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The Logic of Heaven, Part 3

May 23rd, 2019

What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden that God has laid on men to occupy them. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom the work that God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11 BSB)

The very thought of eternity is a gift that God has given to humanity.

“The Preacher,” as the inspired author of Ecclesiastes is often called, pondered three realities in this section of the book: (1) the timing of God in the different events in the world, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1); (2) the life and duties of man which have concrete realities and finite limitations of experiences, “his toil” or “the burden God has laid on men” — a single man in his life span will not experience every single thing that all other men experience; and (3) the understanding of eternity that dwells in the human heart, that God out of the wealth of limitless knowledge and infinite being has created the universe and rules over the affairs of human life.

The specific thing that is pointed out here is that despite our limitations as created beings, we humans have the capacity, as rudimentary as it may be, to conceive of the eternal. With this conception we also can perceive of eternal plans and eternal goals and an eternal singularity in the existence of all things. This traces back to one Creator, who as the eternal great Three-in-One has within Himself the capacity for fellowship, love, thought, intention, purpose, and goals.

In simpler terms it is the simple thought that despite the many different experiences of human existence, there is an eternal Person and purpose behind it all. One may be lifted out of his drudgery by taking pride in his work – “I know that there is nothing better for men than to rejoice and do good while they live, and also that every man should eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his labor—this is the gift of God” (Eccl. 3:12-13). But still there is a sense of futility and emptiness in earthly human life alone.

As the Keil Delitzsch Biblical Commentary states:

The author means to say that God has not only assigned to each individually his appointed place in history, thereby bringing to the consciousness of man the fact of his being conditioned, but that He has also established in man an impulse leading him beyond that which is temporal toward the eternal: it lies in his nature not to be contented with the temporal, but to break through the limits which it draws around him, to escape from the bondage and the disquietude within which he is held, and amid the ceaseless changes of time to console himself by directing his thoughts to eternity.

The Necessity of Heaven to the Human Soul

There is in each person an appreciation for the perfect. And though “perfect” is defined in different ways, it is still present in each of us. I have not found a satisfactory explanation of this reality in any philosophy other than the biblical and Christian faith.

For example, the atheistic evolutionist says that this desire for perfection is simply the result of some latent desire for a mother’s comfort, something which we all had and needed in our infancy. So we spend the remainder of our lives desiring again for that same inner emotional security and comfort, and that the idea of heaven or eternity is nothing more than this manifesting itself. And any inner feeling of joy or peace in religion, they would argue, is merely the psychological construct in the human consciousness that allows for a person to tap into this infantile and hidden memory in our minds.

To me such an explanation seems entirely inadequate, for the whole notion of eternity and of purpose and meaning lies not within merely a latent emotion, but in logic itself. An infant cannot mentally construct the purpose behind the universe, and neither can memories from childhood, let alone infancy, provide the profound peace of forgiveness, redemption, and eternal hope. Certainly it is no accident that many people sentimentally associate heaven with their mothers, but this thought alone is inadequate.

The better answer to me is the biblical perspective, that God placed within the human heart the knowledge of eternity. And this means that we expect answers, comfort, and even judgment. We want clarification, vindication, and hope for redemption. The more profound of us would like the means and opportunity to atone for whatever we have done wrong, to gain assurance of forgiveness and grace.

The end of the Biblical revelation is precisely what our hearts long for:

And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:2-4 ESV)

The Necessities of Eternal Peace

The necessary ingredients for an eternal peace are found in this passage above:

  • A new home: the new “Holy City” will come down to us from the home of God. It will not be the broken society of earth that we seek to improve and repair and pass on still in a broken condition. It will be a new creation of God that is perfected.
  • The dwelling of God with us: at the close of chapter 20 in Revelation the devil and his angels are thrown into the lake of fire, as well as the unbelieving of humanity. God in His grace and glory comes to the believing and redeemed community.
  • The assurance of forgiveness and grace: the wiping away of tears means not only the end of suffering, but the assurance of redemption and forgiveness. Tears come from the spiritual blindness and confusion in our lives in this sinful age.
  • The completion and glorification of our spirits, souls, and bodies: There will be no more disease or death or mourning or crying or pain. Paul wrote:

For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Cor 13:9-12)

The heaven described in the Bible is not the sensual fulfilment of our earthly lusts – that is the Islamic heaven, but not the biblical one. Rather it is the transformation and perfection of our hearts. We shall be made perfect as Christ is perfect.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it. (1 Thes. 5:23-24)

Bringing this Knowledge Full Circle

This hope of eternal heaven is also what gives us hope in today’s world with the challenges we face. Just as Solomon in Ecclesiastes brings the eternal God into the picture of our struggles in life, so Paul does the same in Romans 8. We read:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

Our future glorification means that God also has a plan for our lives today. All that He allows into our lives helps to prepare us for heaven, to let go of our earthly fascinations and lustful thoughts, and to focus on God and eternity. Because God will perfect us spiritually, emotionally, and physically in heaven, we can trust Him with each day and each challenge in this life.

