Sunday, January 31, 2016

Earthly and Heavenly

Asked what three things they would take to heaven if they could, respondents demonstrate impoverished imaginations:

“My crucifix, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album and a photo of my best friend who died last year”

“My PS3, cell phone, picture of my family”

“My iTouch, my electric guitar and my copy of Pilgrim’s Progress printed in the 1800s”

The most common choices are computers and game systems. A few pets work their way in as apparent afterthoughts.

Minds on Things Above

This tells me most of those responding are fairly young, but also suggests that in their minds heaven is defined more by the things that are not there than by any positive features (though perhaps the question itself demands that sort of response).

The apostle Paul tells believers:
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
This seems a difficult thing to do if our concept of the “things that are above” is underdeveloped, shriveled by obsession with the features of daily life, or entirely nonexistent.

Not So Shallow

But I like to think people are not as shallow as they might initially appear. I have no interest whatsoever in videogames, but it’s not impossible that some of what appears pointless and trivial to me may actually be a misdirected, unfocused desire for something of greater value. A teenage boy who spends too much time shooting things onscreen could certainly be a budding psychopath; equally, he might be living what he perceives to be an existence without any clear point and in search of something that matters. Maybe even something actually worth dying for.

My youngest son grew up obsessed with the Yoshi characters in the Super Mario Brothers games. It might have been because he loved dinosaurs, or because green was his favourite colour, or just because Yoshis are ridiculously cute. I had no clue. So when he was old enough to account for his fascination, I asked him. Without missing a beat, he responded: “It’s because they’re a happy family”.

Sometimes heavenly values show up in places they are not instantly recognized. Let’s leave some benefit of the doubt to those who prize things we don’t (not that I want or expect a guitar or cell phone in heaven).

Not So Intangible

Thankfully, Paul doesn’t leave us to imagine what particular heavenly things he’s referring to. “Things above” could easily be some airy-fairy set of intangibles, but it really isn’t. These are the heavenly values to which he refers:
“Put on … compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Less tangible than an electric guitar, maybe, but a whole lot more use. Our life is “hidden with Christ in God”, and as such, these “things that are above” are most perfectly modeled by the One who sits at the right hand of God until such time as he is revealed from heaven in glory.


Compassion is a defining feature of the Lord Jesus as man, something Matthew reveals over and over again. The people who followed him had nothing to eat, and the Lord Jesus felt compassion for them. On another occasion it was not their hunger, but the fact that they were “harassed and helpless” that drew out his compassion. On yet another occasion, their infirmities prompted healing. The reason? Compassion. If there is a more heavenly value than compassion, I cannot think of it. I have eternal life because of the compassion of Christ, as do millions of others.

We are welcome in the Father’s house because of Christ’s compassion. Insignificant, ignorant, inferior human beings are not only tolerated but loved because of it.

Heaven is not some yawning absence that needs to be filled with the toys we devise with our limited, pathetically inadequate imaginations. It is brim-full of glorious compassion.


The kindness of God resulted in the pouring out of the Holy Spirit “through Jesus Christ our Saviour”. The entire trinity is suffused with kindness. God’s kindness is rich, manifesting itself in “forbearance and patience”. If we can’t be bothered to repent, it is not because God has failed to reach us with his message, but because our defective, selfish hearts have failed to respond to it.

It is no surprise, then, that the One who is Kindness Incarnate expects the same of his children. Heaven may or may not have PS3s. It will definitely be kind.


What on earth (or in heaven) does Jesus Christ have to be humble about? That is a conundrum for any thinking human being. And yet he is unspeakably humble. Scripture makes this clear repeatedly: He was in the form of God, but “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped”. That was the mindset of the Son of God while he was still in heaven. It wasn’t merely that becoming a man was a humbling experience for him, but that it was characteristic of him to be humble, even up to the point of death; ultimately death on a cross. Let this mind be in you and me.

Hard to imagine as it may be, heaven is a place where humility is exalted and service, not power, is ultimately valued.

Even if there is no golf course, I’ll get by somehow. So will Bernie.

“They say the meek will inherit the earth. How long will you keep it?”
— The Police
The answer is forever. Meekness is not only a feature of the earthly people of God, but a characteristic of the Lord Jesus. Heaven is for the meek, folks. Our eternity depends on it: it is because Jesus Christ is “gentle and humble in heart” that we can guarantee we will “find rest” for our souls.

Meekness is strength under control. Anyone with muscles, youth and intensity can be strong. It takes a bigger man to rein in that strength.

Paul entreats his readers “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ”. He is not for a moment pleading from an enforced position of weakness, but assuming one out of sheer generosity of spirit.

Heaven is for the meek. Meekness Incarnate sits on its throne.


The patience of Christ is legendary. Paul tells the Corinthians:
“May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the patience of Christ.”
The love of God is displayed in the patience of Christ. His love is not some emotional wind that blows arbitrarily over the human race, but a steadfast rock of faithful character. His patience with Philip and Thomas, just by way of example, assure us that he never overreacts or responds inordinately to the failures of his own, whether they be failures of performance or imagination. And let’s not even start with Peter.

Valued and Valuable

There’s much more in the character of Jesus Christ to show us what is really valued and valuable in heaven. Heaven is not an absence, but an overwhelming and very, very personal Presence.

The sort of person who can’t go five minutes without playing a videogame or checking her phone for a text message may not see much in it, and to be honest, if it’s only curiosity or a rush of adrenaline that spins your world on its axis, there may not be much in heaven to excite you.

But if there’s anything at all in the things of earth that makes you long for something bigger, better and more eternal, Jesus Christ is all that and more.

Maybe you can’t take a photo to heaven of your family, or your best friend who died.

But what if you find them there? 

1 comment :

  1. Male that I am, I found myself wrestling for the umpteenth time with the theological mystery of how one eternally equal with God did not count upon it as a thing to be "grasped". I have thought, and I think heard it in the past, of this as something to be contrasted with Satan's desire to be like the Most High. But such a comparison is not hinted at in the context. That would shift us from thinking only about He who existed in the form of God to see Him only as one to be valued for NOT being minded as was Lucifer -- so making the Lord Jesus to be prized only for being for what He was not.

    Enough of that.

    "Grasped" may be understood instead, as meaning something He did not consider He must maintain or cling to; it was unquestionably His eternally.

    However, reputation is not necessarily something inherent but what is accorded to you. He enjoyed full glory with the Father (John 17) and along with it a deserved reputation. In stooping as low as He did, He made Himself of no reputation. He was not only "sent" but "came" into this world at Bethlehem. Throughout His life, He characteristically "received not honor from men" even to the point of dying on the cross and thus becoming a spectacle for men to gaze upon and be saved -- while angels must have held their breath. In His ascension He has taken those who believe on Him with Him into the glory which He earned by His obedience to the Father.

    In this way He could rightly request an additional glory; one earned by the obedience He displayed in His human condition: "Glorify Your Son that Your may glorify You ..." and also speak of the glory which He had with "the Father before the world was".