Heaven: An Interview with The Outlook

HeavenThe Outlook: What motivated you to write on the subject of Heaven? How long did it take to research Heaven?

I heard countless people, including a pastor friend who’s a grad of our school, make negative comments about heaven, about dreading and fearing heaven. It grieved and confused me. And it motivated me to clean the slate of my long-held assumptions (largely based on the assumptions of pastors and teachers and writers) and try to study what Scripture actually said.

I found this subject fascinating. I began reading books on Heaven, many of them out of print. Many of these books were the common variety “Heaven is otherworldly, and we can’t know anything about it, but it will no doubt be wonderful.”

However, I found that the ones which dealt more with the biblical text challenged my assumptions, and prompted me to look more closely at Scripture in its context. For instance, I remember rereading Isaiah 60 after reading Richard Mau’s book When the Kings Come Marching In. I could see things that were in the text all along, but that my assumptions blinded me to. I wasn’t reading into it what I wanted to believe, but I was reading out of it what it actually said. The passage made sense to me for the first time.

Over years of biblical study, my view of resurrection and the eternal Heaven (and to a lesser degree, the intermediate Heaven) gradually changed. I wasn’t looking for a fresh or different view of eternity. But I believe God opened one to me, from the biblical texts. Parts of this new perspective included things I’d learned in church, Bible college or seminary, but the overall scheme, the big picture, was quite different.

The total book project took nearly three years of research, writing and editing.

The Outlook: Could you describe the impact of this book?

It has been a great joy to hear from many people who have written to say the Scriptures on the eternal state have been opened up to them, and that they feel liberated and excited about Heaven for the first time in their lives.

An 85 year old man called our office, saying he has passed out a few dozen copies of the Heaven book. He has been drawn closer to God through it and wishes to share his excitement with others.

I received a letter from a mother whose 16 year old died in a car accident on a Young Life sledding trip. She’s reading through the Heaven book the second time, looking up every Scripture.

An evangelical seminary professor wrote me today to say he is making the Heaven book required reading for his Hebrews–Revelation class and will now be devoting more time to Revelation 21-22.

We continually receive emails from people who are dying, whose loved ones are dying, or have died, and they share how their eyes have been opened to Scripture, and that they are looking forward to being with Christ for eternity more than ever before.

The book is surely flawed, as I am flawed, but for the hearts God is touching through his Word, I am deeply grateful.

The Outlook: What are your favorite stories from readers?

It’s difficult to pick out favorites but here are a couple that meant a lot to me.

My helicopter pilot son was shot down in Iraq 2-27-91. He had sent us a letter to be opened only if he did not come back."

Well, if you have to open this up, please don't worry about me. For once I know something you don't, what Heaven's like."

His words have travelled far—giving millions a hope for Heaven. I have been collecting "heaven" books all these years. Thanks for the best book of all about heaven, your book Heaven. - S. L.

I am a two-time cancer (lung & breast) survivor and the widow of a man who suffered from depression and turned to drugs. I have also buried two of my children (16 mos. and newborn) a month apart. I have no words to express my gratitude to you for writing Heaven. It turned my world upside down. I have found excitement buried deep within. I look at what we would call tragedies in my life and praise to our Lord overflows within me. I would not adore Him, praise Him, and desire to live for Him were it not for these events. I had nowhere to go but to Him. - A. G.

The Outlook: What surprised you most in your research about heaven?

More than anything, how much Scripture has to say about God’s eternal kingdom on the New Earth. And that God’s original plan for us, to rule the earth to the glory of God, was never abandoned. In fact, what was laid out in Genesis 1-2, the first two chapters of Scripture, is precisely what is finally realized in Revelation 21-22, the last two chapters. Christ’s redemptive work wasn’t to snatch away people’s souls to live forever in an angelic realm, but to redeem our whole persons, including our bodies, and the fallen world in which we live. God promises not only new bodies, but a new earth. Not non-bodies and non-earth, but new bodies and a new earth.

The Outlook: What is the most common question people ask about heaven?

There are dozens of questions I'm repeatedly asked, but here are the top five:

  1. Will we still be ourselves, with our memories of this life?
  2. Will we know our loved ones and have ongoing relationships with them?
  3. What will we do, and won't Heaven be boring?
  4. Will we have bodies and eat and drink and travel and explore and play—in other words, will we live truly human lives?
  5. Will there be animals—and is it possible that the pets we've loved will be there?

I answer each of these questions and many others in my Heaven book. The Table of Contents makes it easy to find where to look for those answers.) Readers will be surprised to see that there are some very clear biblical indications about some of the things most people think we can't know about Heaven.

The Outlook: Of all the activities heaven will offer, what are you most looking forward to doing?

First and foremost, being with Jesus, my Lord and Savior and best friend. To be in his presence, to listen to him and walk with Him….nothing could be better than that.

Secondly, I look forward to meeting other people. I’d like to ask Mary to tell stories about ­Jesus as a child. I’d enjoy talking with Simeon, Anna, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist. I want to hear Noah’s accounts of life on the ark. ­I’m eager to listen to Moses tell about his times with God on the mountain. I’d like to ask Elijah about being taken away in the chariot and Enoch (and Enoch’s wife) about his being caught up by God.

I want to talk with Mary, Martha, and their brother Lazarus. I’ll ask people to fill in the blanks of the great stories in Scripture and church history. I want to hear a few million new stories. One at a time, of course, and spread out over thousands of years. I imagine we’ll relish these great stories, ask questions, laugh together, and shake our heads in amazement.

We’ll each have our own stories to tell also—and the memories and skills to tell them well. Right now, today, we are living the lives from which such stories will be drawn. Are we living them with eternity in mind? We’ll have new adventures on the New Earth from which new stories will emerge, but I suspect the old stories from this life will always interest us too.

I look forward to reconnecting with many old friends as well as my mom and dad. I look forward to thanking C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and A. W. Tozer for how their writings changed me. I anticipate meeting William Carey, Hudson and Maria Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Jim Elliot, Charles Spurgeon, Dwight L. Moody, Harriet Beecher Stowe, some of the Amistad slaves, and a host of others.

My friend David O’Brien is a brilliant man trapped in a body that groans for redemption. His cerebral palsy will be gone the moment he leaves this world for the present Heaven, but the biggest treat will be at his resurrection, when he will have a new body, forever free of disease. I picture David never having to repeat himself because others ­don’t ­under­stand him. I see him running through fields on the New Earth. I look forward to running beside David . . . and probably behind him.

My wife, Nanci, is my best friend and my closest sister in Christ. I fully expect no one besides God will under­stand me better on the New Earth, and there’s nobody whose company I’ll seek and enjoy more than Nanci’s.

This interview with Randy Alcorn is from 2008.

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