Dear friend who desperately wants to see the world,
Me too, for one thing.
Secondly, I have better news for both of us than “You won a free trip to Europe!” (And that would be some awesome news.)
But before I tell you that, you must hear me out on something that will probably seem totally irrelevant to you. Just wait. I can almost guarantee that you’re not dreaming big enough about all the sights and experiences that you desire.
Try to track with me here, even if you've already rolled your eyes out of their sockets because you’re certain you know what I’m going to say. It really does get juicy at point four.
1) Your desire to see the world is God-given.
He has created incredible beauty—the mountains, Aurora Borealis, the people who make art and food and culture; He gets credit for every good thing—and He delights in what He has created. When He made creation, He said it was “very good.” He welcomes you to taste and see His goodness, and His goodness can quite tangibly be tasted and seen.
First of all, He never needed to create anything at all, but secondly, He by no means had to make the universe beautiful and expansive like He has. You were made to recognize and appreciate His greatness. I'm certainly not suggesting we silence our desires to see the world.
2) The world we all want---that deep-seated desire we all have for peace and joy---is actually going to happen someday, and God is happy to usher it in, but it’s not right now. And it’s not apart from Jesus.
Deep down everyone wants a world of peace and love and truth and justice, free of pain and suffering and death. Scientists, innovators, and politicians are desperately trying to do the best they can to make this world happen. Most people hope that someday in their lifetime “world peace” will be attained, whatever that looks like.
But it’s just not going to happen apart from Jesus.
Our “faith in humanity” can’t ever be restored because humanity consistently fails. Most of the time we all work for what we want, and that disunity causes problems, and those problems tend to escalate. Human history is full of beauty but it’s also full of brokenness and evil and pain.
The only hope---the perfect hope---is that one time the creator God took on human flesh, gave His life for humanity, proved victorious over death, and promised to return to make a New Heavens and New Earth, where death will be no more, and mourning, crying, and pain will be no more, and the former things will pass away. The world we all want is coming and on its way.
It’s called “The New Earth” for a reason. It’s not just going to be a bright and shiny auditorium where souls float around and sing. We’ve let comic-strip portrayals of Heaven shape our thinking of what eternity is actually going to look like for those who belong to God, but the Bible paints a much more exciting, much more physical picture. Heaven is going to be fun. I’ll get back to that in point four.
3) The local church is designed to be a glimpse of heavenly culture, and everyone’s invited.
Chances are hefty that you’re scoffing at this because all you’ve experienced from the church is hurt and hypocrisy. That’s fair; I’ve probably been to your church or a church like it and I don’t want to spend eternity in a culture like that either.
But maybe you’ve just never been part of a church that truly loves Jesus. For a gamut of reasons (many monetary, sadly) lots of American pastors have made church membership such an easy or nonexistent process that a church is comprised largely of people who don’t really love or know Jesus at all. You look around and you see people who want a little bit of religion but don’t walk humbly with God, love mercy, or do justice.
However, Christ loves His people and is establishing heavenly culture all over the world. In my local church, for example, I really do see a glimpse of the culture of heaven. By God's grace and my pastors' biblical ministry philosophy, pretty much everybody at Covenant Life gives, serves, and loves, because we want to and we're overflowing with joy. Our church really is doing good for the city and for our neighbors. Christians have been doing that individually and, optimally, in a healthy local church, all over the world since Christ began His church. This kind of tangible peace and love and joy prepares us for eternity.
4) Think about the implications of a real, physical place where “death shall be no more, and neither will there be mourning, or crying, or pain anymore.”
As proof of God’s creative power, consider the Olympus Mons, a volcano on Mars, that is almost three times as tall as Mount Everest (as Randy Alcorn points out in his massively helpful---and massive---book Heaven, which has been instrumental in my thinking.) The natural wonders on the New Earth will likely overshadow the natural wonders I so desperately want to see today, except my visits to the New Everest (or whatever natural wonders will be on this restored earth) will not be marred by sadness or fear or shame or the possibility of death. My expeditions will be full of worshipful enjoyment of the One who made them.
