¿Anhela usted el cielo?, Extracto de El Cielo (Are You Looking Forward to Heaven?, Excerpt from Heaven)

Es natural que el hombre que está a punto de navegar hacia Australia o Nueva Zelanda como colonizador esté ansioso por saber algo sobre su futuro hogar, su clima, sus condiciones de empleo, sus habitantes, la forma en que se hacen las cosas allí y sus costumbres. Todos estos asuntos le interesan profundamente. Usted está dejando la tierra donde nació y va a pasar el resto de la vida en un hemisferio nuevo. Por cierto que sería raro que no quisiera información en cuanto a su nueva morada. Ahora, por supuesto que si esperamos vivir para siempre en esa “patria mejor, es decir, la celestial”, deberíamos tratar de obtener todo el conocimiento que pudiéramos sobre ella. Antes de ir a nuestro hogar celestial deberíamos tratar de conocerlo. — J. C. Ryle

Jonathan Edwards, el gran predicador puritano, habló con frecuencia del Cielo.Él dijo: “Sería bueno que pasáramos esta vida solo como un viaje hacia el cielo . . . al cual deberíamos subordinar todas las otras preocupaciones de la vida. ¿Por qué deberíamos trabajar o poner nuestro corazón en ninguna otra cosa, sino en aquello que es nuestro final correcto y nuestra verdadera felicidad?”1

Cuando tenía poco más de veinte años, Edwards escribió algunas resoluciones para la vida. Una decía: “He resuelto procurar alcanzar paramí mismo tanta felicidad en el otro mundo como me sea posible”.2

Tal vez algunos piensen que es raro e inapropiado que Edwards estuviera tan comprometido a tratar de alcanzar felicidad para sí mismo en el Cielo.Pero Pascal tenía razón cuando dijo: “Todos los hombres buscan la felicidad. Esto es sin excepción. Cualesquiera que sean los métodos que emplean, todos tienden a ese fin”.3 Y si todos buscamos la felicidad, ¿por qué no hacer lo que hizo Edwards y buscarla donde en realidad puede ser encontrada—en la persona de Jesús y en un lugar llamado Cielo?

Sin embargo es trágico, pero la mayoría de las personas no encuentran su gozo en Cristo y en el Cielo. De hecho,muchas personas no encuentran ningún  gozo cuando piensan en el Cielo.

Una vez un pastor me confesó lo siguiente: “Cada vez que pienso en el Cielo, me siento deprimido. Preferiría simplemente dejar de existir cuando me muera”.

“¿Por qué?”, le pregunté. “No puedo resistir el pensamiento de ese aburrimiento sin fin. Flotar por las nubes sin tener nada que hacer sino tocar un arpa. . . . Es algo tan aburrido. El Cielo no suena mucho mejor que el infierno. Yo preferiría ser aniquilado antes de pasar una eternidad en un lugar como ese”.

¿De dónde sacó este pastor, que creía en la Biblia y que había estudiado en un seminario, tal perspectiva del Cielo? Por cierto que no fue de las Escrituras, en las cuales Pablo dijo que partir y estar con Cristo era mucho mejor que permanecer en esta Tierra maldita por el pecado (Filipenses 1:23). Mi amigo fue más franco acerca de esto que la mayoría, pero sin embargo yo he encontrado que muchos creyentes comparten los mismos conceptos erróneos.

Después de haber leídomi novela Deadline [El plazo], en la cual se describe al Cielo como un lugar real y emocionante, unamujerme escribió: “Yo he sido creyente desde los cinco años. Estoy casada con un pastor de jóvenes. Cuando tenia siete años, una maestra en mi escuela dominical cristiana me dijo que cuando fuera al Cielo no reconocería a nadie o nada de la tierra. Yo tenía terror de morirme. Nunca nadieme dijo algo diferente. . . .Me ha resultadomuy difícil avanzar en mi camino cristiano debido a ese temor del Cielo y de la vida eterna”. Deje que esas palabras le penetren en la mente: “Ese temor del cielo y de la vida eterna”. Refiriéndose a su reciente perspectiva transformada, ella dijo: “Usted no sabe el peso que se me ha quitado de encima. . . .Ahora no puedo esperar para ir al Cielo”.

