I love Jesus, but if God is handing out spiritual report cards, I’m probably getting an F when it comes to getting excited about Heaven1.* The Apostle Paul—who tells us to imitate his faith—says, “I desire to depart and be with Christ” (Phil 1:23), but when I try to rev my enthusiasm for that place after death, my battery sputters.
Over the last five years at seminary, I had the chance to study the Bible as one big story, from the garden to the city. Revisiting the edges of God’s story gave me a new lens for understanding why I have a hard time getting excited about heaven. Here’s three of my top reasons:
1. Worship songs aren’t really my thing.
After three repetitions of the chorus from “10,000 Reasons” at church, I’m ready to call a time-out and connect with the maroon cushions, not stay on my feet for another four songs. I’ve never been a good stander. And despite my laser focus when it comes to reading and writing, singing turns my mind into seven-year-old with ADD. Music time at church deteriorates into twenty minutes of hand-slapping my brain back to attention.
Given my complicated relationship with “worship time” at church, I was glad to discover that singing is not the only way we’ll worship God in heaven. We’ll be feasting (Rev 19:9), ruling (Luke 19:11-17), and judging (1 Cor 6:3), and—given the reappearance of the Tree of Life from Genesis (Rev 22:2) and the kings who will bring their glory into the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:24-26)—it seem we’ll be engaged in redeemed forms of commerce, culture, and politics. Thankfully, an eternity of worship doesn’t mean Hillsong on repeat forever.
2. I like my body.
Granted, there are times I do not like my body—like the last four weeks when my iris staged an inflammatory revolt, painfully contracting against any shred of light. Despite the medical copays, photophobia, and having to wear a pirate-patch to work, I ended up loving my eyeballs all the more for the vision they provide.
If eternity with God means giving up my body, then I’ve earned my failing grade. Embodiment is one of God’s fundamental gifts. Not only does my materiality let me enjoy hiking in Colorado’s Spanish Peaks, getting a hug from my grandma, or hearing from God via scripture in black ink, in a real sense my body is me.
In making humans, God made bodies first and breathed life into them. I am just as much body as spirit, and can’t be fully me without either.
Thankfully, God doesn’t ask me to get excited about a bodiless eternity. I picked that idea up somewhere else. And while there may be a span of time before Jesus’ return when my body lies under the soil and my spirit takes haven with God in Heaven, the ultimate hope of the Bible is always Resurrection. I’ll get my body back, but upgraded. My new irises won’t ever inflame.
3. I like Planet Earth.
I love golden hour when the sun burns low on the horizon turning the world amber and warm. And a steaming cappuccino on a cold day. And the eight German Shepherd fur-balls down the road giving me puppy fever.
There are also many things I don’t love about this world. The racism of a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for my patient’s brother because he is black. The terror of an armed man killing four people in a Waffle House. The destruction of Hurricane Irma that wiped out much of Puerto Rico.
Like us, the Earth is branded by our sin. But despite the chaos our rebellion caused, God’s declaration of the goodness of his creation (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) still stands. He’s never completely thrown in the towel on this world.
Some verses do talk about God destroying the earth, but the broader context of scripture seems to indicate that God won’t annihilate the planet, but that by “destroy” these passages mean he will burn off the evil before renovating it. Think of how he “destroyed” the earth by flood in Noah’s days. Regardless of how Christians interpret these verses, though, God’s good news wasn’t ever just Heaven, it was the New Heaven and Earth—fit for resurrected humans and shaped for our enjoyment, flourishing, and fellowship with God.
God isn’t stingy when he paints his picture of the New Heaven and Earth. He fills in enough details to get our imaginations swirling, and invites us to leverage our joy for the present world to fuel our anticipation for the next one.
Probably if I loved Jesus as much as the Apostle Paul, I’d be more excited about Heaven too. But a good part of my failure to get enthused about the afterlife stems from a view of Heaven Jesus never offered: bodiless, earthless, and singing forever. Instead Jesus extends his hand, inviting me to dig resurrected toes into the warm soil of a New Earth.
* Seeing our relationship with God as a spiritual report card is, of course, heretical.
Originally Posted at ShannonGianotti.com
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