Imagining Heaven

April 27, 2013

Imagining heaven is not easy for us. I suspect trying to describe it to us is like describing New York City to an aborigine. You might say a skyscraper is like a giant hut one hundred huts high, but the reality of a skyscraper is still greater than the description.

Bill Clapper in an article entitled “Beyond Imagination” [Gospel Advocate (June 1997):15-16] pictures the difficulty this way. Picture going back to 1866 and visiting a wagon train going west just after the close of the Civil War. You attempt to explain jet airplanes that can carry hundreds of passengers from the east coast to the west coast in five or six hours. To this group huddled around a campfire, you describe electric lights, hot water coming from a faucet, automobiles, and television. Clapper writes: “We have told them about how we live, and it was beyond their imagination…I can only say that God has prepared a place for us so great that we cannot imagine the wonders of it—any more than people of 1866 could understand the wonders of our time.”

Joseph Bayly captures some of this dilemma in his book, The Last Things We Talk About. He shares a parable:

I accept [heaven’s] reality by faith, on the authority of Jesus Christ: “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.”

For that matter, if I were a twin in the womb, I doubt that I could prove the existence of earth to my mate. He would probably object that the idea of an earth beyond the womb was ridiculous, that the womb was the only earth we’d ever know.

If I tried to explain that earthlings live in a greatly expanded environment and breathe air, he would only be skeptical. After all, a fetus lives in water; who could imagine its being able to live in a universe of air? To him such a transition would seem impossible.

It would take birth to prove the earth’s existence to a fetus. A little pain, a dark tunnel, a gasp of air–and then the world outside! Green grass, laps, lakes, the ocean, horses (could a fetus imagine a horse?), rainbows, walking, running, surfing, ice-skating. With enough room that you don’t have to shove, and a universe beyond.

Despite our difficulties in imagining it, heaven is real. In some ways, more real than the world in which we live because it will be eternal, while this world is temporary. Paul reminds us of this: “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV). Let us keep our eyes on the goal.