Nuestra Perspectiva no Bíblica del Cielo

Cuando un colega le preguntó a un párroco inglés qué esperaba después de la muerte, este le respondió: “Bueno, si llega a eso, supongo que entraré a la dicha eterna, pero en realidad quisiera que no me recordaras temas tan deprimentes”.4

En los últimos quince años he recibido miles de cartas y he tenido cientos de conversaciones referentes al Cielo. He hablado acerca del Cielo en iglesias y en conferencias. He escrito acerca del Cielo y enseñé un curso de seminario titulado “Una teología del Cielo”. Hay mucho que no sé, pero una cosa sí sé, y es lo que la gente cree en cuanto al Cielo. Y, francamente, estoy alarmado.

Estoy de acuerdo con el escritor John Eldredge cuando dice: “Casi todos los creyentes con los que he hablado tienen una idea de que la eternidad es un servicio de iglesia sin fin. . . . Nos hemos conformado con la imagen de los cánticos sin fin en el cielo, un gran himno después del otro, por siempre jamás, amén. Y nos sentimos abatidos. ¿Por siempre jamás? ¿Eso es todo? ¿Esas son las buenas nuevas? Y entonces suspiramos y nos sentimos culpables de que no somos más ‘espirituales’. Nos desalentamos y nos volvemos más al presente para encontrar lo que podamos de la vida”.5

Gary Larson captó una percepción errada del Cielo en una de sus tiras cómicas titulada Far Side [El otro lado]. En ella, un hombre con alas de ángel y una aureola está sentado en una nube sin hacer nada y nadie hay cerca de él. Tiene la expresión de alguien que ha sido abandonado en una isla desierta con nada que hacer. Un subtítulo muestra sus profundos pensamientos: “Ojalá hubiera traído una revista”.

En Las aventuras deHuckleberry Finn, Mark Twain presenta una perspectiva similar del Cielo. La solterona cristiana Señorita Watson ve con malos ojos el espíritu divertido de Huck. De acuerdo a Huck: “Ella me habló sobre el buen lugar. Ella dijo que todo lo que una persona tendría que hacer allí sería andar todo el día con un arpa y cantar por siempre jamás. Así que pensé que eso no era bueno. . . .Le pregunté si ella estimaba que Tom Sawyer iría allí y ella me dijo que no, que no era ni remotamente posible. Yo me sentí contento en cuanto a eso, porque quería que él y yo estuviéramos juntos”.6

La devota SeñoritaWatson no tenía nada que decir que atrajera a Huck. Lo que le hubiera atraído a él era un lugar donde pudiera hacer cosas significativas y agradables con personas que le gustaban. En realidad, esa es una descripción más acertada de lo que será el Cielo. Si Señorita Watson le hubiera dicho a Huck que la Biblia dice que viviremos en un cuerpo resucitado y estaremos con personas que amamos en una Tierra resucitada con jardines, ríos y montañas disfrutando de aventuras indescriptibles, ¡eso hubiera atraído la atención del jovencito!

Tratar de desarrollar un apetito por una existencia sin cuerpo en un Cielo que no es físico es como tratar de desarrollar un apetito por la grava. Sin importer lo sinceros que podamos ser, y sin importar lo mucho que tratemos, no va a dar resultado. Tampoco debería darlo.

Dios nos hizo para que deseáramos, y si lo admitimos, lo que deseamos es exactamente lo que Él nos promete a aquellos que seguimos a Jesucristo: Una vida resucitada en un cuerpo resucitado, con un Cristo resucitado en una Tierra resucitada. Nuestros deseos corresponden exactamente a los planes de Dios. No se trata de que queramos algo y nos hagamos ilusiones que lo que queremos existe. Es lo opuesto; la razón por la que lo queremos es precisamente porque Dios ha planeado que eso exista. Como veremos, no es idea nuestra que las personas resucitadas vivan en un universo resucitado —es idea de Dios.

El teólogo británico J. C. Ryle dijo: “Le tengo lástima al hombre que nunca  piensa en el cielo”.7  También podríamos decir, “Compadezco al hombre que nunca piensa ‘correctamente’ acerca del Cielo.” Creo que es nuestra forma de pensar incorrecta la que causa que pensemos tan poco acerca del Cielo.

El Descuido Teológico Acerca del Cielo

John Calvin nunca escribió un comentario sobre el Apocalipsis y tampoco trató el estado eterno con muchos detalles. Aunque en su gran obra Los institutos de las religión cristiana, él alienta la meditación sobre el Cielo, su teología sobre el Cielo parece notablemente débil en comparación con su teología sobre Dios, Cristo, la salvación, la Biblia, y la iglesia. Esto es comprensible a la luz de los asuntos teológicos urgentes de aquel tiempo, pero es sorprendente que pocos teólogos en los siglos después de Calvin hayan intentado llenar esas brechas. Seha escritomucho en cuanto a la escatología —el estudio de los tiempos del fin—pero muy poco, en comparación, acerca del Cielo.

