Ask most Christians of their idea of heaven and you will typically hear something about pearly gates, streets of gold, reuniting with loved ones, and singing praises before God’s throne. So the essential picture is something like this: Heaven is one loooong church service in a place that is beautiful, even ornate, but rather cold and austere. We are mindlessly singing songs, while secretly looking forward to snatching a couple moments to talk with mom during the breaks. We don’t really do anything (heaven is, after all, a place of rest, isn’t it?), so we just exist for all eternity dreadfully bored by the monotony of singing the same worn out hymns and praise songs. But at least it’s not the alternative.
What if our picture is all wrong? What if we have swallowed a cheap imitation served up by silly songs, verses wrenched out of context, and an incomplete understanding of our God?
What if God’s eternity is located in a lush, verdant creation unsullied by the effects of sin? What if you got to explore a new material universe, learning more and ever more of God’s creative abilities, and in so doing, more of Him? What would you do and how would you live if you could let down your guard against yourself? What if you could spend all eternity pursuing your most fervent desires without your own sin weaknesses warping them into something wicked? What if these comprise major elements of eternally worshiping our sovereign Father? Is this too good to be true? Surely the Bible doesn’t teach this. Or does it?
As we look more carefully at the Scriptures, it becomes clear that there is a direct continuity between the present creation and the New Heavens and New Earth. God will purge away sin and all its effects, but the New Creation will be made of the same material as this current universe (2 Peter 3). But God doesn’t just deal with the negative and return creation to some moral tipping point. In His renovated creation righteousness will dwell supremely, permanently, and without any rivals (2 Peter 3.13).
Now just this one facet in the jewel of eternity deserves some contemplation. If God purges away all effects of sin, what does that mean? With no apologies to John Lennon, imagine a world that has no sickness, or injury, or death, so there are no hospitals, dentists, nor cemeteries. No need to fear assault, rape, or theft, so there are no police, armies, or lawyers. On New Earth the only sirens will be at hockey games!
How would things change if righteousness dwelt as an unrivaled virtue? Imagine being completely free to pursue all of your righteous desires with unfettered abandon. Imagine fervently loving God with all your heart and soul and strength and mind without being tripped up by sin, ever. Imagine always learning more and more of God and His creation, and in that growth, your love for and delight in God grows and deepens and flourishes. Imagine that growth continuing forever.
Peter tells us repeatedly that we are to be looking forward to this time. Our future home ought to be a regular source of meditation, and if we do contemplate these things it will change how we live now. That change is our next conversation.
In the meantime, stop to consider how much we have become used to sin and its effects on our lives. What will change? What else will be our “new normal” in eternity?
This is certain: for the foundation of the saints’ love to each other will be their love to the image of God which they see in them. Now most certainly the holier a man is, the more he loves the same degree of the image, so that the holiest in heaven will love that image of God they see in the least holy more than those do that are less holy, and that which makes it beyond any doubt that this superior happiness will be no damp to them is this: that their superior happiness consists in their great humility, and in their greater love to them, and to God, and Christ, whom the saints look upon as themselves. — Jonathan Edwards