ (1 Cor. 15). I think that even those who believe in a resurrection of the body sometimes drift subconsciously into this way of imagining heaven. And since there is much in this creation that we love--the beauty of creation, the sensations of physical pleasure, the enjoyment of food and drink, fellowship, etc; and since we tend to think of heaven apart from physicality--we fear that heaven will be sterile and lifeless. When people think this way, maybe the best they hope for is that there will be some ethereal bliss, but it all seems rather unexciting in comparison with life on earth. In contrast to these notions, I think that reminding ourselves of the physicality of the resurrection--having glorified bodies--indicates that heaven will very much be a place where we enjoy physical pleasure and beauty. I think of heaven in terms of the Garden of Eden, only far far better. But far more important than any of that is the fact that in heaven we will be with our God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the presence of our God and Savior, what could ever be dull or boring? After all, that is what we were created for--fellowship with God. If there were any fleeting pleasures that we enjoyed here on earth in our fallen state, apart from God's intention for us--how much more shall eternity be unimaginably greater?

Thirdly, while I was contemplating this post, I happened to read an excellent sermon by Pastor Mike Hintze of Our Saviour Lutheran Church in Westminster, MA. He just happened to address this very question in his sermon, and I obtained his permission to post it here. I hope you'll read it: it captures the point far better than my ramblings. Here it is:


GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR HEAVENLY FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR, JESUS CHRIST. The text is Philippians 3:18-20
18] I TELL YOU ... WITH TEARS, MANY PEOPLE LIVE AS ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST. 19] THEIR DESTINY IS DESTRUCTION, THEIR GOD IS THEIR OWN APPETITES, THEY'RE PROUD OF THE VERY THINGS THEY OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF. THEIR MINDS ARE SET ON EARTHLY THINGS. 20] BUT OUR HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN.

I wouldn’t want to you think that I was, like, fixated on fireworks or anything, but since you bring them up, remember the ones at Ft. Devens? Holey Moley: Just coming at you and coming at you, colors and lights exploding and exploding ... And a couple of you who were teenagers back then came up to me after and said, "Wow, what's HEAVEN going to be like?” Now, if they'd said that in certain circles: "I can't wait for HEAVEN" – somebody would’ve arranged therapy for them, wondering what was wrong with those kids’ lives that they'd rather go sit on a cloud and be bored to death for ever and ever.

What was wrong with those kid’s lives? Nothing. They were healthy, bright, funny, and surrounded by people who loved them. They had it as good as it gets in the richest and freest country on earth. So why’d they want to go sit on clouds and get bored forever and ever? They didn’t! Where do people get this idea that Heaven could be boring? Like when you're tired of life, they put you to bed in Heaven? But Heaven is not being put to bed. Heaven is being let outdoors for the first time in your life! Big, bright, loud, gorgeous! FREEDOM! Nobody who's ever seen out into Heaven has ever been bored. Stunned, yes. Blown unconscious, frequently. Bored, never.

So where does the bad rap come from? It comes from Satan, who’s scared to death that human beings might look up and long for something more. And it also comes from people who, first, don’t want to believe that their sins have cost them anything they’d really want, and who, second and always, want an excuse, as the Holy Ghost says, V. 19] to keep THEIR MINDS SET ON EARTHLY THINGS. Not just enjoying earthly things, but SET ON them, as if "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” was all there could ever be. Somebody says, “But Pastor, those’re good things.” Gee, ya think? They’re wonderful. But all of them: this short life, and political liberty, and the pursuit of happiness till you’re dead – all of them put together, they’re not worth one human soul, and if they become the only thing, if they have become the first thing, they will certainly cost your soul.

No, eternal life, eternal liberty, and the pursuit of eternal joy – nothing less is enough for a human being. But as I say, people who want to keep their heads glued to the ground are glad of an excuse not to look up. So, to their way of thinking, if you want to believe in a dull, white waiting room in the sky, fine. That's no competition. But they most intensely don't want anything big, bright, gorgeous, and alive overhead. Because that big, bright, gorgeous, living thing might turn out to be GOD, and not the nothing kind of God who’d run a nothing kind of Heaven, no, but the GOD who comes at you bigger and brighter and way more gorgeous than you ever were and coming at you and at you like singing lighting – Him they don't want to know about. Because how could anything on the planet compete with that? How could they keep THEIR MINDS SET ON EARTHLY THINGS with that overhead? Therefore, they keep their heads down.

The Holy Spirit says, V. 19] THEIR GOD isn't the real GOD. THEIR real GOD, He says, IS THEIR OWN APPETITES. He means that what they actually live for and long for is to feed their own bodies and their own self-worth – such tiny gods. And, to top it, He says, same verse, they’re PROUD OF THE VERY THINGS THEY OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF: PROUD OF THE VERY THINGS THAT, in any clear moments, they ARE ashamed of. PROUD of such tiny ambitions, PROUD of how much of this tiny turf they’ve acquired; PROUD of how they serve their little appetites, PROUD of how they stimulate other people’s appetites, PROUD of how smooth, how worldly **, how open-minded, how open-mouthed... And at the same time, PROUD of how nice they are and how well they live – while they duck the One they’re supposed to be living for.

Don’t join them. The Holy Ghost says, V. 19] THEIR DESTINY IS DESTRUCTION. We’re here to help them, not to join in. THEIR DESTINY IS DESTRUCTION. We’re here to help them, not to join in. Remember Noah’s Flood. REMEMBER LOT’S WIFE. Remember her: She was on her way out when she was destroyed.

And St. Paul says, V. 18] I TELL YOU ... WITH TEARS, MANY PEOPLE LIVE AS ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST. When he wrote that, he was crying for his neighbors and also crying because some of the people he was writing about at least used to claim that they were Christians. And now, he says, they’re living AS ENEMIES OF THE CROSS. They’re not saying that they’re ENEMIES OF THE CROSS, but they’re living like it. What does that mean?

THE CROSS OF CHRIST is the Judgment of this World and the Open Door to Heaven. ENEMIES OF THE CROSS live as if this world were never going to be judged, and as if the Door to Heaven can wait. The CROSS says about the whole world, "This Property is Condemned" and the Cross says, "This Way Out!" But if I want to keep my MIND SET ON EARTHLY THINGS, who wants to hear, “This Property is Condemned”? If all I really want is here – who cares about a way out? Who even wants to think about it? Think about it!

But you know people who don’t want to think about it because, as far as they can see, it just hurts to think about it. Isn’t it hard enough to be locked into a life that's going nowhere but DESTRUCTION while the walls close in: every day one day less, and no time to do, no room to be –while you and the world go gray together – isn’t that hard enough without hoping that there could be something more, when there’s no hope that I could get it? I mean, isn’t it hard enough to satisfy my own appetites, without trying to satisfy God? Isn’t it hard enough to keep up my own self-image, without wondering how I’m coming across to a Holy Judge?

Sometimes, isn’t it hard enough to have hope enough to just keep going on earth, without being haunted by a yearning … So what's the use of longing? Why make yourself ache? And anyway, who wants it? It's just clouds and harps and boredom and .... And then there were these two teenagers looking up and out with shining eyes, longing for HEAVEN. Why? They’d figured they'd learn to like it? No. V. 20] Their HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN. It’s where they belong.

How? Were they amazingly holy? Ask them; they didn’t think so and they were right. It wouldn’t have occurred to them to be PROUD of how much they served God. That really would be being PROUD OF THE VERY THINGS THEY OUGHT TO BE ASHAMED OF. No. They belong in Heaven because all the things they ever could have been ashamed of were nailed to CROSS OF CHRIST. They belong out there because God came in from the wide Outdoors after them, into this gray, little world, in one small human skin, the God who’s like singing lightning all in one tiny human nature – I tell you, His whole life was a countdown to His Ascension TO FILL THE UNIVERSE! But first, first – you know, He was offered all the world and all the glory of it and He said, “Are you serious? When I could have Peter? When I could have Audi and Liv?” First, He said, “Give Me that CROSS!”

The great, bright, gorgeous, living God of Heaven took our DESTRUCTION in His body, took the DESTRUCTION, and took it, till He was a small, grey, cold, dead thing. He took our DESTINY to give us His DESTINY, all the way up and out into the wide, bright, outdoors. Because of His CROSS, God is satisfied, and you come across to God as paid for and Heaven-ready.

Since you’ve been BAPTIZED into His cross, BAPTIZED into that Judgment, BAPTIZED into that Open Door, BY WATER AND THE SPIRIT through faith, BAPTIZED INTO HIS DEATH. And CHRIST IS RISEN! We’re BAPTIZED into that life; which means that life in us: that brightness, those colors, that shout – the life of the wide Outdoors inside us, sealed and waiting, like a firework. Beloved, we may be cardboard on the outside, but inside, it’s a countdown to a launch into ANOTHER COUNTRY, another life, a new world, where we belong now, TO WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIS NAME - HE GIVES THE RIGHT TO BE CHILDREN OF GOD, BORN AGAIN FROM HEAVEN. And if God's your Father now, where's your Home?

OUR HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN, and that explains so much about us. I mean, look: our Father loves us here and now, and Christ is WITH US ALWAYS TO THE END OF THE WORLD, so how come we’re still not satisfied? It’s because OUR HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN. Or why do things get to us so much? They didn’t used to, but now you look around you and you could just cry when you see what’s going on. Well, of course. You don’t belong here anymore. OUR HOMELAND'S IN HEAVEN. Or, look: our sins are forgiven, nailed to the CROSS, washed in the Water and the Blood and gone, so how come sinning hurts worse than it ever did before? Because we’ve had a taste of what it means to be well. OUR HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN, where everything’s straight and clear and sharp and fast, and love blows free as wind. You, child of God, you just want to run free in your own country. And every hard thing here makes us miss it, and every sweet thing here – "spacious skies and purple mountains’ majesty" – every sweet thing here makes you ache for more, till you can't go anywhere without the brightness calling you.

Not even to the fireworks. I watch all the hundreds of people there on their blankets, going, “Oh! Oh!” like little kids. Oh, Christians, we’ve got to love them; we’ve got to take them with us. And I look up at the fireworks and I watch the pyrotechnical display and I know why those teenagers had to think of HEAVEN. I mean the colors and the lights exploding at you louder and louder, till you ought to be afraid but you can't be. And then comes what has to be the finale - I mean, the sky’s alive and these huge fountains of fire shooting up from the ground - and it goes on and on and it isn’t the finale at all, because the finale’s still coming and my God, I'm Homesick!

I want where it's brighter and brighter and louder and louder and the color and the shouts and then comes the finale, and it's not the finale, cause here's another, and another, and another, past anything that I ever dreamed about and then comes the part where you ride the fireworks and then comes the part where you fly tumbling through the glory, and then comes the part where you realize that everything you've seen so far was only the hem of His robes and you lift your eyes and you see HIS FACE, and then comes the part where you go off like fireworks in the glory and the splendor and the love and know once and for all your HOMELAND IS IN HEAVEN, because your HOMELAND IS Him. Amen.

5 comments:

Stuart Floyd said...

If I had to give a few random thoughts on the subject

1) A corollary to your excellent observation on the gnostic view of heaven...

Our sinful flesh hates the thought of no sin. Sounds boring. No sex, no drunkenness, not even any gossiping. Now 76 virgins awaiting my every desire.. there is an image my sinful flesh can grasp ahold of and call my own.

2) The perpetuity of heaven is a big stumbling block. Living this side of modern, what excites and enthuses us is the next big thing. As soon as I get over my excitement at Windows 2000's release, I am ready for Windows 2001.

The forever aspect, doing the same thing continually, for the posterior-modern (avoiding the postmodern term and its unwanted baggage) is an unattractive aspect to heaven.

Anyway, great post. It is really something to think about, how we can battle superficial and blatantly false views of heaven.

Rick Ritchie said...

The boring clouds vision of heaven was killed for me by C.S. Lewis when I read The Last Battle. It's a good innoculation against what you're complaining about.

Josh Schneider said...

Stuart, great observation. I had thought about that too--no sex, drugs, or alcohol. Or is there alcohol? >>Isaiah 25:6 (ESV)
"On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. "
Though obviously there's no drunkenness ;)
And yes, I agree Stuart that we stumble at eternity. Seems so....endless ;)

Rick, I really love the Last Battle. It would have been my favorite of the Narnia series had it not been for the implications of some mild form of universalism, or whatever exactly it is. When the believer in Tash finds himself in heaven, even though he never believed in Aslan, because he was 'sincere', and if you are 'sincere', then you could only be worshipping Aslan, even if you thought you were worshipping Tash. The implications of this for Christianity are completely unacceptable if you translate the allegory. Other than that, I liked the book a lot. I think Voyage of the Dawn Treader has to be tops in my mind ;)

Rick Ritchie said...

I tend to agree with your problem with the Last Battle. Though I think the problem is legalism rather than universalism. Not everyone who worshipped Tash (or Aslan for that matter) makes it to Aslan's Country. It is those who follow the truth they know. This seems to run counter to free grace. I'm not so bothered if somehow all kinds of people get into heaven through some way I never saw when I read the New Testament. (Maybe I'm just a bad reader.) But I know it cannot be through the Law.

Josh Schneider said...

Well, whatever it is exactly, it is clear that salvation comes through Christ alone. Worship of a false god, however sincere or blind to the truth, cannot save. Ultimately we are limited to salvation through God's promised means of grace in Christ Jesus. Access to the Father cannot come apart from Christ (cf. Islam, Judaism).