La Teología dogmática de William Shedd, que consta de tres volúmenes, contiene ochenta y siete páginas sobre el castigo eterno, pero solo dos sobre el Cielo.8 En su teología de novecientas páginas,Grandes doctrinas de la Biblia, Martyn Lloyd-Jones dedica menos de dos páginas al estado eterno y a la Nueva Tierra.9

Louis Berkhof en su clásica Teología sistemática dedica treinta y ocho páginas a la creación, cuarenta páginas al bautismo y a la comunión, y quince páginas al estado intermedio. Y sin embargo contiene solo dos páginas sobre el infierno y una página sobre el estado eterno. Cuando todo lo que se dice acerca del Cielo eterno está limitado a la página 737 de una teología sistemática de 737 páginas, surge una pregunta: ¿Tiene tan poco que decir la Biblia? ¿Hay tan pocas inferencias teológicas sobre este tema? Yo creo que la respuesta bíblica es un enfático ¡no!

En su libro El eclipse del Cielo, el profesor de teología A. J. Conyers escribe: “Aun para una persona sin compromiso religioso y sin convicciones teológicas debería ser un pensamiento preocupante que estemundo está tratando de trazar su curso a través de las aguas más peligrosas de la historia, habiendo decidido ahora pasar por alto lo que ha sido por casi dos milenios su punto fijo de referencia—su estrella polar.La certidumbre del juicio, el anhelo del cielo, el temor del infierno: estas no son consideraciones predominantes en nuestra conversación moderna sobre los asuntos importantes de la vida. Pero lo fueron una vez”.10

Conyers sostiene que hasta hace poco la doctrina del Cielo era demucha importancia para la iglesia.11 La creencia en el Cielo no era solo un sentimiento complementario. Era una convicción central que confortaba la vida.

Es triste que, aun para un gran número de creyentes, eso ya no sea cierto.

Fuera de las Pantallas de Nuestros Radares

Imagínese que usted es parte de un equipo de la NASA que se prepara para una misión de cinco años a Marte. Después de un período de adiestramiento intensivo, finalmente llega el día del despegue. Mientras el cohete despega, uno de sus compañeros astronautas le dice: “¿Qué sabe usted acerca de Marte?”

Imagínese que usted se encoge de hombros y le dice: “Nada. Nunca hablamos sobre eso. Creo que lo vamos a descubrir cuando lleguemos allí”. Es algo inconcebible, ¿no es verdad? Es inimaginable que su adiestramiento no incluyera un estudio intensivo y preparación sobre su destino final. Y, sin embargo, en los seminarios, institutos bíblicos e iglesias a lo largo de los Estados Unidos y del mundo, se enseña muy poco en cuanto a nuestro destino final: Los nuevos cielos y la Nueva Tierra.

Muchos cristianos que han asistido a la iglesia durante toda su vida de adultos no pueden recordar haber escuchado un solo sermón sobre el Cielo. Se menciona ocasionalmente, pero raramente se enfatiza, y casi nunca se desarrolla como tema de una prédica. Se nos dice cómo llegar al Cielo y que es un destino mejor que el infierno, pero se nos enseña notablemente poco en cuanto al Cielo mismo.

Tal vez los pastores piensen que no es importante tratar el tema del Cielo porque su seminario no ofreció un curso obligatorio sobre el Cielo. Ni siquiera lo presentaban como curso electivo. De forma similar, cuando los pastores no predican sobre el Cielo, sus congregaciones asumen que la Biblia no dicemucho en cuanto al Cielo.

El Cielo ha salido de las pantallas de nuestros radares. ¿Cómo podemos poner nuestro corazón en el Cielo cuando tenemos una teología pobre sobre el Cielo? ¿Cómo podemos esperar que nuestros hijos estén entusiasmados en cuanto al Cielo? ¿Por qué hablamos tan poco acerca del Cielo? ¿Y por qué es tan vago y sin vida lo poco que tenemos para decir?

¿De Dónde Sacamos Nuestrols Conceptos Erróneos?

Yo creo que hay una explicación principal del por qué muchos de los hijos de Dios tienen una perspectiva tan vaga, negativa y no inspirada del Cielo: La obra de Satanás.

