Imagining Heaven

Have you ever tried to imagine what it will be like when Christ returns and all things are made new?  The Bible talks a lot about the fact that Christ will return and that all things will be made new, but it does not tell us a lot about how these things will take place.  All we get are tantalizing hints of the awesome transformation that is to come.

These hints are peculiar in a couple of ways.  First, they are highly symbolic.  The gospels imagine the consummated Kingdom as a feast; Revelation imagines it as a magnificent city.  But the fact that these images (and others from Isaiah, Paul, and elsewhere) differ from one another indicates that they are only analogies, figures of speech used to communicate some aspect of what is to come.  

Second, the hints we get from Scripture come in the form of snapshots.  They show no temporal depth; they display no movement in time.  It could be argued that this is because time will have no meaning there, but the lack of a temporal dimension means that we (in our current experience of time) cannot detect any motion on the part of the characters in Scripture’s portraits of the end.

I think that the symbolic and atemporal nature of the images we find in Scripture means that they are designed to spark our imaginations.  I think that we are supposed to fantasize about what could be.  That is what C. S. Lewis does in The Last Battle.  It is (among other things) what Cindy Morgan does in “I Will Be Free.”  Sure, if we dare to dream about the future, we will get some things wrong.  But we will also discover some things about what God is doing in Christ, and we will find new and powerful resources for living as God’s agents in the world we inhabit now.

With these considerations in mind, I want to share with you some of the things that I imagine when I think about God’s remaking of the world.  My dreams are not nearly so profound as Lewis’s, but I hope that they will spark you to engage your own imagination, guided by Scripture and the Spirit.  Please share your insights with us in the “Comments” section below.  

And now, let’s take a trip into our shared future.

* * *

        In my mind’s eye, I see myself standing in the middle of a great square.  My eyes are closed, but I can feel a warm light and a cool breeze on my face.  Joyful music fills the air.

        Suddenly, a red-haired girl of about eight comes bounding up to me.  “Come dance with me!” she says.

        “I can’t dance, Chloe,” I say.

        “I’ll teach you!” she responds with enthusiasm.

        Together we twirl and spin, with Chloe in the lead.  No trace can be found of the heartache she suffered in ninth-century Ireland; no evidence can be seen of the cruel disease that took her life.  Instead, giggles and grins tell the story of her Savior’s love—and bring joy to everyone she meets.

        Off to one side, my beloved sits watching the comical scene.  She is talking to a member of the band that is providing the soundtrack for our playful romp.  But in a surprising turn of events—one that is replicated all over the heavenly city—he is not what you would expect.  The drummer for this Celtic band is a tall, regal-looking black man.  As my beloved listens to him, she learns that he is one of the first converts to Christianity in southern Africa.  He tells her of his joy upon hearing the Good News, and he tells her of his hardships as a follower of Jesus.

        “I am so sorry,” she responds with empathy.  “I am sure that it was more difficult than I can imagine.  But I am so glad that you remained faithful.”

        “Jesus helped me,” he replied with a grin.  “It didn’t seem hard at the time, but now I know that the Spirit was strengthening me.”

        “Hey, we are having a feast with some of our old family and friends in a little while.  Would you join us and share with us your story?”

        “I would be delighted to do so.”

        In another part of the city, a preteen boy of south Asian descent wanders through the streets.  His eyes are full of wonder as he surveys the magnificent structures around him, but behind the wonder there is a deep sense of loss.  His entire family had been swept away in a flood, and he was the only believer among them.

        Before long, he arrives at a huge park near the city’s center.  Hundreds, maybe thousands, of people are there.  And one of them is Jesus.  As soon as the Lord sees the boy, he calls out to him.

        “Atok, come over here!”

        Atok runs to him with joy.

        “Are you enjoying your tour of the city?” the Lord asks.

        “Yes, it is magnificent—more splendid than I could have ever imagined!” the boy exclaims.

        “But there is something missing, isn’t there?” the Lord notes observantly.

        “Well . . . yes, I guess so.  I have met so many wonderful people, and everyone has been so kind.  But I do not have anyone to call my own.  I know that everyone here is part of my family now, but who can I count on to be there for me as I grow up?  Who will show me how to become a man?  I want to be a good one, you know.  I want to be like you.  But who will help me?”

        Immediately, the Lord turned towards the people in the park and said in a loud voice, “Who will take on the responsibility of helping this young brother of ours grow into a man?  He has no biological family in the city, so we must be his family.”

