Heaven is much more than golden harps and a glassy sea.
Children can imagine just about anything. They can transport themselves at will to places they’ve never been and immerse themselves so totally in a scene that it becomes surprisingly real. As we get older, we often lose some of that ability, but it never really leaves us entirely.
So now I’m going to ask you to use your imagination. I want you to come away with me to a place where none of us has ever been. You won’t find this place in a book of fairy tales. No, it’s very real. But to most of us, it’s not at all as real as it should be.
The place I want you to join me in visiting for the next few moments is a place called heaven—and later, a place called the new earth.
Most Christians are aware that somewhere inconceivably far away in the universe is an unseen place they’ve been taught about called heaven. But to us, it belongs to the distant future, not to our here and now. The immediate environment we live in every day, we can see and touch. Heaven, on the other hand, is out of sight and out of reach. Our lives move so fast, and we keep ourselves so busy, that we can barely keep pace with what’s happening around us, much less stop to contemplate this place we’ve never been.
We have 70, 80, or 90 years of life in this world. Maybe even 100. And life races by at blinding speed. Just as we seem to be getting started, it’s over. This world, my friends, is so very temporary. Heaven, followed by the new earth, is our real and final home. There, we’ll spend hundreds, thousands, millions, and billions upon trillions of years—into an endless eternity. So maybe it behooves us to do a little thinking about the place we’ll spend the rest of our lives.
The first verse of Revelation 21 introduces us to “a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.”
Imagine heaven, my friend. A few verses later, we are promised that God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”1
Imagine no tears! Imagine no death! Imagine no pain, no sorrow, no crying! When you’re heart feels as if it’s been torn from you as you stand over the grave of someone you love, when you cry out involuntarily in unbearable physical or emotional pain, when the world comes tumbling down around you and you’ve wept yourself to exhaustion—can you imagine what it will be like to be in a place where you’ll never cry or even feel like crying?
Imagine especially what it will be like to be in a place where there is no more death. What will it be like to realize that you yourself are never going to die. Never. Ever. Where getting older doesn’t mean getting closer to the end. Where you can love other people without carrying around the constant fear of losing them—and the sure knowledge that at some point, you’ll have to say goodbye when one of you dies. A place where there are no cemeteries, no funerals, no graveside farewells. A place where people don’t die, animals don’t die, flowers don’t die, and leaves don’t fall from trees. A place without life insurance and without wills.
Imagine next a place with no conflict—a place where all our relationships bring only joy. Even in the closest of our relationships in this life, we experience tension, disagreement, and misunderstandings at best. And at worst, we experience conflict, verbal and physical and emotional abuse, divorce, and alienation. Imagine a place where all of our relationships work perfectly and bring us deep, lasting, profound joy. Imagine all that you’ve ever wanted or hoped for in love or friendship—and imagine that it’s yours forever.
Imagine a place where you no longer live with constant stress. This life wears us out with its unrelenting pressure, with its hurry and flurry and worry. Most of us stagger through an endless succession of days that follow nights without enough sleep. We push hard all day. Many of us feel perpetually exhausted and on the edge of burning out. Imagine a place where the pace of your life is leisurely, where you never feel pressured, where you never feel rushed, where you never feel overwhelmed by too much to do and not enough time to do it. Imagine feeling energized yet relaxed, feeling excited but not pressured. Imagine knowing that you have all the time you could possibly need for doing what you want to do. Imagine it, my friends. That place is real, and it will soon be yours.
Imagine a place where you never have to spend another moment battling against the things that drag you down. Imagine a place permanently free of all those words that start with the letter “D”: disappointment, disillusionment, discouragement, depression, to say nothing of debt and divorce and disease and death!
Imagine a place where you don’t have to fight any more spiritual battles but can simply enjoy spiritual growth and face-to-face communication with God. Imagine never being tempted—either by the desires of your own sinful nature or by the devil and his underlings. Imagine never feeling the downward pull of selfishness.
Imagine never experiencing a moment of boredom because your To Do list will take all eternity to check off. Imagine not only traveling anywhere in the universe at will, but presenting all your deepest questions to God. Imagine all the talking and listening you will do with angels, with inhabitants of other worlds, with the great men and women of the Bible, and with God’s faithful followers through all of this world’s history. Imagine choosing any area of knowledge and learning everything you can find and following your discoveries as far as your perfect mind can take you. Imagine choosing any skill and developing it as far as you want to take it.
Imagine no bad news. No crime. No corruption. No playground fistfights and no world wars. No destructive storms. No starvation. No depressing litany of natural and man-made evils.
Imagine your surroundings. Read Revelation 21 and 22 and see the holy city in your mind’s eye. Imagine the gold streets, the gates of a single pearl, the river of life.
But friends, above all else, I want you to imagine this about heaven—I want you to imagine the best thing about it: It’s to be found in just five words, which you can read in Revelation 22: “They will see his face.”2 Imagine looking directly into the face of Jesus. Imagine standing in His immediate presence and looking deep into His eyes as He fixes His gaze on you.
These are the eyes of the One who dreamed of you in His mind, then called you into existence. These are the eyes of the One who filled your lungs with your first breath and every breath that followed. These are the eyes of the One whose immediate power keeps your heart beating. These are the eyes of the One that once closed in death for you so that you might share this moment in heaven with Him. These are the eyes of perfect, unconditional, all-encompassing eternal love. And I want you to imagine looking into those eyes and realizing that finally your pain and your loss and your sin and your separation and your fear are all gone and that you are perfectly loved and accepted in this moment—and will be for all eternity.
Because when you’ve imagined every wonder of heaven, every spectacular reality of the new earth, you’ve only begun to explore how surpassingly wonderful it will all be. For nothing will ever match for you the all-consuming joy of looking into the face of the One who made you and feeling such overpowering gratitude as you never dreamed possible—of realizing that because of Him your heart will never be empty, your brow will never be furrowed, your body never weary, and your soul never lacking.
Imagine what it will feel like to be immersed in acceptance and approval and unconditional love. Imagine the eyes of Jesus brightening as He smiles at you. Imagine realizing that His total attention in this moment is focused on you and you alone. Imagine realizing, my friend, that as you look long into those smiling eyes, it suddenly comes to you that heaven is much more than gold streets and a glassy sea. It’s basking in the presence of Someone who loves you more than His own life—and knowing that you have all eternity to find out why.
What does heaven look like in your imagination? Write and share your thoughts with us. We may share them with other readers in our letters section. You can write a letter to the editor and submit it online on the Letters to the Editors page.
Ken McFarland wrote this article while he was living in Las Vegas, Nevada.