In a recent theology class on heaven, hell, and the last things, I asked the group a simple question. (This is a group of Christians, mainly people who have been trusting Jesus for quite some time). The question was this: “Are you excited about going to heaven?” After all, studying such a rich topic as our eternal future with Jesus should not be something dry where we just learn some new facts. Knowing facts like the practical outcome of Jesus’ love for his people should fill us with joy and excitement, not just help us win the next Christian-themed quiz night.
The answer was quick and loud: “of course we are!” No Christian wants to admit that heaven doesn’t interest them. We know that ‘yes’ is the right answer to the question and we instinctively want to say it. But when we dug a little deeper we found that our ‘yes’ on this question is not always so honest; heaven is not really that prominent in our thinking.
After all, if you are excited about something, how would you know? I imagine you’d think about it a lot, and talk about it to anyone who would listen. You would read up on it, maybe sing about it, and maybe dream about it in idle moments. On that kind of definition, it is difficult to find a modern Western Christian who is all that excited about the prospect of heaven.
But we should be excited about heaven!
Really, most Christians know in their minds that heaven is a good place to be. It is described in various places as a wedding banquet, a glorious city, a place of rest, and entering into your master’s happiness. It is where believers get to be with God forever under the kingship of Jesus. It is a place of no sin, mourning, pain or suffering. All of these are surely good things.
Maybe we get distracted by the cream cheese adverts with people in white robes playing harps on clouds. Even if you like harp music, and even if white is your colour, this doesn’t seem to us to be that exciting. But the Biblical picture of heaven is bigger and better than this. It has perfect community with people saved from all nations gathering together. It includes work and glorifying God with no limitations.
Why are we not that excited in reality?
This might differ from person to person, but there are a few reasons why heaven doesn’t grip Christians as it should:
- The uncertainty as to what it will actually be like. The Biblical descriptions of heaven are often in parables or figurative language to get across something that is too wonderful for us to understand right now. So, if we try to pin down definite descriptions of what life in heaven will be like and how we will experience it, we find out we don’t have all the answers. It can be hard to just trust that it will be so good as we can’t accurately know what the experience will be like.
- Our natural focus on what we have now. All of us have things that capture our attention and excite us now. We are excited when the latest gadget comes out, or we buy a new house, or our favourite band is touring. We talk about the latest football match more than we do heaven. And honesty, life in the modern Western world is generally quite comfortable so we don’t look forward to something radically better. We just content ourselves with small improvements to what we already have.
- The lack of excitement too often about Christian things in general. If a great joy of heaven is communion with God, then prayer now gives us a taste of that. If another great joy of heaven is the community of the saved, then church now gives us a taste of that. But prayer and church so easily become a chore and not a joy, things that get in the way of what we want to do instead of things that we look forward to and are excited about.
How can we foster excitement about what is coming later?
We should focus more on, and talk more about, who Jesus is and what he has already done for us. If we are excited about Jesus now, that will lead us to pray and spend time and effort on our church family. Cultivating discussions about Christian things and trying not to obsess about the things of this world will turn our thinking heavenward more often. Yes, there are things we don’t know, but we trust that what God tells us is true and the reality will be better than we could ever imagine.
Come, Lord Jesus. And make us excited about the fact that you are coming soon.