“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13, ESV)
As many of you know, in recent days, I have been working my way through Randy Alcorn’s excellent book, Heaven. Over all this book has been enormously helpful. His writing has shed abroad in my heart a warm, happy hope for the best of days ahead. None of us, I fear, spend enough time thinking about Heaven, and there are few things better for the soul than to correct this imbalance.
Alcorn’s treatment of the physicality of the New Heavens and the New Earth has been especially helpful. When Christ returns and the spirits of the Saints return to their bodies, and we live on earth again, we will experience life as it ought to have been lived. All of our deepest, our truest longings and desires will be satisfied. We experience these desires now, but in this fallen, sin-cursed world, they are always overshadowed by disappointment and frustration. The highs are never high enough, they never last long enough, and in their wake, they almost always leave a sense of anti-climax, a longing for more. Properly understood, this longing for more points us to heaven. In a sense, I suppose you might say, it is the voice of God, calling us home.
Think of these frustrated desires a little bit like the child’s instinct to play at grown up life. Children do that, don’t they? Boys pretend to be men, fighting battles, conquering enemies, exploring unknown continents, doing great things. But they are only playing.
Girls, in like manner, play at being grown up ladies. They steal their brother’s GI Joe to be Barbie’s husband. They love playing romance, dressing up as princesses, being rescued by Prince Charming, making beautiful things, and cooking dinner in plastic kitchens.
When we are children, we can’t imagine being without these games, bereft of our toys. We can’t imagine a world were we don’t play anymore— or at least don’t spend the best parts of our day playing. These games are indeed charming. Grown ups look on and smile. Through them, we see our little ones prepare for something else—something bigger, something better.
In time, we all grow up and exchange our toys for “real” life. As we do there is no doubt much discontinuity (thankfully our boys don’t spend their days as cowboys shooting “injuns” in the Wild West!), but it’s not all discontinuity. At the heart of each game there is a principle that survives—indeed it must. Boys must become heroes who conquer chaos, disorder, and darkness. They must protect the weaker members of society. They must stand for what’s right. Quite simply they must be men.
And our girls in turn must develop those womanly, nurturing virtues that turn a house into a home, that bring such warmth and beauty to our society. They must look to men for heroic leadership (Thankfully, on a normal Monday morning, this doesn’t mean slaying a fire breathing dragon. But it might mean the no less fearsome task of putting a disrespectful teenager in his or her place). They must use the safe space such leadership provides to create life and beauty in this world (c.f. Prov. 31).
Similarly, I think, in Heaven all that is good, beautiful, and true in this world will survive into the next— but in a way that is bigger and better. This won’t always mean continuity. In heaven, for example, there will be no marrying or giving in marriage. What that will mean for our sexuality as male and female human beings, I don’t pretend to know. But the essence of the thing will survive and, what’s more, be even better for the bits that don’t make it across “the great gulf fixed.”
If we do look back it will be with the fond recollection of a child remembering a long packed away Raggedy Ann Doll, or the way I can still see all my GI Joes in my minds eye— and what fun I had with them way back when!! But we’ll not regret having exchanged the shadow for the reality.
I have to confess, I often don’t have this perspective. I commonly find myself fretting, “How will it be heaven, if I don’t have my beloved Kate by my side— as my wife?” But then I remember, in heaven I will not lose her. I will gain her, the best parts of her, of me, of us will be there, only better. And not only her, but you, the Church, and all of the redeemed throughout the centuries will be there, larger than life. And best of all, Christ will be there in all of His glory. We will see him. And together in Him and with Him, we will live life as it God meant us to live it forever.
If you have time, Let me leave you with an extended quotation from Randy Alcorn. Few make this point better than he:
“In “The Last Battle” C.S. Lewis portrays the girl Lucy as she mourns the loss of Narnia, a great world created by Aslan, a beloved world that she assumed had been forever destroyed. Jewel, the unicorn mourns too, calling his beloved Narnia, “The only world I have ever known.”
“Although Lucy and her family and friends are on the threshold of Aslan’s country (Heaven), she still looks back at Narnia and feels profound loss. But as she gets deeper into Aslan’s country, she notices something totally unexpected. What happens next, I believe, reflects the biblical revelation of the New Earth:
“Those hills,” said Lucy, “the nice woody ones and the blue ones behind— aren’t they very like the southern boarder of Narnia.”
“Like!” cried Edmund after a moment’s silence, “Why they’re exactly like. Look, there’s Mount Pire with its forked head, and there’s the pass into Archenland and everything!”
“And yet they’re not like,” said Lucy. “They’re different. They have more colors on them and they look further away than I remembered and they’re more…more… oh, I don’t know…”
“More like the real thing, “ said the Lord Digory softly.
Suddenly Farsight the Eagle spread his wings, soared thirty or forty feet up into the air, circled round and then alighted on the ground.
“Kings and Queens,” he cried, “we have all been blind. We are only beginning to see where we are. From up there I have seen it all— Ettinsmuir, Beaversdam, the Great River, and Cair Paravel still shining on the edge of the Eastern Sea. Narnia is not dead. This is Narnia.”
““But how can it be?” said Peter. “For Aslan told us older ones that we should never return Narnia, and here we are.”
“Yes,” said Eustace. “And we saw it all destroyed and the sun put out.”
“And it’s all so different,” said Lucy.”
“The Eagle is right,” said the Lord Digory. “Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia, which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all of the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different, as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.”…
“The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flow and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there, you will know what I mean.”
It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore hoof on the ground and weighted and then cried:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it until now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this.””