by Mark M. Chatfield
Sentry Magazine, December 2002
One of the many things that sets Christianity apart from other ways of life is the spiritual nature of its reward. I'm talking about the eternal life in heaven that is promised to those who follow Jesus Christ.
It seems to me that there is much confusion about what awaits a Christian when he or she passes from this life to the eternal. Let's consider it further.
There is nothing wrong with believing and following Christ in order to "go to heaven." There is a great deal wrong with our motivation if we are seeking some sort of carnal pleasure in our quest to "go to heaven."
You have probably heard the old tired story about the guy who thought he had died and gone to heaven because he could, in that eternal state, do nothing wrong. If he bet on the horses, he would always win. If he shot a game of pool, the ball would always end up in the pocket. Then suddenly and sadly he realized that he had not gone to heaven at all, he was experiencing the first part of his eternity in Hell -- a Hell of succeeding every time, all the time.
Heaven is not a place where we sit on a fluffy cloud or a magic carpet and sip lemonade for eternity.
Heaven is not a place where we go on tourist excursions taking digital pictures of the golden cobblestones and glassy seas and then return after the trip to a mansion on the hilltop where we slam our massive hand-carved door on the lesser beings around us.
Heaven is not somewhere in the stars, a galaxy far away. Perhaps the only way to communicate to mans' mind the true spiritual nature of heaven is to use figures like those found in Revelation 21:10-21:
"And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: her light was like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal: having a wall great and high; having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: on the east were three gates; and on the north three gates; and on the south three gates; and on the west three gates. And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. And he that spake with me had for a measure a golden reed to measure the city, and the gates thereof, and the wall thereof. And the city lieth foursquare, and the length thereof is as great as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs: the length and the breadth and the height thereof are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, a hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of an angel. And the building of the wall thereof was jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto pure glass.
The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald; the fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolite; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, topaz; the tenth, chrysoprase; the eleventh, jacinth; the twelfth, amethyst.
And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the several gates was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass."
The point, made so clearly here in John's writing, is that the heaven we seek is not like anything we have seen in this life. It is not a physical place. "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18: 36). "Be not fashioned according to this world" (Romans 12:2).
What is it we seek?
We seek His kingdom and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33). Not an earthly kingdom or our own righteousness. We seek to be on God's "turf' which is nothing like what we now know because nothing we experience in this world is eternal, incorruptible, or truly righteous. Heaven is a spiritual place. We must be transformed from the physical into the spiritual and that means we must put aside our mental images of a mansion on a hilltop where we look down our noses at all that is now below us.
We seek to live this life and then lose this life in a way that will preserve our spiritual life with God for eternity. "Whosoever shall seek to gain his life shall lose it: but whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it" (Luke 17:33). "To them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life" (Romans 2:7).
We seek things that are better than this physical existence, not some ethereal version of this physical existence, but a spiritual and infinitely higher plane of existence where we can share in the very being of God. "If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God" (Colossians 3: 1).
That is awesome and that is worth seeking.