Sunday, April 20, 2014

Debunking Heavenly Mythology V: Heaven Is Boring

I know, I know — nobody comes right out and says it that bluntly. Of course they don’t.

But lots of people think it. Or, more accurately, are a little afraid it might be.

Here’s one example of someone who does, and I’m sure you’ve heard dozens of similar comments, often at funerals:
“… if there is a heaven, and right now I am sure hoping there is, I like to think my grandfather is just making the turn at nine. A smile on his face from ear to ear because he can walk carrying his own golf bag. His eyesight that was taken from him in the early 90s is back and he doesn't see the world in shadows anymore. That his hearing, taken from him at about the time as his sight has returned. He can hear the birds singing in the trees and the sound of his persimmon driver compressing a golf ball 300 yards down the middle of the fairway.”
Of course there must be golf in heaven. And hockey. And beer. And rock ’n roll.

Because if my favourite thing isn’t to be found in heaven, I simply can’t imagine living for eternity without it. And life without it would be … well, if not ‘boring’ exactly, at least deficient in some way.

Or just maybe my concept of God’s love is a few sizes too small.

Call me crazy, but I can’t bring myself to believe that a God who created dogs and cats and even those goofy raccoons in my backyard, who gave man the capacity for humour, music and debate, who bestowed on us the capacity to love, and feel, and crave that which is beyond our experience … [oh, you can fill in your favourite thing about God here as I could go on for days without touching on that which is precious about the creation of Jesus Christ to you or the next person] …

I can’t believe THAT God would go to prepare a place for me and you and make it ‘boring’. By even the most jaded standard.

It’s simply not possible.

First, if heaven is boring, the good news is you won’t spend eternity there. But that’s the subject of a previous post. However, the New Jerusalem is not boring either.

I’m going to indulge in one of my favourite things, and if some of you tune out here (especially my numerically-challenged family members), I will entirely understand. Let’s do a little heavenly math. The apostle John describes the New Jerusalem like this:
“The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement.”
A stadion is around 600 feet, so 12,000 of them works out to approximately 1,500 miles. So the ground floor of the New Jerusalem is 2,250,000 square miles of territory. That’s slightly over 1/3 the size of Russia. For Canadians, that’s six times the size of the province of Ontario. For Americans, six times the size of the state of California.

But then John says the city is also 12,000 stadia in height. For that measurement to have any significance, I take it we are not talking about a city of single storey buildings with very high ceilings.

A modern “storey” is usually 10 to 12 feet. I’m going to go with 12, since I like high ceilings. But that allows for 660,000 storeys. My office building, which has a pretty impressive view, is well under 40 storeys. The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, currently the world’s tallest building, is 200.

So you would have to stack over 3,000 Burj Khalifas one on top of the other, with each storey having the square footage a third the size of Russia, to reach the penthouse of New Jerusalem.

If the New Jerusalem has the population density of New York City, it could house a little over 787 million people. But that’s on one single floor, not 660,000 of them! I could multiply the two together for you, but at a certain point increasing the number of zeroes means nothing to most people (probably partly explaining the reluctance to address the problems of the U.S. economy).

That’s the New Jerusalem. That’s the “father’s house” with “many rooms” the Lord spoke to his disciples about.

Those of you not quite so literal in cast of mind may well say, “Come on, Tom, that is clearly figurative language”. I can’t say for sure one way or the other and I certainly won’t fight about it, though I think there’s significance in the numbers. Much of Revelation is figurative, so that would not be a stretch.

Let’s just say it’s really, really big. Can we agree on that?

And in this city, everywhere you go you will find people — historical figures, patriarchs, old friends, much-loved musicians and writers, family members, old loves, new acquaintances — all of whom love the Person you love most, and the things you love about him as intensely as you do; all of whom will reflect the glory of the Lamb differently from one another. In every face, in every conversation, there will be something new to be learned and enjoyed, with none of the agitation, unpleasantness and hurt feelings that often characterize earthly discussions (particularly those of men; it is my experience that we frequently drive women from the room with the intensity of our debates).

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that every one of our encounters with one another in heaven will range from cheerily pleasant to so unbearably wonderful that our hearts would burst had they not been remade in the resurrection. Even for those of us who are currently antisocial.

Can you really picture extracting yourself from such an encounter to play golf?

You will notice I have not touched on our relationship — our individual relationships — with angels and other spirit beings or, above all, with the Lamb who is the light and the glory of the city.

I’m a small person with a small head and a small imagination. That is way too big for me.

Fortunately, even the most immature believer has some level of knowledge of the Lord Jesus, knowledge that is a product of personal experience, the word of God and truth passed on by others. We know — and, sadly, some of us ONLY know — what he means “to us”.

A couple of years ago I was off work for almost six months with a debilitating (though not life-threatening) medical condition that had me in bed pretty much all the time. Those who have had the experience will understand that, while others call, pray, and show their love and concern from a distance, you are really alone in a way that just doesn’t happen in this busy world except in sickness and old age. And despite finally having plenty of time on my hands, I found I had lost all interest in music and reading, things that normally absorb me. All I wanted to do was pray and listen to internet messages from the word of God.

I found out very quickly how much the still, small voice of the Lord Jesus means to me. Among other things, I was reminded that he is “a friend who sticks closer than a brother”.

Philip Saville’s excellent 2003 movie The Gospel of John starred Henry Ian Cusick as the Lord. I watched it in a crowded theatre and was unexpectedly reduced to tears by Cusick’s expression as he spoke to the Samaritan women at the well. I’m not sure how historically accurate it was, but he absolutely nailed something about the nature of the Lord’s compassion right there.

As crusty, worldly and immature as I am, I lose control of my tear ducts over an unsaved actor attempting to convey onscreen one tiny little aspect of my Saviour’s character. Imagine the real thing. In glory.

It’s moments like that in my experience, however insignificant on their own, that comprise my personal, very limited, knowledge of the Lamb.

But the thing is, who he is far, far exceeds not only my petty little accumulation of knowledge and enjoyment of him, but even the apprehension of his most attentive, disciplined and devoted servants. In fact, if you could total the combined understanding and appreciation of every believer in human history, you would only be feebly scratching at the surface of who he is.

Only the Father really knows the Son.

But when we see him as he is, we will begin to really know him, unshackled by time, sin, mental defect, immaturity or hardness of heart. And we’ll have eternity to get it right.

Whatever awaits us, be assured of this, it is not boring. Eternity is not a wispy, ephemeral concept.

It is packed to the rafters with joy.

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