Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Going Home

I had a dream this morning. I was walking down a small-town sidewalk when a middle-aged man carrying a big, well-thumbed soft-cover Bible passed me by. He stopped suddenly and spoke to me, and I turned around to hear what he might have to say. He had a twinkle in his eye and an appealing manner about him, and my usual instinctive reluctance to engage in such situations instantly fled. He asked me a question I can’t completely recall, but it was something about the Father’s house. He wanted to know what I thought about it. I began to try to put my ideas into words, and realized nothing coherent was coming out of my mouth.

I started and stopped three different times, then gave up.

In that moment (which was only half a second before I woke), I realized I was behaving exactly like most Christians I know. We hardly ever think about where we’re going for … well, forever. Few of our ideas about the eternal state are fully formed or even well considered.

Why is that?

Perfectly Sensible Reasons

I would imagine there are perfectly sensible reasons. We live busy lives full of potential distractions. [Make the bed. Put the dishes in the dishwasher. Mow the lawn. The cat food is almost gone and I need to go to the store.] Those thoughts that are not concerned with immediate necessities or how to complete a specific task at hand are often related to the sensations coming from our bodies designed to tell us what they require in the present moment. [It’s time for a meal. Who’s going to prepare it? My back hurts, and I want somewhere to sit down. These shoes are too tight. I should have worn the other pair. And what on earth is that smell?] The rest of our scattered thoughts relate to our emotional state and how we’d like to improve it. [Why did Alice say that weird thing this morning? Should I respond to it or leave it be? Why does Bob have to be so hurtful? I’m sure my wife used to be more interested in me.]

Few of us have learned to meditate, and fewer still spend hours trying to decode figurative language, which is pretty much how scripture presents eternity to us.

Think about it. I have plenty of ideas about what life on millennial earth will look like, because it will involve people in normal human bodies doing things to which we are all habituated — growing, learning, marrying, having children, keeping animals, carrying on business, worshiping, celebrating, relating to each other, aging (though much slower than we’re used to now), and eventually dying — all of it in an environment that closely resembles our current one, except way more pleasant. I don’t know that I’ll be doing all those things. I suspect I’ll be in my resurrection body at that point. But what I’m trying to say is that when the Bible talks about the millennial reign of Christ, it’s not hard to picture the environment and living conditions in which he will rule once we take the time to read about it.

Endless Church

The eternal state is not like that, so it stumps us. I hear less-mature Christians talking about running through grassy meadows and green hills or the joys of reuniting with friends and family. I hear more-mature Christians talking about falling down and worshiping Jesus endlessly, or mostly just staring at him. Lots of crown-casting is expected to occur. Then there are the hymns. Apparently we’ll be doing a lot of singing. If you ask some people, their idea of eternity is that we spend it in a place called heaven in which life amounts to little more than a never-ending church service.

That all sounds very pious. I’m pretty sure it’s what we’re supposed to say. But one of the things I like best about church is that it has a predetermined moment when the preacher (hopefully) stops talking, closes in prayer and perhaps gives out a hymn. Then it’s time to go home. That part is great. I know it’s great because the longer the preacher goes past noon, the more irritated it makes me.

“That’s because you’re unspiritual,” you say. Possibly. Or maybe not.

Church is fine when the singing is of a certain quality, the people are pleasant and the thoughts expressed are coherent and refreshing. It can even be great. But home on a Sunday afternoon is even better, even if it’s not yours. There’s peace and quiet, a little food, some engaging conversation with one or two friends or family members in which everyone freely participates, a comfy chair and a sense that there’s nothing you absolutely have to do right now that is better or more important than what you are doing.

Finally Home

In fact, the new Jerusalem is not a giant auditorium with Christ at the center, where we listen, stare, sing or bow. It’s not like an endless church service, even the best of them. John explicitly tells us it has no temple, and that its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Presumably, then, the new Jerusalem has no synagogue either, and most definitely no podium from behind which ill-prepared speakers hem and haw. That’s terrific. I’ve been to lots of those types of gatherings already, enough that when you tell me there won’t be any in the new Jerusalem, I really won’t miss them much.

In eternity, “church” is personal and intimate. Perhaps the glorified Christ will invite himself to your home as he invited himself to the home of Zacchaeus. After all, the new Jerusalem is God dwelling with men. Not “with man” — as in conceptually, an abstraction — but “with men”, millions of individual men and women fit for the company of God and eagerly desiring it. Why not? It’s not like eternity has a clock ticking, where your opportunities to enjoy the presence of Christ slip away moment by moment. There’s no limit to the potential fellowship we may enjoy with him.

In fact, all the massive gatherings we read about in heaven are prior to the eternal state, aren’t they: the great multitude no one could number standing before the throne, the singing of the 144,000, even the marriage supper of the Lamb. All take place prior to the time the holy city, the new Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God and all things are made new.

The Father’s House

The Lord Jesus spoke about a place he would prepare for his disciples. The Father has a house, in which rooms are being prepared. Unlike auditoriums or stadia, designed for large audiences, events and spectacles, these are abodes. Places you dwell. Places you stay. Places you rest. Homes.

We know there are “many” of them, which means each one is probably not built to accommodate hundreds, maybe not even dozens. Homes done up right (and these will be) are comfortable and intimate. They foster conversation, ease and fellowship, probably not with the same people endlessly, because there will be so many with whom we will want to become intimately acquainted. And we won’t have to go far to find them, because these rooms are all in the same house, the product of the same protection, love and care.

Dwelling places do not exist to facilitate lectures or showcase spectacles, but the sharing of the best we have with others, and the sharing of the best they have with us. Home is a place you can leave if you wish, but which you can always come back to. When you have an abode, you have no need to look for a city whose builder and maker is God. You are already there.

In our new home, we will have the water of life to drink without price, and twelve kinds of fruit to eat. Just enough variety that we will never be bored, and just enough familiarity that we will never long for a taste we love but to which we do not currently have access. In our new home, the Father’s love and the Lamb’s glory will be manifest in the faces, thoughts and words of everyone present. There will be nobody there with whom we have no common interests because the fundamental reason they are present is that they too love the Lord Jesus Christ; everything he is, everything he says, everything he is doing, has done or will do. They radiate their appreciation of his glory from every pore.

Unpack the Imagery

As figurative as these images surely are, they each tell us something important. You will unpack them in different ways than I might, but that’s why we all ought to spend more time thinking about them. Because I believe they were intended to be chewed over, contemplated and considered here and now, so that we have something more tangible than a giant golf course or a church service to look forward to, and perhaps a reason to forge on toward the glories to come with greater enthusiasm and anticipation.

Spend some time this week just trying to unpack the imagery. You will not regret it.

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