Have you ever contemplated what heaven is like? Have you wondered if there really will be streets made of actual gold, or if we’ll be able to telepathically communicate? Do you envision being issued a harp and then allotted a cloud where you’ll spend eternity floating around strumming on the strings while a halo glows over your angelic head?
Unfortunately (but, maybe fortunately), the Bible devotes relatively few verses to the details of the “home” that Christians await. We do know there will be no tears, “and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, no pain anymore…” (Revelation 21:4); and there will be a river and tree of life (Rev 22:1-2), feasting (Rev 19:9), and the presence of those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). We know that there will be a “new heaven and new earth” (2 Peter 3:13) that God’s throne will be there in heaven (Daniel 7:9).
“That’s all great, but what will we do for all eternity? Play a harp? Sing in a massive choir?” I’ve heard those questions before. I’ve asked them myself. I’ve joined in conversations where we spoke longingly of all the wonders and blessings of a place without anything evil or hurtful and where we are safe from the fire of Hell. I’ve contributed to speculation on what we’ll get to do in heaven, which family members and friends (and pets) will be waiting there, and what hobbies we enjoy now we’ll still be able to do once we enter the pearly gates.
We’re now four paragraphs into a discussion of heaven. Is there anything you’ve noticed missing? We’ve considered the “where” and the “what” of heaven, yes, but what about the most neglected, yet undisputedly most important, aspect of heaven – the “Who”?
It’s not uncommon for people to focus so much on the “where,” “what” and “how” of heaven that the “Who” of heaven is barely given a thought. This is most tragic because the presence of the Who – the Triune God – is the only reason heaven is heaven! “I just can’t wait to be home!” is not at all a bad desire to express, but we need to finish the thought with why it is we want to be “home.”
Throughout more than 17 years in the military I have lived in no fewer than 14 “homes” in a dozen different states and countries. Yet, when I think of “home” I think not of any of the structures in which I have lived nor of the things that were in them – the where and the what. Nor do I consider where I grew up as “home” even though that “where” holds a special place in my memory and can be brought to the forefront of my mind with a sight, scent or sound that jars loose a pleasant recollection. Rather, when I think of “home,” I think of “who” – my wife and children. It’s always been the “who” that makes a home “home.” Likewise, heaven is not a place we’ve been where resurrected memories stir within us nostalgic longings, nor is it a place where we can truly envision with certainty what it will look like and what we’ll do as if there were a website or brochure to ground our imagination in reality.
Pastor John Piper asks in his book God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself, “The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?”
Anyone who answers the above question in the affirmative is probably not currently headed there since heaven is all about the “Who.” Interestingly enough, our lives here are also not about comfort, pleasure and living “our best life now.” Even this side of heaven everything we are and do is all about the “Who” of heaven. Paul the Apostle says in Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.” Therefore, it’s not too early to “set our minds on things above,” as Paul says later in Colossians chapter three, and learn to know and love the “Who” of heaven now so that we long for our eternal home even more since there we know we will “always be with” the “Who” of our heavenly home.