I have always hated Hollywood depictions of heaven. Often it is of a big white, endless room where nothing whatsoever happens, or it is a loop of your best day ever, or something equally disappointing. However it is depicted, heaven is, at the very best, a consolation prize to earth. If you can’t live, at least there’s an afterlife, and it isn’t hell. For a group of people (moviemakers) whose stock in trade is imagination, they have a truly abysmal imagination. We all do.
When we as human beings imagine our best future, our wildest dreams, our hopes for how our lives will turn out, they are limited by things we’ve seen before: a career we’d like to emulate, a fairy tale love story we hope to have, a car like we’ve seen advertised. Our imagination is limited by our perception, and we have never ever seen heaven.
The Apostle Paul, who did see heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-6), didn’t even try to describe what it was like, but he did say this: “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Philippians 1:23).
In our imagination, heaven is a pale imitation of earth. In reality, earth is a pale imitation of heaven.
Heaven is where God is—God, the template of every good thing we have ever encountered; God, the source of every good thing we’ve ever received; God, the object of our every desire, no longer separated from us by veiled perception and sinful inclination and fleshly distraction, but right before our eyes (See Romans 11:36; James 1:17; Psalm 37:4; 1 Corinthians 13:12). Heaven is where our treasures are, where every good thing we’ve ever loved cannot be lost or stolen or moth-eaten or rusted (Matthew 6:20). Heaven is where sin and death and tears and guilt and pain and fear are wiped away. Heaven is where all things become new (Revelation 21:4).
I wish I could describe heaven to you. But every description of heaven in Scripture (and there aren’t many) is filtered through human eyes and put into human words—of course this makes heaven too small. This limits heaven to human understanding, and heaven is so far beyond human understanding. But what I know is this: heaven is where salvation, the thing that brought me out of darkness to light, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God, is made complete (See Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:30). Here, I get glorious glimpses of what salvation can do—it can wipe away fear when the love of God dawns on me (1 John 4:18). It can crush guilt as grace has its way with me (See Romans 2:4; James 3:17). It brings me purpose (Ephesians 2:10), eliminates boasting (Ephesians 2:8-9), takes care of everything so that there is nothing left for me to do but bask in it (Ecclesiastes 3:14). These are just the tastes. Heaven is the meal.
When Jesus saved me, He could have taken me home, but He left me here for a necessary purpose, and here, I get glimpses of heaven on earth when salvation is lived out more and more. When salvation promises you heaven, and then leaves you on earth for a time, that makes earth—this thing we cling to and build mansions on and tie treasures to—the consolation prize. Heaven is home. I can’t describe it, I can’t imagine it, but if the good parts of the consolation prize (the glimpses of salvation) are this good, imagine the real thing.