Picture the most perfect morning you can possibly imagine. You’re sitting outdoors in a comfortable lounge chair under a tree’s canopy of glorious green. The sun is at just the right angle to cast dappled, moving shadows, the temperature neither too warm nor too cool, the air neither too still nor too breezy. Butterflies are dancing, birds trilling, and flowers perfume the air. Perhaps a dear friend is sitting near you, or a kitten is playing with your shoelace, making you laugh. There’s nothing worrying you. You gaze at pure white clouds in a deep blue sky as you sip your favorite beverage. You’re absorbing every delicious millisecond of this ideal moment.
Then picture that moment lasting just as long as you want it to—forever, if you wish—and you’ll have but a vague, imperfect picture of what God has prepared for those who love Him.
God made this earth beautiful to show us how much He loves us. Christian author Ellen G. White wrote, “ ‘God is love’ is written upon every opening bud, upon every spire of springing grass. The lovely birds making the air vocal with their happy songs, the delicately tinted flowers in their perfection perfuming the air, the lofty trees of the forest with their rich foliage of living green—all testify to the tender, fatherly care of our God and to His desire to make His children happy.” There is enough real beauty, true love, and deep joy here on this old earth to give us a taste of what an extravagantly wonderful life He’s preparing for us when this life is over.
Our unheavenly world
However, I am quite certain that you, like me, have not had a life of only perfect moments. Like everyone else on our planet, we’ve experienced loss, disappointment, failure, and physical and emotional pain. Very early in our lives we were forced to realize that we don’t always get what we want, and even when we do, it might not make us all that happy.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “Thy fate is the common fate of all, into each life some rain must fall.” Though we expect disappointment, we never accept it, especially when it touches life itself—when I, or someone I love, faces the grave.
In short, it’s easy to imagine a world much better than this one. It was a flawless existence that God had in mind for us when He originally furnished and populated the earth. You know the story: God’s newly created world was infected by sin, and ever since then our moments of joy have been interrupted by sin’s effects. What the serpent (who was the evil angel Lucifer in disguise) promised Eve if she ate of the forbidden tree came true: Adam and Eve, and all of us who’ve descended from them, gained a knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:22). It was only after evil invaded that our first parents knew how good they’d had it before.
Ever since, we’ve been regretting their wrong choice. Now we know about earthquakes, cancer, war, starvation, bankruptcy, murder, divorce, and a host of other sadness—and wish we didn’t.
The best of everything
What will heaven be like? You may have your own mental image of it from paintings or drawings you’ve seen. One popular scenario (not infrequently the setting for jokes) shows a person met at the pearly gates by St. Peter. Peter gives the person a white robe, wings, and crown, and he or she spends the rest of eternity on a fluffy white cloud, strumming a harp. While those elements— crowns, robes, pearly gates, and the rest—are found in Scripture, nowhere are they combined into this cartoon picture of heaven. I suspect most of us would find an eternity of harp-playing quite dull!
A rural heaven
What God has planned will be much more interesting and rewarding than that. The prophet Isaiah, for example, pictured a pastoral afterlife, one where people live peacefully, build their own houses, and grow their own food (Isaiah 65:21). Even nature will be tamed. Isaiah says that heaven will be a “peaceable kingdom” (a favorite artists’ motif) where “the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. . . . The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest” (Isaiah 11:6, 8).
An urban heaven
While Isaiah’s description of heaven is rural, John’s is decidedly urban. He describes a city of gigantic proportions that’s constructed of materials so precious— things like gold, jasper, and sapphire— that they’d be impossible to use on an architectural scale here. Knowing the kind of city his readers would have been familiar with, John pictures the Holy City surrounded by high, ornate walls, though he stresses that the inhabitants don’t need the protection of walls. “On no day will its gates ever be shut,” John said, “for there will be no night there” (Revelation 21:25).
In addition to magnificent buildings, John sees an extraordinary city park: “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month” (Revelation 22:1, 2).
Whether Isaiah and John meant to describe precisely what heaven will look like is impossible to say. Perhaps an eternity of tending an orchard wouldn’t appeal to you, and I doubt that gold would make a very good paving material! But one thing is certain: what makes heaven heavenly won’t be its horticulture or its architecture, but rather dramatic improvements in the very nature of existence. Here are some of the changes God promises:
- No sadness or grief: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4), and “the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more” (Isaiah 65:19).
- Immortality: “There will be no more death” (Revelation 21:4), for “we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
- Complete fulfillment in all our endeavors: “My chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their hands. They will not toil in vain” (Isaiah 65:22, 23).
- Universal peace: “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain” (Isaiah 11:9).
- No crime or evil people: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful” (Revelation 21:27).
- Perfect happiness: “The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create” (Isaiah 65:17, 18).
- Reunification with loved ones: “The dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17).
God living with us: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them” (Revelation 21:3). Our glorious new home will be all that God originally had intended for us when He made this world!
Making it good again
Recently, I saw a news report from one of the Middle East’s many trouble spots. A bomb, aimed inaccurately, landed on a house, where it killed a man’s wife and all of his children. This father’s suffering was intense and what had happened was so unfair that I began to understand why some would ask whether a good God can exist in a world of such horrible evil.
But we who have faith in God’s goodness find hope in the promises of Scripture. God will make it up to us! He will soothe our sadness, restore what was lost, and give us lives so perfect that we won’t dwell on the tragedies we’ve experienced here. Not the least of the blessings He promises is the privilege of spending eternity with our Savior. “I am going there to prepare a place for you,” Jesus said. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:2, 3).
Heaven isn’t a mythological place, but the blessed hope and eternal home of those of us who have entrusted our souls to God. There’s an old gospel song that says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” God created the world we live in now, and though marred by sin, its residual loveliness whets our anticipation of heaven. But can I feel completely at home here when I know that what He has in store for us is so perfect, so rich in spiritual treasure, that it will make everything here look like a dim, dark shadow?
I want to be there. I hope you do too!