When I go to Busch Gardens and I get to see cheetahs up close, all I can think is “Why can’t I ride you!?” I’d at least love to cuddle. But alas, at this point the cheetah would eat me. So I can hope in the day when there will be peace among animals and with me. I mean, it's not like the Bible tells me I can ride a cheetah someday, but can you even imagine a world where “death is no more” as it relates to creatures?
Or, consider this. I’ve never been to Tampa’s famous Bern’s Steakhouse. And, trust me, I am a steak person. But I don’t think I’ll ever go to Bern’s. Our eating-out budget does not allow for going to restaurants that cost more than twelve bucks an entree. I’m not mad about that, because I can wait; my new, resurrected tastebuds are going to be way better than they are now; I will have a capacity for enjoying food more than I possibly can now. And the food is going to be far more amazing than it possibly could be now. And it won’t be polluted with pesticides! Can you even imagine eating food that is pure?!
And technology? Can you imagine the kind of technology that can be contrived on the New Earth with redeemed resources, no language barrier, and, oh yeah, free access to the infinitely wise and creative One who made and sustains all things!? I totally think space travel will be possible on the New Earth in far more impressive ways than the world’s most strained and expensive efforts can muster for millennia.
One last point: people. Perhaps some of the most brilliant minds in the history of the world were not only uncelebrated but illiterate. One day, women who were blind will be making the most incredible art, and men who were confined to a wheelchair all their lives will be running with joy. It will be possible for me to have a conversation or go on an adventure with Vivaldi and Ruth and John Newton and Gladys Aylward and John Piper, not to mention all the Christians I know now or I've never heard of and non-English-speaking believers from of old that I am too ignorant to even know about!
Like I said, I almost guarantee that you haven’t been dreaming big enough about what is literally possible to be experienced someday.
But the most important part of all this is that God is at the center of it all. The only reason these things can be good is because they are from God and through God and with God and for God. A Heaven without God is no Heaven at all. The only reason we can even want a perfect world is because He has written eternity on our hearts. We know what good is because we have been made in a good God’s image, and there is no goodness apart from Him. All that we do on the New Earth will be worship of Him---and if you truly know Him, you know that there is no comparable delight. We were created with a capacity for joy that can only be met in Him, and our new bodies will have an even greater capacity for joy. In fact, God will need to give us new bodies in order for us to even be able to behold Him in His glory.
This frees me up to be faithful with what I've been given. I don't have to loathe my kids for keeping me from 14-day Mediterranean cruises. I am not consumed by a countdown until my next trip. I'm truly content and free, not because living in a humid and mosquito-ridden state and changing a hundred diapers a day is really fun, but because I don't feel like I need to indulge my every immediate desire right now. I can give myself for others, and I can enjoy doing so. If I get the opportunity to travel, I'd be grateful, and I'm excited for my friends who do get to experience the world. But I can wait just a little while until everything is restored to better than before and I'll have all eternity to explore the world (nay, the universe!), with a greater joy than I ever knew was possible.
I really believe all this. I have pondered quite seriously whether there is a God and concluded there is. I have deeply considered whether an absolute truth exists and found the validity of the Bible to be overwhelming. I study the Bible hard and continue to find that it can stand up to every bit of my skepticism. And I love Jesus, I really, really love Jesus, with my heart, my soul, and, yes, even my mind!
And I really believe that an eternal hell exists for those who do not belong to Christ. All the sadness and darkness and death that occurs in this world isn’t just from natural occurrences. This world is so broken because of sin, and sinners like me, and a God who doesn’t punish injustice is not a good God at all. The fact that He has chosen to put sin on Christ and even spare anyone shows us that He is shockingly, scandalously merciful. He invites you to come to Him. Find the treasure that lasts!
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising four little people ages 1,3, and 5, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and Coke icees, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
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Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today