        All of a sudden, fifty men of different races and from different times came running from the crowd, all of them rushing forward to volunteer.  “You see, Atok, you are not alone,” the Lord reassured him.  For his part, Atok’s heart was filled with a warmth that he had never experienced, especially when he noticed all the women who were also coming forward to make sure that he would have a mother’s love.  He looked at the Lord with even more wonder in his eyes, but no words were necessary.  The Lord already knew.

        Also near the center of the city, a couple walks up a grand flight of stairs.  On earth they were husband and wife; here, no words currently available to me can adequately describe their relationship.  Their hearts are knit together by an unbreakable love—and by a shared grief.

        On this day, they have been invited to see the Father.  He has something for them—something that they have hoped for throughout most of their adult lives.

        “Come, come, my children!” the Father’s voice booms with enthusiasm.  “There is someone who would like to meet you!”

        As the couple reaches the top of the stairs, they are met by an angel.  In the angel’s arms is a baby—their baby.  The little girl who died before she could be born is whole, and she is now in the arms of those who loved her more than anyone except God himself.

        “Alisha, Cedric, I know that this has been a long time in coming,” the Father says as the couple weeps over their child, “but she is here and she is yours.  I know that you will give her all the love that you have, and I hope that you will bring her to see me often.  I am rather fond of her.”

        “Absolutely!  Thank you!” they both exclaim through their tears.  They don’t know what else to say.  They want to tell the Father how much this means to them; they want to make Him understand the depth of the healing that He has wrought.  But no words will come, only tears.

        “One more thing,” the Father says cheerfully after a few moments.  “So many babies died before they were born, and many of them do not have parents here to take them home.  Would you be willing to raise one of these precious little ones as your own?”

        Of course, the Father knows the answer to the question before He asks it, but for Alisha and Cedric, it was a bolt out of the blue.  “I . . . I don’t know what to say,” Alisha stammers.  “We . . . we cannot believe that You would entrust us with such a wonderful task.”

        “Believe it, my children.  You have been so faithful, and you have so much love to give.”

        “Well, then, it looks like we’ll be taking home two babies!” Cedric shouts with unbridled joy as an angel places a baby boy in his arms.  “What is his name?”

        “That will be for you to decide,” the Father says with a smile.

        In another part of the city, a man from nineteenth-century Georgia is walking down the street.  He is humming an old church song and thinking about his garden when something stops him in his tracks.  All the sudden, this mountain of a man begins to wail.

        “James, is that you?”

        “Yes, Mr. Cole,” a short, black figure at the other end of the block responds.

        “I knew this day would come!” Mr. Cole wails even more loudly.  “I am a sinner, James.  I did you wrong!  I am so sorry!”

        With a compassion that belies the deep hurt he experienced at the hands of his one-time master, James moves to where Mr. Cole stands wailing and convulsing.  “Now, Mr. Cole, you know that the Lord has forgiven you for your sins.  There is no need to carry on like this.”

        “But can you forgive me, James?”

        “Let’s step over here and talk about it,” James says softly as hads led Mr. Cole to a nearby bench.  “Believe it or not, you and I are brothers in the Lord.  That means that we can work this thing out.  Yes, I can forgive you, and, yes, you can move forward—fully recognizing the gravity of your sin but without shame.  I know what it is like to live in shame, Mr. Cole, and I don’t want anyone to live that way.”

        “Your shame on earth is your honor here,” Mr. Cole mutters as he begins to pull himself together.  “I am the one who caused your earthly shame,” and he begins to catalogue all the ways that he had wronged his former slave.  It is a little painful for James to hear these stories from his past retold, but he knows that Mr. Cole needs to confess his wrongdoing in detail before he can really feel forgiven.

        When Mr. Cole has shared all that is on his heart, James begins to speak.  “It is true, Mr. Cole, that these things hurt me.  The worst thing is that they almost turned me from the faith.  But they didn’t, and I am here now to tell you that you are forgiven.  You wounded me, but Jesus healed me.  And there is no better physician than he.”

        “Amen to that!” exclaims the old farmer.

        “Hey, several of us are about to gather for a time of worship.  I was just heading there now when I saw you.  Why don’t you join us?”

        “I would be honored to do so.  Perhaps the others will allow me to share with them what I have shared with you.”

“I think that they would appreciate that.”

        The two man stand up and embrace one another, and as they walk along together, Mr. Cole marvels at all that has taken place.  “I finally understand the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ that the great apostle talks about,” he thinks to himself.

Published: Nov 22, 2016


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