Jesús dijo del diablo: “Cuando miente expresa su propia naturaleza, porque es un mentiroso. ¡Es el padre de la mentira!” (Juan 8:44). Algunas de las mentiras favoritas del diablo son acerca del Cielo. Apocalipsis 13:6 nos dice que la bestia satánica “abrió la boca para blasfemar contra Dios, para maldecir su nombre y su morada y a los que viven en el cielo”. Nuestro enemigo difama tres cosas:La persona de Dios, la gente que le pertenece a Dios y el lugar de Dios—el Cielo.

Después de haber sido expulsado del Cielo (Isaías 14:12-15), el diablo se amargó no solo contra Dios, sino contra la humanidad y contra el Cielo mismo, el lugar que ya no le pertenecía. ¿Qué mejor manera para el diablo y sus demonios que atacarnos y susurrar mentiras acerca del lugar mismo sobre el cual Dios nos dice que pongamos nuestros corazones y nuestras mentes?

Satanás no necesita convencernos de que el Cielo no existe. Solo necesita convencernos de que es un lugar aburrido, una existencia extraña, nada como la terrenal. Si creemos esa mentira, nos robará nuestro gozo y nuestra anticipación, pondremos nuestra mente en esta vida y no en la venidera, y no estaremos motivados para compartir nuestra fe. ¿Por qué deberíamos compartir las “buenas nuevas” de que la gente puede pasar la eternidad en un lugar aburrido, un lugar fantasmal que aun nosotros no esperamos con anticipación?

Satanás odia el Nuevo Cielo y la Nueva Tierra tanto como un dictador depuesto odia la nueva nación y el nuevo gobierno que lo reemplazan. Satanás no puede detener la obra redentora de Cristo, pero puede evitar que veamos la magnitud y la profundidad de la redención que se extiende a la Tierra y más allá. Él no puede impedir que Cristo lo derrote, pero puede persuadirnos de que la victoria de Cristo es solamente parcial, que Dios abandonará su plan original para la humanidad y la Tierra.

Debido a que Satanás nos odia, está decidido a robarnos el gozo que tendríamos si creyéramos lo que Dios nos dice acerca del magnífico mundo que ha de venir.

Puesto que estamos aquí en unmundo de oscuridad, debemos recordarnos a nosotros mismos lo que dicen las Escrituras en cuanto al Cielo.Un día seremos liberados de la ceguera que nos separa del mundo real. Entonces nos daremos cuenta del embrujo embotador bajo el cual hemos vivido que hizo que el Cielo pareciera tan distante e irreal. Que por la gracia de Dios podamos ver la verdad liberadora acerca de Cristo el Rey y del Cielo, su Reino.


Extracto de El Cielo por Randy Alcorn, Capítulo Uno.


Notas
1 Ola Elizabeth Winslow, Jonathan Edwards: Basic Writings [Escrituras básicas] (New York: New American Library, 1966), 142.
2 Jonathan Edwards, “The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1722–23)” [“Los propósitos de Jonathan Edwards (1722–23)”], http://www.jonathanedwards.com/text/Personal/resolut.htm; vea también Stephen Nichols, ed., Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions and Advice to Young Converts [Los propósitos de Jonathan Edwards y sus consejos a nuevos conversos] (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2001).
3 Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trad.W. F. Trotter, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/p/pascal/pensees/cache/pensees.pdf, section VII, article 425.
4 Barry Morrow, Heaven Observed [El Cielo observado] (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 89.
5 John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We’ve Only Dreamed Of [El viaje del deseo: Buscando la vida que solo hemos soñado] (Nashville: Nelson, 2000), 111.
6 Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn [Las aventuras de Huckleberry Finn] (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1996), 6.
7 J. C. Ryle, Heaven [El Cielo] (Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 19.
8 W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology [Teología dogmática], 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.).
9 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible [Grandes doctrinas de la Bíblia], vol. 3, The Church and the Last Things [La iglesia y los asuntos de los últimos días] (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2003), 246–48.
10 A. J. Conyers, The Eclipse of Heaven [El eclipse del Cielo] (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992), 21.
11 Ibid., 58.



