This post is one in a series of posts on a Bible study I am doing titled Heaven by Randy Alcorn and Dave McCleskey. The focus of this study is to get a Biblical view of what heaven is really like.
Today my study asked the question “is it OK to imagine heaven as a literal place?”. It’s obvious that the author thinks so, since he wrote a book (and this book became a Bible study) about imagining heaven, but I have been trained to accept nothing less than undeniable proof before I give myself over to a conviction about the truth of a matter. I believe that scripture is absolute truth, so I needed some scriptural backup to show me that the answer to this question is a definite “yes!” Thankfully, Alcorn provided such scriptures in today’s lesson. He started off by listing scriptures people use to dissuade others from thinking about heaven, especially thinking about it as a literal place. He calls these scriptures silencers. Then he lists some scriptures that back up his notion that imagining heaven is not just OK…it’s necessary! I’ll call these encouragers, although this is my own name for them, not Alcorn’s.
The first verse that Alcorn said that people often use to refute the fact that we should attempt to obtain an accurate view of heaven through God’s word is 1 Corinthians 2:9. This verse says “…however, as it is written: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.’ ” As I stated yesterday, in order to imagine something, you have to be able to sense it – see, smell, hear, taste, or feel it. So if no one has seen, heard, or conceived in any way the things of heaven, then we cannot imagine it. But Alcorn reminds us that the very next verse says “but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” In other words, yes – up until God revealed it to us, we could not imagine it, but God has revealed things to us in His Word, with the help of His Spirit. Those who use this verse for the purpose of refuting the acceptability of imagining heaven are using it out of context.
The next verse Alcorn said that people use as a silencer is the first part of Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God…” Again, this verse it taken out of context, because the remainder of the verse says “…but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever…” And as before, we can see that God has revealed things to us about heaven, so they belong to us and our children.
In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, Paul tells of a time when a man sees a vision where he is “caught up to paradise.” It is assumed that Paul is talking about himself, but out of humility does not want to refer to himself in the first-person. Paul says that this man “heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell” (v. 4) This sounds like Paul is saying that man is not allowed to tell about the things of heaven, but this doesn’t make sense in light of how several prophets (including Isaiah, Ezekiel, and the apostle John) had visions of heaven and wrote about what they saw. It is more likely that Paul was not allowed to speak of the things he saw – God chose not to reveal those things to mankind, though He was okay with these other men telling about what they saw. God chooses what He wants to reveal about heaven, and as we said before, what He reveals belongs to us.
One final silencer is Isaiah 55:9 where it says “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Though some people may use this to say that thinking about heaven is above us or out of our grasp of understanding, I don’t think this verse implies that we are not to think about heaven – the large chasm that exists between heaven and earth is used as a metaphor for the chasm between God’s ways and His thoughts, and our ways and our thoughts.
Colossians 3:1-2 says “…set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” And in Hebrews 11, it tells of many people of faith in the Old Testament who “are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (v. 14-16). God obviously wants us to focus on heaven – it provides great motivation for us to live how He wants us to live, and allows us to focus on what is really important.
Alcorn ends today’s study by saying that focusing on heaven is so much better than focusing on earthly things. Focusing on heaven does not mean we have our heads in the clouds – it means we see things as God intends them to be, which gives us the perspective needed to be live effective Christian lives. I’ll end with a quote that Alcorn provides – C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says this:
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.
Click HERE to see the next post in this series.