Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Heaven

My husband is teaching a weekly Bible study, examining Randy Alcorn's book "Heaven," and passages of Scripture on this topic. Heaven is a subject both he and I have been acutely interested in for several years; we've realized that God's Word has quite a lot to say about what our afterlife will be like. Many Christians don't look into this subject. They don't read the Scripture much that deals with heaven, and when they do, they spiritualize it to such a degree that it has little relevancy to them now.

When you think of heaven, what does it look like? Have you gotten past the horrible view of it as a blank white place, where disembodied Christians float for eternity, playing harps and singing? What do you think you'll do, FOR ETERNITY? Some Christians don't like to think about it. "I'll leave it up to God," they say. "Whatever he has planned is better than what I could imagine, so why imagine?" they ask.

But we aren't asked to imagine. We're told to study God's Word, which tells us about heaven. When you read the final chapters of Isaiah, or Ezekiel, or Revelation 22, do you see heaven as a place with soil, and trees, and water, and cities, and culture? When Jesus tells his disciples that he'll drink and eat in heaven, how physical is that food and drink, in your mind?

This Bible study has been interesting to me, and taken my study of heaven (or as I prefer to call it, the New Earth) to a new level. I used to secretly dread heaven, even fear it. As a matter of fact, I think many Christians fear death because they secretly fear heaven. Who wants to float around in a totally unfamiliar state, doing unfamiliar things, for eternity? Studying God's descriptions of heaven really helps alleviate those fears. I've learned the New Earth is EARTH, this earth, with soil and plants and rivers and a beautiful city. It's familiar. And I felt rather sorry for those who hadn't yet understood the beauty and comfort of this familiar place, custom made for humans -- "I go to prepare a place for you."

But this week, the study brought out something new. We humans are made body and soul, and the New Earth being made for us is a physical place, designed for our bodies. (I think we've all thought of its spiritual qualities; it's the physical ones we've neglected.) The blessing of LAND that is ours eternally is a fulfilling of the promises given by God to Abraham and to His people in history. LAND was always a crucial part of the covenant agreement. God gives Himself, He gives land, and He gives posterity, a community of believers. Gen. 17:7 shows this -- God says, "And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you, and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings ... for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."

This promise of land reaches its culmination in the New Earth, when the entire earth is given to God's people for their permanent possession. The New Earth that He gives us is no place for disembodied, floating spirits.

As a matter of fact, when you examine the promise of land, you come across some interesting ideas. Listen to Prov. 2:22. "For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the treacherous will be uprooted from it." Or Prov. 10:30. "The righteous will never be shaken (lit. uprooted), but the wicked will not dwell in the land."

The land, again. And if you're a reader of Proverbs, how many times do you find some variation of "the wicked will not possess the land"?

And, if the New Earth is the ultimate fulfillment of land-possession for the saved, what is the ultimate penalty for the wicked? Yes, removal from the land.

So. In the afterlife, which place is a land-less space, inhabited by those whose bodies are eternally destroyed, consigned to be in a dispossessed state for eternity? Hell is.

And, here's the kicker. When we Christians assign these hellish qualities to God's heaven, what kind of offense do we commit? Oh my! We ought to be very careful about how we think of His heaven, and His new earth. We are certainly not pious when we give it only "spiritual" qualities. When we rip God's promise of land from His new earth, we give it hellish qualities, and we call him a liar. Literally, we take his name in vain.

Just thoughts, and fairly new ones. But I'd encourage you to ruminate on these things, and examine the Bible. I think if we get heaven wrong, we commit a grievous sin.

1 comment:

  1. I was just reading Gen 15 and 16 tonight and wondering why the offspring promise is easier for Abram to believe and the subsequent land promise is the one he asks for confirmation of and God seals with cutting the covenant. It seemed backwards, since the promise of the son is ultimately fulfilled in Christ, surely more significant than the land of Canaan. Yet if the promise of the land has a heavenly fulfillment, that gives it a much deeper importance than I thought. Hmm. Must meditate further.

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