Are You Looking Forward to Heaven? (Excerpt from Heaven)

The man who is about to sail for Australia or New Zealand as a settler, is naturally anxious to know something about his future home, its climate, its employments, its inhabitants, its ways, its customs. All these are subjects of deep interest to him. You are leaving the land of your nativity, you are going to spend the rest of your life in a new hemisphere. It would be strange indeed if you did not desire information about your new abode. Now surely, if we hope to dwell for ever in that “better country, even a heavenly one,” we ought to seek all the knowledge we can get about it. Before we go to our eternal home we should try to become acquainted with it. — J. C. Ryle

Jonathan Edwards, the great Puritan preacher, often spoke of Heaven. He said, “It becomes us to spend this life only as a journey toward heaven . . . to which we should subordinate all other concerns of life. Why should we labor for or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end and true happiness?”12

In his early twenties, Edwards composed a set of life resolutions. One read, “Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can.”13

Some may think it odd and inappropriate that Edwards was so committed to pursuing happiness for himself in Heaven. But Pascal was right when he said, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end.”14 And if we all seek happiness, why not do as Edwards did and seek it where it can actually be found—in the person of Jesus and the place called Heaven?

Tragically, however, most people do not find their joy in Christ and Heaven. In fact, many people find no joy at all when they think about Heaven.

A pastor once confessed to me, “Whenever I think about Heaven, it makes me depressed. I’d rather just cease to exist when I die.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I can’t stand the thought of that endless tedium. To float around in the clouds with nothing to do but strum a harp . . . it’s all so terribly boring. Heaven doesn’t sound much better than Hell. I’d rather be annihilated than spend eternity in a place like that.”

Where did this Bible-believing, seminary-educated pastor get such a view of Heaven? Certainly not from Scripture, where Paul said to depart and be with Christ was far better than staying on a sin-cursed Earth (Philippians 1:23). My friend was more honest about it than most, yet I’ve found that many Christians share the same misconceptions about Heaven.

After reading my novel Deadline, which portrays Heaven as a real and exciting place, a woman wrote me, “I’ve been a Christian since I was five. I’m married to a youth pastor. When I was seven, a teacher at my Christian school told me that when I got to Heaven, I wouldn’t know anyone or anything from earth. I was terrified of dying. I was never told any different by anyone. . . . It’s been really hard for me to advance in my Christian walk because of this fear of Heaven and eternal life.”

Let those words sink in: “This fear of heaven and eternal life.” Referring to her recently transformed perspective, she said, “You don’t know the weight that’s been lifted off of me. . . . Now I can’t wait to get to Heaven.”

Our Unbiblical View of Heaven

When an English vicar was asked by a colleague what he expected after death, he replied, “Well, if it comes to that, I suppose I shall enter into eternal bliss, but I really wish you wouldn’t bring up such depressing subjects.”15

Over the past fifteen years, I’ve received thousands of letters and have had hundreds of conversations concerning Heaven. I’ve spoken about Heaven at churches and conferences. I’ve written about Heaven and taught a seminary course titled “A Theology of Heaven.” There’s a great deal I don’t know, but one thing I do know is what people think about Heaven. And frankly, I’m alarmed.

I agree with this statement by John Eldredge in The Journey of Desire: “Nearly every Christian I have spoken with has some idea that eternity is an unending church service. . . . We have settled on an image of the never-ending sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever and ever, amen. And our heart sinks. Forever and ever? That’s it? That’s the good news? And then we sigh and feel guilty that we are not more ‘spiritual.’ We lose heart, and we turn once more to the present to find what life we can.”16

Gary Larson captured a common misperception of Heaven in one of his Far Side cartoons. In it a man with angel wings and a halo sits on a cloud, doing nothing, with no one nearby. He has the expression of someone marooned on a desert island with absolutely nothing to do. A caption shows his inner thoughts: “Wish I’d brought a magazine.”

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain portrays a similar view of Heaven. The Christian spinster Miss Watson takes a dim view of Huck’s fun-loving spirit. According to Huck, “She went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. . . . I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said, not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.”17

The pious Miss Watson had nothing to say about Heaven that appealed to Huck. (And nothing, if we’re honest, that appeals to us.) What would have attracted him was a place where he could do meaningful and pleasurable things with enjoyable people. In fact, that’s a far more accurate depiction of what Heaven will actually be like. If Miss Watson had told Huck what the Bible says about living in a resurrected body and being with people we love on a resurrected Earth with gardens and rivers and mountains and untold adventures—now that would have gotten his attention!

When it came to Heaven and Hell, Mark Twain never quite got it. Under the weight of age, he said in his autobiography, “The burden of pain, care, misery grows heavier year by year. At length ambition is dead, pride is dead, vanity is dead, longing for release is in their place. It comes at last—the only unpoisoned gift earth ever had for them—and they vanish from a world where they were of no consequence; where they achieved nothing; where they were a mistake and a failure and a foolishness.”18

What a contrast to the perspective that Charles Spurgeon, his contemporary, had on death: “To come to Thee is to come home from exile, to come to land out of the raging storm, to come to rest after long labour, to come to the goal of my desires and the summit of my wishes.”19

We do not desire to eat gravel. Why? Because God did not design us to eat gravel. Trying to develop an appetite for a disembodied existence in a non-physical Heaven is like trying to develop an appetite for gravel. No matter how sincere we are, and no matter how hard we try, it’s not going to work. Nor should it.

What God made us to desire, and therefore what we do desire if we admit it, is exactly what he promises to those who follow Jesus Christ: a resurrected life in a resurrected body, with the resurrected Christ on a resurrected Earth. Our desires correspond precisely to God’s plans. It’s not that we want something, so we engage in wishful thinking that what we want exists. It’s the opposite—the reason we want it is precisely because God has planned for it to exist. As we’ll see, resurrected people living in a resurrected universe isn’t our idea—it’s God’s.

Nineteenth-century British theologian J. C. Ryle said, “I pity the man who never thinks about heaven.”20 We could also say, “I pity the man who never thinks accurately about Heaven.” It’s our inaccurate thinking, I believe, that causes us to choose to think so little about Heaven.

Theological Neglect of Heaven

John Calvin, the great expositor, never wrote a commentary on Revelation and never dealt with the eternal state at any length. Though he encourages meditation on Heaven in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, his theology of Heaven seems strikingly weak compared to his theology of God, Christ, salvation, Scripture, and the church. This is understandable in light of the pressing theological issues of his day, but surprisingly few theologians in the centuries since Calvin have attempted to fill in the gaps. A great deal has been written about eschatology—the study of the end times—but comparatively little about Heaven. (Only a small number of the books on Heaven I’ve collected are still in print.)

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote an in-depth two-volume set titled The Nature and Destiny of Man. Remarkably, he had nothing to say about Heaven.21

William Shedd’s three-volume Dogmatic Theology contains eighty-seven pages on eternal punishment, but only two on Heaven.22

In his nine-hundred-page theology, Great Doctrines of the Bible, Martyn Lloyd-Jones devotes less than two pages to the eternal state and the New Earth.23

Louis Berkhof’s classic Systematic Theology devotes thirty-eight pages to creation, forty pages to baptism and communion, and fifteen pages to what theologians call “the intermediate state” (where people abide between death and resurrection).  Yet it contains only two pages on Hell and one page on the eternal state.

When all that’s said about the eternal Heaven is limited to page 737 of a 737-page systematic theology like Berkhof’s, it raises a question: Does Scripture really have so little to say? Are there so few theological implications to this subject? The biblical answer, I believe, is an emphatic no!

In The Eclipse of Heaven, theology professor A. J. Conyers writes, “Even to one without religious commitment and theological convictions, it should be an unsettling thought that this world is attempting to chart its way through some of the most perilous waters in history, having now decided to ignore what was for nearly two millennia its fixed point of reference—its North Star. The certainty of judgment, the longing for heaven, the dread of hell: these are not prominent considerations in our modern discourse about the important matters of life. But they once were.”24

Conyers argues that until recently the doctrine of Heaven was enormously important to the church.25 Belief in Heaven was not just a nice auxiliary sentiment. It was a central, life-sustaining conviction.

Sadly, even for countless Christians, that is no longer true.

Off Our Radar Screens

“An overwhelming majority of Americans continue to believe that there is life after death and that heaven and hell exist,” according to a Barna Research Group poll.26 But what people actually believe about Heaven and Hell varies widely. A Barna spokesman said, “They’re cutting and pasting religious views from a variety of different sources—television, movies, conversations with their friends.”27 The result is a highly subjective theology of the afterlife, disconnected from the biblical doctrine of Heaven.

I attended a fine Bible college and seminary, but I learned very little about Heaven. I don’t recall a single classroom discussion about the New Earth. In my Hebrews-to-Revelation class, we never made it to Revelation 21–22, the Bible’s most definitive passage on the eternal Heaven. In my eschatology class, we studied various views of the Rapture and the Millennium, but almost no attention at all was given to the New Earth. In fact, I learned more about the strengths and weaknesses of belief in a mid-Tribulation Rapture than about Heaven and the New Earth combined.

Heaven suffers as a subject precisely because it comes last, not only in theological works but in seminary and Bible college classrooms. Teachers often get behind in their eschatology classes, enmeshed in the different views of Hell, Israel and the church, the Tribulation, and the Millennium. No time is left for discussing the new heavens and New Earth.

