What does the word home mean to you? Some might say "home is where the heart is". Or as one grungy old Marine whom I had the pleasure of serving with once growled to a group of us impressionable young bucks, "Home is where ya take yer boots off!" There are many positive connotations associated with this warm and fuzzy word but how many of us are in the mindset of referring to heaven as our home? If someone were to ask you if you believed heaven was for real what would you say and how would you describe it to them?
These questions sparked a wonderful and interesting discussion with my new friend and co-worker "Bob" yesterday about heaven and what we believe. How in the world did a "religious" conversation come about at work and especially in a government office setting you say? Well, I'm glad you asked. You know those fancy little quotes people put at the end of their email signature line? You've probably seen them before and never really gave them much thought. Well neither did I, that was until yesterday when I happened to scroll down and see the following quote written at the bottom of Bob's email. It read,"We're all just walking each other home".What a really interesting quote I thought to myself! So much so that I couldn't resist but to ask Bob "where's home"?
What I didn't realize at the moment was that God had suddenly flung the door wide open to a wonderful discussion about what each of us believe heaven to be. What also made this conversation special was that unlike most discussions about religion nowadays we were able to share our beliefs with one another and without any sort disparaging remarks. We also discovered a shared upbringing in the Catholic faith as well which helped to establish some common ground for our discussion.
By now you may be reading this and wondering what I believe heaven to be like. Well, I'm glad you asked! As a disclaimer first let me start by saying that there is so much about heaven that I don't know that I would like to know and yet will not fully know until I am called home. But in the meantime I am confident that all of our questions will be answered upon our arrival. So, all that aside let me say that no one has ever really asked me what I believe heaven to be. However, I believe our initial experience of heaven once we get there will be inexplicable joy which can be best described by the words found in Isaiah 35:10. Listen to this as the prophet describes the joy of the redeemed:
"They will enter Zion with
everlasting joy will crown
Gladness and joy will overtake
and sorrow and sighing will
Could you imagine? That no matter all of our struggles, all of the pain and suffering we endure here on earth through tax season after tax season that in a flash we will be so overtaken with gladness upon entering the Kingdom of Heaven we will know at that very moment it was certainly worth it all!
I believe heaven to be a place where we are reunited with our first love Jesus Christ who at that time will wipe away every tear, erase every uncertainty, and replace every fear with His unending love. I have a saying that I've adopted from a devotional with the same title I once read in Our Daily Bread called: "Now is not forever". Whenever I am down in the dumps or have experienced the painful loss of a loved one I remember that one day there will be no more struggle, no more death, no hurt or pain for all these things will have passed away (Rev. 21:4). Also, as we enter into His kingdom, Christ along with the wonderful cloud of witnesses who have gone before us will surround us and welcome us back home; 2 legged and 4 legged loved ones included (if there is any scripture that refutes my 4 legged friends theory please break it to me gently). Heaven is also a wonderful home where our old worn out bodies will be replaced with newer and more glorious ones (Philippians 3:21). No more bad back, or arthritic knees, or painful gout! It's all gone! Bodies this time that will be made to last, run farther, and jump higher than ever before.
With a belief in heaven there has to be a belief in hell also. Hell is just as real and is a place where those who choose to reject God's Son will experience eternal separation from God and unimaginable pain, suffering, and profound sadness for all eternity. Unlike heaven, there will be no relief nor any rest (Matthew 8:12). Let's pause here for a second because I know that the concept of a loving God allowing a loved one or a friend to go to hell is not politically correct these days but rather offensive to some. So that we may better understand the damaging effects of our own free will when choices are made that willingly castoff God's love from us allow me to illustrate this point by bringing it more into focus through the use of a parable.
"A young man was crossing a busy intersection one day on his way home when suddenly a city transit bus came barreling down the avenue straight towards him. The young man, totally unaware that his life was in grave danger could not hear the roaring engine of the oncoming articulated bus because his ears were plugged into his iPod otherwise he would have been instantly alerted. The man could not see the large caterpillar shaped transit vehicle aiming for the right side of his body because his eyes were affixed to his Facebook status otherwise he might have witnessed the dangerous circumstance he was in. Oblivious because of the many distractions the young man's heart and mind were preoccupied and far removed from the present tense otherwise he would have been made more aware of his current surroundings. Suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere there came another man, a righteous one who quickly sprang into action on his own initiative, tackling the younger man rather abruptly and taking him off guard. The man was able to push the distracted young man out of the destructive path of the oncoming bus. He had rescued the younger one from certain death for sure, but not before sustaining severe life threatening injuries to himself only to collapse seconds later and die on the very same spot where the younger man had once stood. The younger man became upset and not because the man who had selflessly given up his life for another had died which would have seemed a more reasonable response to most people, but because he did not understand what had just taken place. Instead the younger man, in an act of sheer ignorance snubbed the man's sacrifice for disrupting his day and went on to the local courthouse where he felt himself justified to sue the city's transit authority for their reckless endangering of his life."
Now, some might say this parable is preposterous and still doesn't prove anything. Well, let me close this statement out by saying this: of all that God went through in sending His Son to be a once for all sacrifice for all mankind to provide us with new life, a clean slate, a shove if you will out of the path of death, what shall we say is offensive? Is it the loving actions of a just and Holy God whose patience with us means salvation (2 Peter 3:15)? Or is it the young man's attitude and his response towards the one who spared his life (Proverbs 14:12)? Knowing what little I do I can say that in reading the Bible it grieves the Lord's heart tremendously when we choose to reject His precious gift primarily because God so loved the world that He gave us His only Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Lastly, I believe heaven to be a place where we will have the absolute fullness of life; life so real and genuine, active, and vigorous; life to the full as Jesus Himself declared it in John 10:10! A life fully devoted to God in unbroken fellowship with Him and blessed for all eternity. Something this life here on earth can never fully satisfy but at times may only offer a tiny glimpse of the hope that is to come.
Today was a great day in that Bob and I got to share our beliefs and to have done so in a manner that builds upon that belief in truth rather than simply crushing it out of ignorance. Unfortunately it's not every day I get to speak with those who are interested in walking each other home, but when I do it's like a little slice of heaven here on earth.