I once heard a pastor make a startling confession: “Whenever I think about heaven, it makes me depressed. I’d rather just cease to exist when I die.” I tried not to show my shock as I asked him, “Why?”
“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 “better by far” than staying on earth (Philippians 1:23). And yet, though my friend was more honest about it than most, I’ve found many Christians share the same misconceptions about heaven.
I’ve received literally thousands of letters concerning heaven because I picture it in my novels. Here’s a letter that came last week:
I’ve been a Christian since I was five. I’m married to a youth pastor. The reason I’m writing is to tell you thanks for writing Deadline.
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 either.
Until reading Deadline I was still terrified of heaven. But I’m not afraid any more. Heaven will be great.
It’s been really hard for me to advance in my Christian walk because of this fear of heaven and eternal life. You don’t know the weight that’s been lifted off me. I cried every time I read about Finney being in heaven and all his experiences there. Now I can’t wait to get there.
Because of pervasive distortions of what heaven is like, it’s common for Christians to not look forward to heaven, or even to dread it. I think there’s only one explanation for how these appalling viewpoints have gripped so many of God’s children: Satan. Demonic deception.
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—heaven.
After being forcibly evicted from heaven (Isaiah 14:12 15), the devil is bitter not only toward God, but toward us and the place that’s no longer his. It must be maddening for him to realize we’re now entitled to the home he was kicked out of. What better way for demons to attack than to whisper lies about the very place God tells us to set our hearts and minds on (Colossians 3:1 2)?
Paul warned us to be aware of the devil’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11) and put on God’s armor to stand against them (Ephesians 6:11). Make no mistake—one of Satan’s favorite tactics is feeding us a distorted view of heaven. He knows we’ll lack motivation to tell others about Jesus if our view of heaven isn’t that much better than our concept of hell.
Look at all those people walking the streets, working in offices, standing in lines, sitting in restaurants. Their eyes are filled with needs, hopes, longings. The world tells them they’re just molecules and DNA, time plus chance. But God “has set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Their hearts cry out for eternal realities, for what will last, what really matters.
They search for something, anything, to fill the raging emptiness within. Satan offers them anesthetics that temporarily dull the pain, but they wear off. The promise of fulfillment is always broken. So they go right on searching in all the wrong places. They turn to drugs, sex, money, and power for the same reason they turn to religion and self-help seminars. Their instincts tell them “something’s missing, there has to be more.”
And they’re absolutely right. Something is missing.
The first thing missing is the person we were made for—Jesus. Haggai 2:7 refers to Messiah as “the desired of all nations,” the all people of all cultures long for.
But there’s something else missing. Every human heart yearns for not only a person, but a place. The place we were made for. The place made for us.
In Revelation 3:12, Jesus makes a great promise to those who obey him: “I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which is coming down out of heaven from God, and I will also write on him my new name.” Jesus says he will put on us the name of the person and the name of the place (heaven) for which we were made.
We spend our lives longing for this person and this place. Just as people restlessly move from relationship to relationship seeking the person they were made for, they move from location to location seeking the place they were made for. Somewhere new and better. A bigger house. A different city. The suburbs. A new neighborhood—safer, nicer, with better schools. That dream house in the country. That idyllic mountain chalet. That perfect beach cottage.
We have the very answers the world cries out for, yet our wrong views of God’s person and God’s place silence and distort our message. What a triumph of Satan that we would actually pass on to our churches, children and world a dreary view of heaven—and by implication a dreary view of God. (If we imagine heaven is boring and dreadful, aren’t we really saying God is boring and dreadful?)
When Jesus said to us, “I am going there [to heaven] to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2 3), he spoke as a groom to his bride-to-be. These are words of love and romance. How would any bride who loves her husband-to-be respond to them? She’d be thrilled. Not a single day would go by, not a single hour, in which the bride wouldn’t anticipate joining her beloved in that place he prepared for her to live with him forever.
Like a bride’s dreams of sharing a home with her groom, our love for heaven should be overflowing and contagious, just like our love for God (Revelation 19:7). Our passion for God and our passion for heaven should be inseparable. The more I learn about God, the more excited I get about heaven. The more I learn about heaven, the more excited I get about God.
How it must wound the heart of our bridegroom to see us clinging to this dilapidated roach-infested hovel called earth, dreading the thought of leaving it, when he has hand-built a magnificent estate for us, a place beautiful and wondrous beyond measure.
What’s your attitude toward heaven, your theology of heaven? Does it fill you with joy and excitement? How much thought do you give to heaven? How often do you and your church and your family talk about it?
If you lack a passion for heaven, I can almost guarantee it’s because you have a weak, deficient, and distorted theology of heaven. (Or you’re making choices that conflict with heaven’s agenda.) A robust, accurate, and biblically-energized view of heaven will bring a new spiritual passion to your life.
Our problem isn’t that we lack passion in general. We all have it—look at the way we stand up and cheer at sporting events. (Nanci and I do, anyway.) The problem is that we get most passionate about things that don’t ultimately matter —the perfect season, the perfect house, the perfect lawn, the perfect car. None of these is bad—notice I didn’t list pornography, adultery, fornication, theft, and hatred. Our problem is that the things fueling our passion are only secondary, while we lack passion for what’s primary. To derail us, all Satan needs to do is minimize our passion for two things—the person of God and the place of God.
A. W. Tozer said,
Let no one apologize for the powerful emphasis Christianity lays upon the doctrine of the world to come. Right there lies its immense superiority to everything else within the whole sphere of human thought or experience. We do well to think of the long tomorrow.
The greatest weakness of the western church today is arguably our failure to think of the long tomorrow—to take seriously the reality that heaven is our home. Out of this springs our love affair with this world and our failure to live now in light of eternity.
When my family goes on a trip, we like to know in advance something about where we’re going. If we’re planning a vacation, we carefully study the brochures and maps to know the destination’s attractions. (We don’t want to know everything—we do like surprises.)
God hasn’t told us so much about heaven that it spoils all the surprises waiting for us. But he’s told us enough—far more than most of us suppose—that we can envision it and get really excited about it.
Bookstore travel sections exist because everybody wants to know about the place they’re going. So think of this book as a travel guide to heaven. If we want our children or grandchildren to be more excited about heaven than the Grand Canyon or Disney World or summer camp, open up the Bible and talk to them about heaven’s attractions, not just earth’s.This article is excerpted from the introduction to Randy’s book, In Light of Eternity (subtitled Perspectives on Heaven). We think this book is an encouraging and motivating gift for both believers and unbelievers.
Photo by Herr Bohn on Unsplash
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.