Heaven

The Logic of Heaven, Part 2

May 20th, 2019

Hear the supplication of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. 1 Kings 8:30

The occasion of this prayer was the dedication of Solomon’s temple, and the one who prayed was Solomon himself. For centuries the Tabernacle of Moses and the wilderness wanderings had been left in Shiloh. The tabernacle was an elaborate tent, but still a tent and as it degenerated over the years a temple of sorts was constructed in Shiloh. It was called “The house of the LORD” (1 Sam. 1:7) and “the LORD’s temple” with a “doorpost” (1 Sam. 1:9). So it was clearly a building and not merely a tent. We are not told what that temple looked like, but silence speaks volumes so it apparently was not very grand or impressive.

Then Solomon build a beautiful temple in Jerusalem, roughly twice the size of the tabernacle. It was glorious and a big moment in the time line of salvation of history. The people of God, led by their king, had contemporized their faith and made it their own, relevant for their generation. They were no longer content to let the decaying remains of the wilderness tabernacle – which no doubt had been very meaningful to the generations of that earlier time – stand for their faith. Each generation of the faithful must have meaningful outward and contemporary expressions of their faith that speak to them!

The dedication of the temple was a bringing together of the glorious past and of the future promises of God. The temple and the city of Jerusalem were all chosen by God. He had initiated and sustained the people and the faith through the centuries. They brought up from Shiloh the Ark of the Covenant, the Tabernacle furnishings, and the remnants of the Tabernacle or the “Tent of Meeting” (1 Kings 8:3). Yet they focused not toward the past, nor merely toward the future, but first and foremost they looked heavenward. They looked up to God! They celebrated God’s covenant with them, and not merely the achievements of the people in the past.

Oh LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below – you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. (1 Kings 8:23)

Then Solomon spoke as he prayed of the limitations of this earthly temple to capture or enclose the greatness of God.

But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)

We learn three aspects of heaven in this short verse. (1) Heaven is God’s dwelling place. (2) Heaven is a place of hearing. (3) Heaven is a place of forgiveness. And there is a fourth factor that we learn from this context, that as Solomon spoke of the temple as God’s earthly manifestation of His faithful and redemptive love to Israel, so (4) there must be earthly institutions and physical and material means or implements in existence in order for humanity to pray to God intelligently. For us in this generation it is the gospel of Jesus Christ that God uses to connect us with Himself, to give us a name and a context to pray and to reach out to Him.

Heaven is God’s dwelling place or God’s home

The first truth this verse above proclaims is that heaven, as we understand it from the Bible, is God’s “dwelling place,” or God’s home. The words in Hebrew describe a “sitting place” or a “settling place” and they were commonly used for when these nomadic people settled down in a certain place and built houses, cities, and eventually walled cities. It describes a home that is protected and fortified against attack, that has the familiarity that the owner desires, where he keeps his dearest possessions, where he celebrates with his dearest of family members, and where he enjoys being himself.

The Bible repeatedly describes heaven in these terms. God’s home, where His holiness is protected, where His will is perfectly done, where He celebrates with His angels and His redeemed. From heaven His rule extends into the universe and into our world. Often the word “throne” is used to describe the home and the sovereignty of God as Ruler over all. “The Lord reigns forever; he has established his through for judgment” (Psalm 9:7).

God said, “I live in a high and holy place” (Isaiah 57:15).

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Christ taught us to pray, “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:9-10). Heaven is where God’s will is perfectly done, and from that perfect place and that perfect reality, it radiates into our fallen world.

Heaven is a place of hearing

God is not enclosed in His home without the ability to hear outside of it. The biblical God is one of compassion and who hears the cries of His people. And it is especially humility and contriteness that God looks for in our hearts.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isaiah 57:15)

Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the LORD.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:1-2)

In the process of radiating His holiness from heaven upon this earth, it is especially those who are the most keenly aware of the distance that humanity has fallen from God’s original intent of whom we should be, who are contrite and humble, that God uses the most to establish His justice here. All prayer and true biblical intercession should start with the holiness and compassion of God, and through faith to pray that His will would be done here as it is in heaven.

Heaven is a place of forgiveness

There is no more beautiful description of the holiness and mercy of heaven than is found in Revelation 4. To the casual Bible reader it may not be noticed, but to any serious student of Scripture it becomes obvious that the first impression John gains of heaven is the mercy of God.

At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. (Revelation 4:2-3)

The stones that are mentioned, two of these, jasper and emerald were found in the breastplate of the Jewish high priest, who symbolized intercession and the mercy of God. And the image of a rainbow is also a symbol in the Bible of the covenant or promise of God made in peace and grace (see Genesis 9:16-17).

Heaven is a place of mercy because God is a God of mercy. We have many questions about hell and eternal damnation, which the Bible clearly teaches. But the Bible does not explain everything we would like to know — I assume it is simply because God knows that we are unable to grasp it all. Rather the Bible assures us of the essential justice of God as the Judge of all: “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).

But those in heaven, who have repented of their sins and put their faith and trust in Christ, will have the utmost assurance that God has forgiven their sins. “[Christ] was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). “There is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

So this very brief Bible study only relies on a few scriptures, but there are many, many others to support these truths. Heaven is the home of God and as such it is place that we can pray toward – though we truly pray directly to God who hears from heaven, and it is also a place of clear and unmistakable mercy and grace. We are able to go there because God in Christ Jesus invites us to share His eternal home, and the blood of Christ truly washes away our sin.

Heaven