What comes to mind when you think about Heaven or eschatology? Because you have undoubtedly read the title to this post, you will see where it is headed. Nevertheless, if we honestly examine our thoughts about Heaven and our culture’s ideas about Heaven (including church-culture), we will see a fundamental—yet hugely problematic—shortcoming; often, when we think about Heaven, we simply think about Heaven.
John Piper asks a crucial question of all Christians:
“If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?” (John Piper, God is The Gospel, 15).
I’m afraid that many in our churches would—though maybe silently—answer “YES!” Part of the reason for this, I believe, rests on our shoulders (as teachers and preachers) when we preach Jesus as simply a bridge or ladder to heaven. Our invitation is, “here, step on Jesus. He will take you somewhere awesome!” (only to leave Jesus, our “bridge,” lying there). Will we be disappointed to find that Jesus is the “treasure” we have been storing up?
Much of our Christian music reflects this flaw in thinking. Just think of how many songs speak of the “crystal river” or “street of gold” but never really get around to talking about the glory of God. Or, if they do, He comes across as an item in a list, rather than its shining center. The last chapters of Revelation (where these images arise) show us vividly how these images are not the point, but show us something greater! Revelation 22:1-2b says,
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city [presumably the street of gold based on 21:21]”
So the river, and the street of gold which the river somehow runs in the middle of, lead directly to (or “flow from”) the throne of God Himself! He is the point! If you were to attend the Oscars only to return with snapshots and close-ups of a vacant red carpet your friends would think you went crazy, yet this is what we do when we focus on the material splendors of Heaven as ends in themselves (I use that word Heaven broadly—I understand that Revelation 21-22 is not speaking of “Heaven” per se).
We don’t make much of the red carpet because there is something inherently spectacular about carpet which is red. We make much of the red carpet because of the fame and glory of those who walk on it. Without those who walk on it, saying, “red carpet” would mean nothing more to us than “white carpet” or, “soft carpet.” The inherent beauty then of a ‘river like crystal’ or a ‘street of gold’ only magnifies, all the more, the beauty and glory of Him to whom it leads.
When we speak of eternity we must present God as its ultimate good. Not streets of gold, or “mansions,” or health, or family reunion. This only diminishes the glory of God to our hearers. God is the point, and ultimate end of the Gospel! Even the landscape of our future home reflects this!