Imagine you’re part of a NASA team preparing for a five-year mission to Mars. After a period of extensive training, the launch date finally arrives. As the rocket lifts off, one of your fellow astronauts says to you, “What do you know about Mars?”

Imagine shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Nothing. We never talked about it. I guess we’ll find out when we get there.” It’s unthinkable, isn’t it? It’s inconceivable that your training would not have included extensive study of and preparation for your ultimate destination. Yet in seminaries, Bible schools, and churches across the United States and around the world, there is very little teaching about our ultimate destination: the new heavens and New Earth.

Many Christians who’ve gone to church all their adult lives (especially those under fifty) can’t recall having heard a single sermon on Heaven. It’s occasionally mentioned, but rarely emphasized, and almost never is it developed as a topic. We’re told how to get to Heaven, and that it’s a better destination than Hell, but we’re taught remarkably little about Heaven itself.

Pastors may not think it’s important to address the subject of Heaven because their seminary didn’t have a required course on it—or even an elective. Similarly, when pastors don’t preach on Heaven, their congregations assume that the Bible doesn’t say much about it.

In 1937, Scottish theologian John Baillie wrote, “I will not ask how often during the last twenty-five years you and I have listened to an old-style warning against the flames of hell. I will not even ask how many sermons have been preached in our hearing about a future day of reckoning when men shall reap according as they have sown. It will be enough to ask how many preachers, during these years, have dwelt on the joys of heavenly rest with anything like the old ardent love and impatient longing.”28

If this was the case then, how much truer is it now? Heaven has fallen off our radar screens. How can we set our hearts on Heaven when we have an impoverished theology of Heaven? How can we expect our children to be excited about Heaven—or to stay excited about it when they grow up? Why do we talk so little about Heaven? And why is the little we have to say so vague and lifeless?

Where Do We Get Our Misconceptions?

I believe there’s one central explanation for why so many of God’s children have such a vague, negative, and uninspired view of Heaven: the work of Satan.

Jesus said of the devil, “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Some of Satan’s favorite lies are about Heaven. Revelation 13:6 tells us the satanic beast “opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven.” Our enemy slanders three things: God’s person, God’s people, and God’s place—namely, Heaven.

After being forcibly evicted from Heaven (Isaiah 14:12-15), the devil became bitter not only toward God, but toward mankind and toward Heaven itself, the place that was no longer his. It must be maddening for him that we’re now entitled to the home he was kicked out of. What better way for the devil and his demons to attack us than to whisper lies about the very place on which God tells us to set our hearts and minds?

Satan need not convince us that Heaven doesn’t exist. He need only convince us that Heaven is a place of boring, unearthly existence. If we believe that lie, we’ll be robbed of our joy and anticipation, we’ll set our minds on this life and not the next, and we won’t be motivated to share our faith. Why should we share the “good news” that people can spend eternity in a boring, ghostly place that even we’re not looking forward to?

In The Country of the Blind, H. G. Wells writes of a tribe in a remote valley deep in a towering mountain range. During a terrible epidemic, all the villagers lose their sight. Eventually, entire generations grow up having no awareness of sight or the world they’re unable to see. Because of their handicap, they do not know their true condition, nor can they understand what their world looks like. They cannot imagine what realms might lie beyond their valley.

Spiritually speaking, we live in the Country of the Blind. The disease of sin has blinded us to God and Heaven, which are real yet unseen. Fortunately, Jesus has come to our valley from Heaven to tell us about his father, the world beyond, and the world to come. If we listen to him—which will require a concerted effort not to listen to the lies of the devil—we will never be the same. Nor will we ever want to be.

Satan hates the New Heaven and the New Earth as much as a deposed dictator hates the new nation and new government that replaces his. Satan cannot stop Christ’s redemptive work, but he can keep us from seeing the breadth and depth of redemption that extends to the earth and beyond. He cannot keep Christ from defeating him, but he can persuade us that Christ’s victory is only partial, that God will abandon his original plan for mankind and the earth.

Because Satan hates us, he’s determined to rob us of the joy we’d have if we believed what God tells us about the magnificent world to come.

Resisting Naturalism’s Spell

C. S. Lewis depicts another source of our misconceptions about Heaven: naturalism, the belief that the world can be understood in scientific terms, without recourse to spiritual or supernatural explanations.

In The Silver Chair, Puddleglum, Jill, and Eustace are captured in a sunless underground world by an evil witch who calls herself the queen of the underworld. The witch claims that her prisoners’ memories of the overworld, Narnia, are but figments of their imagination. She laughs condescendingly at their child’s game of “pretending” that there’s a world above and a great ruler of that world.

