Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? (Psalm 24:3)
I have watched a few episodes of The Good Place on television and so far it shows the challenges we have with conceptualizing heaven. It paints a picture of a heaven that is gained based on merit – on being a really good person – but someone not that good got in by mistake and is messing it all up. Well, it is a farcical comedy, and it is NOT based on the real heaven. What to me it defeats is the shallow and sentimental view of heaven in today’s world and, sadly, that is also all too prevalent among Christians.
Far too many people have a sentimental, unthought-through concept of heaven. They think of it as a perfect place, or as a “start over” region, or merely in terms of seeing old friends, etc. And this type of heaven does not stand up to reason nor to the heaven described in the Bible.
Sadly, a sentimental Christianity is often to blame for this, at least in part. Popular Christianity has often failed to really and thoroughly deal with the issue of redemption and heaven. We describe heaven as our eternal rest, or our chance to re-acquaint with lost loved ones, and if we describe God at all, it is more in terms of him being a doting heavenly grandfather, than an intimate Father or Savior.
The human problem goes deep
The place to start in order to understand heaven is with God’s holiness and our unholiness. The first sin of Adam and Even resulted in them being cast out of the Garden of Eden, and the sin was not murder, or even hurting another person or even another animal. It was simply eating a fruit that God said they should not eat. It was, as we would reckon such things today, a little cheating on their diet. As the outward act itself goes, it was not serious at all. It did not in any way serious upset the balance of the environment, nor cause a species to die out, nor the ozone layer to decay – as an act itself.
But in another sense, it caused all of these things and much more because by disobeying God human life decided to reject God and His commandments. The human desire for leadership and control – which God Himself put within the human heart – was selfishly expressed. The best leaders lead to help others, but this desire of Adam and Eve was selfish. If they rebelled at this point, or in any point, they began a turning away from God. And we are today the heirs of this sinful and selfish decision.
Taking sin lightly
We take sin too lightly today. And we do so for two main reasons, I believe. First is simply because we have so much of sin in our lives and in our world. In trying to keep peace in a family, for example, in trying to keep the children from fighting or hurting one another, a stolen piece of fruit seems insignificant.
The second reason, however, is related to the first, that we all sin (which is why there is so much sin) and there is nothing more annoying than a moralizing person who points out everyone else’s faults. We say in response to such people, “Who are you to criticize me?” But it all leads us to think that sin is no big deal. Rather than seeing it for what it is, we joke about it, play it down, pretend it is no big deal, and very often discount some wrong things entirely.
The results of human sin are several:
- Broken fellowship with God: “But your iniquities have built barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
- Lost blessings of God’s favor: Immediately upon their sin, social problems entered into human society – the pain of childbirth and child-rearing, division in the family, the cursing of the ground, the frustrations of manual labor, the brutalizing of sexual relations, and the emptiness of life (Gen. 3:16-19). God said if the nation of Israel was disobedient, “And I will set My face against you, so that you will be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when no one pursues you” (Lev. 26:17).
- Deception, dissatisfaction, and enslavement to sin: “Jesus replied, ‘Truly, truly, I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin'” (John 8:34). “[The Gentiles] are darkened in their understanding and alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts. Having lost all sense of shame, they have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity, with a craving for more” (Eph. 4:18-19).
- Eternal separation from God: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
The last part of the verse above (Rom. 6:23) gives us hope, that in Christ Jesus we can be forgiven and set free from the consequences of sin. But this also points out another problem in today’s world – even the Christian world.
Taking Christ’s sacrifice lightly
The story of the Bible starts in the Garden and ends in a New Heaven and a New Earth. The story of redemption is first the story of God revealing to humanity the seriousness of our sin. The Old Testament with its emphasis on the holiness of God was necessary before we could understand the New Testament or New Covenant that we have through Christ.
We have lost much of the concept of God’s holiness in today’s world. We have tried to explain many things away with scientific research. While we have seen some old notions dispelled by good research, these were not truly based on the Bible, rather on interpretations of the Bible, and sometimes on misinterpretations of the Bible.
There is something radically wrong with human life that needs a radical solution from God, and this is exactly what the gospel of Christ is. God saw our need for what it was – even if we did not. He devised a plan to convey truth to humanity – through the Old Testament and through the sacrificial system – showing that our problem is serious but that there is a solution.
The gospel is boiled down to one truth: “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Without understanding and accepting the first part of this, without seeing Christ’s sacrifice for what it is – he who knew no sin becoming sin for us – then we cannot receive the second part of the promise, becoming the righteousness of God in Christ.
Only a radical solution to the sin problem of humanity will bring any real and lasting effect. But this is exactly what God did in Christ. So in our conversion is the acceptance of our need and of God’s solution. This truth and this reality alone are the foundations of a lasting and eternal and heavenly peace.