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.

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