When they speak of the sun that’s visible in the world above, she asks them what a sun is. Groping for words, they compare it to a giant lamp. She replies, “When you try to think out clearly what this sun must be, you cannot tell me. You can only tell me it is like the lamp. Your sun is a dream; and there is nothing in that dream that was not copied from the lamp.”

When they speak of Aslan the lion, king of Narnia, she says they have seen cats and have merely projected those images into the make-believe notion of a giant cat. They begin to waver.

The queen, who hates Aslan and wishes to conquer Narnia, tries to deceive them into thinking that whatever they cannot perceive with their senses must be imaginary—which is the essence of naturalism. The longer they are unable to see the world they remember, the more they lose sight of it.

She says to them, hypnotically, “There never was any world but mine,” and they repeat after her, abandoning reason, parroting her deceptions. Then she coos softly, “There is no Narnia, no Overworld, no sky, no sun, no Aslan.” This illustrates Satan’s power to mold our weak minds as we are trapped in a dark, fallen world. We’re prone to deny the great realities of God and Heaven, which we can no longer see because of the Curse.

Finally, when it appears they’ve succumbed to the queen’s lies, Puddleglum breaks the spell and says to the enraged queen, “Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things—trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that . . . the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow.”29

The truth is exactly the opposite of naturalism’s premise—in fact, the dark world’s lamps are copies of the sun, and its cats are copies of Aslan. Heaven isn’t an extrapolation of earthly thinking; Earth is an extension of Heaven, made by the Creator King. The realm Puddleglum and the children believe in, Narnia and its sun and its universe, is real, and the witch’s world—which she tempts them to believe is the only real world—is in fact a lesser realm, corrupted and in bondage.

When the queen’s lies are exposed, she metamorphoses into the serpent she really is, whereupon Rilian, the human king and Aslan’s appointed ruler of Narnia, slays her. The despondent slaves who’d lived in darkness are delivered. Light floods in, and their home below becomes a joyous place again because they realize there is indeed a bright world above and Aslan truly rules the universe. They laugh and celebrate, turning cartwheels and popping firecrackers.

Sometimes we’re like Lewis’s characters. We succumb to naturalistic assumptions that what we see is real and what we don’t see isn’t. God can’t be real, we conclude, because we can’t see him. And Heaven can’t be real because we can’t see it. But we must recognize our blindness. The blind must take by faith that there are stars in the sky. If they depend on their ability to see, they will conclude there are no stars.

We must work to resist the bewitching spell of naturalism. Sitting here in a dark world, we must remind ourselves what Scripture tells us about Heaven. We will one day be delivered from the blindness that separates us from the real world. We’ll realize then the stupefying bewitchment we’ve lived under. By God’s grace, may we stomp out the bewitching fires of naturalism so that we may clearly see the liberating truth about Christ the King and Heaven, his Kingdom.


Excerpt from Heaven by Randy Alcorn, Chapter 1.


Notes
12 Ola Elizabeth Winslow, Jonathan Edwards: Basic Writings (New York: New American Library, 1966), 142.
13 Jonathan Edwards, “The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards (1722–23),” JonathanEdwards.com, http://www.jonathanedwards.com/text/Personal/resolut.htm; see also Stephen Nichols, ed., Jonathan Edwards’ Resolutions and Advice to Young Converts (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2001).
14 Blaise Pascal, Pensées, trans. W. F. Trotter, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/p/pascal/pensees/cache/pensees.pdf, sectionVII, article 425.
15 Barry Morrow, Heaven Observed (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 89.
16 John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire: Searching for the Life We’ve Only Dreamed Of (Nashville: Nelson, 2000), 111.
17 Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1996), 6.
18 Mark Twain, quoted in Charles Ferguson Ball, Heaven (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1980), 19.
19 Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, April 25, morning reading.
20 J. C. Ryle, Heaven (Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2000), 19.
21 Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, vol. 2 (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1942).
22 W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, n.d.).
23 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible, vol. 3, The Church and the Last Things (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2003), 246–48.
24 A. J. Conyers, The Eclipse of Heaven (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1992), 21.
25 Ibid., 58.
26 K. Connie Kang, “Next Stop, the Pearly Gates . . . or Hell?” Los Angeles Times, October 24, 2003.
27 Ibid.
28 John Baillie, And the Life Everlasting (London: Oxford University Press, 1936), 15.
29 C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair (New York: Collier Books, 1970), 151–61.

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries