For multiple millennia many men have done much mental maneuvering trying to meditate on the meaning of heaven. Others have been content to allow the question to answer itself on the Great Day when we shall be caught up in the heavenlies with Christ Himself and shall know even as we are known.
Perhaps the most common version of what heaven is going to be like is the one propagated (like so many of our cultural myths) by TV, movies, and the entertainment industry in general. This version, sort of the official version, goes something like this: We will know everything in heaven, and so, of course, we’ll be bored out of our ever-living skulls with nothing to amuse ourselves except twittering among the clouds like Peter Pan attached to ethereal wires. We’ll be like the angels in heaven, complete with white robes that billow like Marilyn Monroe’s skirt in The Seven Year Itch,and golden harps upon which we pluck sultry tunes. Everything in heaven, of course, will be gold, which will create the problems of boredom and of confusing golden oranges with golden tennis balls and golden snowballs.
This is as far as the vision goes, and if this were all there was one might well ask the question “So what’s the big deal? Disneyworld was tons better.” (Actually, my experience at Disneyworld was more like the other place, but that’s a different story.) If this were all, I’m not so sure I myself would do much thinking about heaven.
But this is not all. In fact, not only is this not all, it’s not anything like what I think heaven will be like.
Though it may not seem like it, St. Paul is teaching us something about heaven in 1 Corinthians 15:35-49. Here, he contrasts what now is with what shall be, the man of dust and the heavenly man, the terrestrial glory with the celestial glory, and the natural body with the spiritual body.
What we shall be in heaven is best answered by answering the question of what Christ now is in heaven. Does He spend His days fluttering as a disembodied spirit, pandering to the every whim of the wind and planning what to do with the infinite remaining days of eternity, now that he bowls a perfect 300 in every game and hits a hole in one on every round? I didn’t think so.
Continuing his teaching on the Resurrection, Christ’s and then ours, Paul’s teaching about the nature of our bodies seems to hold 2 truths together: continuity and discontinuity. On the one hand, in heaven we will have a body such as we have here on earth. It will be corporeal in nature, fully equipped with 5 hi-tech senses, united to our souls, and able to do the “normal” human things our body does now, such as talk and eat (and if you’re my kids, then talking and eating at the same time.) On the other hand, this body will be immortal and will be in harmony with its soul because it’s in harmony with the Maker of both body and soul. It will be capable of more than we imagine.
In a similar way, heaven will be a whole lot like earth.
We sometimes get the impression that Christ must be bored up in heaven too. After all, it would be hard to beat the action down here on earth, what with the raising of the dead and the calming of the elements and the whooping it up with the sinners, not to mention that hectic last week of his life. But Christ is very busy serving us in heaven as He served us on earth. Not only is He ministering to us as our High Priest, but he is also preparing us for heaven. Being a man who enjoyed all the things we do and more, He knows how to throw a party. He had plenty of practice on earth, and the main point of the celebration, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, hadn’t even taken place then. Whatever heaven is, it is a party of intimate fellowship and joy in the presence of our Host who serves the most heavenly food: Himself.
St. Ambrose says that “The second man from heaven, the resurrected, heavenly man, lives amid beasts, swims with fish, flies above the birds, talks with angels, dwells on earth, does battle in heaven, ploughs the sea, feeds in the air, is a tiller of the soil, a traveler on the deep, a fisher in streams, a fowler in the air, an heir of heaven, a joint heir with Christ.”
In heaven, I don’t think we’ll see the Father, who no man can see. Or, more accurately, we’ll see Him through the Son, who we will see. He is the image of the invisible God, the radiance of God’s glory, and the exact representation of His being. We will see God. If Jesus is localized in space, having a human body, how shall we all see Him at the same time? Will He float miles above us and be celestially magnified so we all can see Him? Or is it possible that we will see Him in each other, because we will be re-made in His image (verse 49) and so perfectly reflect who He is to each other that we see Him in us, His Body?
But all of this is beginning to sound like earth again. And here is what most excites me because it connects heaven with earth. Though I long for heaven and see it as my home, I see heaven in earth because I see God incarnated into man. I already see Jesus Christ, though I’ve never seen Him. I see Him in His Word, and I taste and see that He is good in His Supper. Most of all, I see Him in you, the members of the Body of Christ. And though this Body called the Church, like our physical bodies, is still subject to sin and corruption, it is also immortal for we have been made partakers of the divine, even on earth.
I want the fullness of heaven now but I’ll gladly take as much of it as God permits me on earth. In the meantime, to remind ourselves of the reality of heaven there are things we can do while here on earth. We can think of the Big Screen that Jack Chick envisions in those little tracts you find left behind sometimes in airports and public toilets. You remember the Big Screen, don’t you? It’s in Chick’s tract “This Was Your Life” where everything we have ever done on earth will be shown in a 3-D film in heaven before men and angels and a faceless God on His throne. And when we think of the Big Screen while still here on earth, we can do what I and my brothers sometimes do, which is to gaze up at the sky or ceiling, look directly into the invisible camera that records our every event, and wave frantically. Then, when the film version of our lives is shown on the Big Screen, we’ll see us waving to ourselves.
We can also realize that earth is very much like heaven, and we can treat it as a training ground for the eternal responsibilities we will assume in heaven. We can understand by faith that if God can dwell with us sinful humans here on earth that His presence in us will be much greater and more delightful in heaven. In the Church, especially, which is the heavenly Jerusalem to which we have come, we see what God has in store for us, even if we see through a glass darkly.
Most of all, we can rejoice and give thanks in the presence of the Resurrected Lord who is already with us and who has promised us a resurrection and a home in heaven of our own.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, who, with the Son and the Holy Spirit, is Heaven Yourself: I thank You that You have sent heaven to earth in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Increase my faith in You and in Your eternal promises of the blessed Resurrection for those who put their trust in You. Give Yourself to me in increasing measure so that even here on earth I may know the joys of Your presence and be better equipped to serve You both in heaven and on earth. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
1. Spend some time in God’s creation, delighting in God’s earth. Use this joy and delight to better gauge the joys and delights of heaven.
2. Remember your infirmities in this life, and then remember that in heaven they will all be healed by God. Give thanks for this.
Resolution: I resolve to spend some time today praising and thanking God for the Resurrection and Heaven. Singing hymns would be a good idea, especially with some other saints.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson