When I talk to the average person about heaven and hell, I find that there are a lot of misconceptions about those things. I don’t blame them too much because these misconceptions about heaven and hell are so ingrained in our culture that it seems weird to think that it is like anything else. I think back to the old Tom and Jerry cartoons, where you get to heaven by escalator, and hell is ruled by a mean bulldog. According to our culture, heaven is a place filled with angels and harps and clouds. Hell is in some cave underground and it is fiery and hot and the devil is there poking you with a stick. With these two perceptions of heaven and hell in mind it is no surprise that when asked, do you want to go to heaven or hell, that most sane people say they want to go to heaven.
However, I think one of the most important aspects of heaven that doesn’t get mentioned in Tom and Jerry theology is that the most prominent feature of heaven and the kingdom to come is that God is there. Rev 21:1-4 makes it clear that when the new kingdom comes, God will be there and is a place with his people and he will be dwelling there with the people. It sounds like I just wrote a very redundant sentence, but that’s the way John wrote it, and when a biblical author repeats something in that way you can bet that it is important.
Why is it so important to mention this? Because I think most people when they say they want to go to heaven don’t actually want to see Jesus, but rather they really just don’t like the idea of hell, and heaven is not hell so heaven seems like a better alternative. But if you think about it, why would someone who doesn’t want to follow God and be his people want to go to a place that is defined by that? Why would someone who rebels against God and hates doing what he says want to be with him forever? I think most people when they say they want to go to heaven, really only want to as long as God isn’t there to tell them what to do.
This is why repentance is so important in the process of salvation. Repentance means turning away from my rebellion against God and turning to wanting to follow him and do what he says to do. This means denying myself and my fleshly desires, and instead following the one who created me.
This is going to be SO easy once in heaven, but in the meantime, we have to live in this world that is filled with hate, anger, jealousy, greed, and suffering. I think one of the hardest things about being a follower of Jesus is that we don’t get to live with him right away, and sometimes following him is a very hard thing to do. This is especially true if sin such as abuse, betrayal, or abandonment has happened to you.
But imagine this: imagine an existence with a God whose very presence is enough to make the pain of those sins evaporate. Imagine living with a God whose love and kindness and mercy ignites a joy that makes the pain of this world inconsequential. This is the promise that we have in Jesus. Not a promise of a God-free heaven, but a promise of a God-filled heaven. The best part is that you can experience this joy today by dwelling on the promise that we have in Jesus. Cultivate joy in your life by remembering what God has done for you in Jesus!