Someone dear to me died a few years ago, and as I stood by the graveside I wondered where he might be, what he might be doing. Was he watching me as my heart ached? Could he be happy, removed from the world he once knew and yet unable to communicate with it?
So I spoke to an old man who had been a Bible teacher for many years and since I had the impression that the Bible was silent on the subject, I thought he might know more about it than I did. I asked him: What does the Bible say about heaven?
‘The Bible tells us all we need to know about heaven,’ he assured me, and he gave me a recording of a series of lectures he had prepared on the subject. So I hurried home, unearthed my tape recorder, and listened with bated breath.
And the old man was right. He read from the Book of the Revelation: ‘The city is as long as it is wide as it is high, about 1500 miles cubed with walls of jasper two hundred feet thick. It was of pure gold, as pure as glass. The foundations of its walls are decorated with every kind of precious stone. There are 12 foundations, each of semi-precious stones; amethyst, beryl, topaz, jacinth... and there are 12 gates, each made of a single pearl and the Great Street of the city is of pure gold, like transparent glass.’
Yes, there’s lots of information there, but he didn’t address the pain in my heart, for I was less interested in the architecture of the place than I was about its people.
And so I remain convinced that if heaven is all about spacious design, gold, pearls and precious stones then its inhabitants will quickly become bored.
Western capitalism has taught us nothing if we haven’t learned that gold and jewels can never satisfy the human heart.
So what is heaven like? You could say that if God wanted us to know he would have told us, and he didn’t. Or did he?
There are those who believe that when God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, that was to be their eternal home, and we all know they messed up and were unceremoniously evicted, but there’s a clue to my quest in there. In the Garden, all was perfect harmony, and God met with them every day. They walked and talked in the cool of the evening.
But there’s one thing Eden had in common with heaven as described in the Book of the Revelation. There was something significant missing from both.
John describes what he saw in heaven (the size of the place, the gemstones, the gold, the 12 gates of pearl, the Great Street of purest gold), but then he adds this; ‘... and I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.’
What about that then? No churches in heaven? No religion! In Eden, as in the city in John’s vision there’s no need for a system to teach us how to be God’s family, there’s no need for instruction about how to worship him, because we will walk with him in the cool of the evening.
Isn’t that a wonderful picture of heaven? And here’s the real treat: it’s not pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die, it can be in the here and now. We can have days of heaven on earth, not because of religion, but in spite of it.