It’s high time Heaven got in the news more often.
Since last week, God’s eternal dwelling Place has been cited in dozens of articles about a purportedly nonfiction book written by a(n) author(s) surnamed Malarkey.1 Last week on SpecFaith I shared the news and offered some quick thoughts.2 Now it seems right to offer a few more.3
If you wish to discuss the evangelical business/publishing side of the debate, stick around for tomorrow’s guest article by Randy Streu. Here I instead hope to re-raise the topic of Heaven and six major myths that even Christians believe about Heaven — and especially about God’s oft-ignored promised successor to Heaven, the New Heavens and New Earth.
1. Everybody goes to Heaven (except Hitler and other very bad people).
Nope. Scriptural evidence to the contrary is ample — see sobering passages such as Matt. 7:21–23 and Rev. 20:11–15. But these texts will seem insensible or cruel apart from the biblical concepts that the universe is God’s and that true eternal happiness cannot exist apart from Him. So before we even talk about how this universe is God-centered (and why this actually means He is the most loving He could ever be), consider these questions:
First, if you aren’t certain God is the most amazing loving Being in the universe, what would attract you to Heaven? What in the world could make Heaven a paradise apart from Him?
Second, could you really be satisfied with any good pleasure that exists — food, learning, travel, material goods, sex, rest, work — for ever and ever, with no challenge or variation or basis in Someone perfect and infinite and greater than all those things? Wouldn’t such a place be not like Heaven but actually the Other Place?
Only a God-centered person (as the Christian is becoming) is able to find true joy because the only joy humans could ever find is with God the Creator at the center of everything.
2. Heaven is the God-centered person’s (a Christian’s) final destination.
Among Christians this may be the biggest Heaven myth.
No, it’s not a heresy. No, it doesn’t make you unspiritual. But it does lead to uncertainties about our life now that are at best unnecessary and at worst actively harmful.
What happens when people die? Their bodies and souls are unnaturally torn apart; their bodies stay here while their souls go to either heaven or hell. Praise God that those who die in Christ go to heaven, but never forget that this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. The only reason anyone ever goes to heaven is because of sin.
More importantly, Scripture forecasts a literally heaven-shaking change for Heaven:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 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.
— Rev. 21:1-3
From what I’ve seen, all the “heaven tourism” books ignore this promise. It’s one case when the firm truth of Scripture is more obviously joyous than man’s shallow replacement.
3. Christians shouldn’t try to imagine what Heaven will be like.
In Heaven chapter 2 (PDF), Alcorn says many Christians fear going too far with the whole topic and thus avoid even a healthful use of their imaginations:
… God has given us glimpses of Heaven in the Bible—to fire up our imagination and kindle a desire for Heaven in our hearts. And what’s why Satan will always discourage our imagination—or misdirect it to ethereal notions that violate Scripture. As long as the resurrected universe remains either undesirable or unimaginable, Satan succeeds in sabotaging our love for Heaven.
Some with good intentions even use “silencer” verses to avoid the topic, such as 1 Cor. 2:9:
I said to [one pastor who misquoted the text] what I always say: “You didn’t complete the sentence. You also have to read verse ten.” Here’s how the complete sentence reads: “‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (emphasis added). The context makes it clear that this revelation is God’s Word (v. 13), which tells us what God has prepared for us.
4. Heaven currently has streets of gold, pearly gates, etc.
For all we know the present-day Heaven could have these things. Again, it’s not sinful or less-spiritual to speculate within Scriptural parameters. But as C. Michael Patton notes about such popular images (which are reflected in many “I went to heaven” books):
If the streets of heaven are made of literal gold, this does not come until the new heavens and earth are created (Rev. 21:21)
Scripture only describes golden streets in the New Jerusalem. This is not simply a nonliteral stand-in for present-day reality but (in some form) a prophecy of a literal and future place.
5. Heaven won’t have non-sinful yet ‘earthly’ elements like food, drink, books, adventures, culture, or even popular culture (stories and songs)
Even Alcorn waxes slightly uncertain about whether humans could enjoy actual DVD discs, dictionaries, or even daiquiris in the renewed paradise of New Earth.
I am more convinced there is no biblical reason even to cast suspicion on these human-made things (though sinful man currently and constantly uses these things to help him sin). If New Earth is this physical planet, only fire-blasted of all sin (2 Peter 3), then why not presume that at least some of man’s good devices — made even incidentally according to God’s cultural mandate — would survive or be remade? Why presume (as many do) that even if God’s new world is physical, we will revert to an agrarian or “primitive” lifestyle?
For more on this idea, along with how this supports fantastical storytelling and can actually help us fight temptations to materialism, see the Will Fiction Last Forever? series.
6. ‘Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good.’
This is an especially annoying bit of folk wisdom about Heaven. It presumes odd myths like:
- Some truth, even truth God has chosen to reveal to His people, is always dangerous. (But God’s truth is not intrinsically dangerous. Only lies can harm God’s people.)
- God did not directly promise His future renewal of creation where His people will live forever and enjoy His gifts such as work, dancing, singing, culture, trade, ships, cities and gardens. (But He did, and there is no biblical cause to ignore these truths.)
- The central problem is that other people “think too much” about Heaven in the first place. (But the problem instead is that people think too unbiblically about Heaven.)
All that is nonsense. I would even say all those notions have no place in biblical Christianity.
We might as well say, “Don’t be so Jesus-minded that you’re of no human good” — as if thinking “too much” about Jesus will distract us from the needs of people around us.
Rather, the Christians who strive to study biblical truth about Heaven and especially the future New Heavens and New Earth, and who base their anticipations and imaginations on biblical truth, will also think more biblically and faithfully and lovingly about this Earth.
Looking forward to the eternal world, is not, as some suppose, a form of escapism or wishful thinking. It is one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean we are to leave this present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next. Aim for heaven and you get earth thrown in.
Thus, if you study the Bible, enjoy God’s truth and use it anticipate and imagine a fantastical Jesus-centered world purged of sin and death — and if you also work to reject unbiblical, joyless vague, and man-centered notions about Heaven — your faith will grow stronger.
Did I miss any myths? Have you ever changed your views of Heaven and/or the world beyond?
- Here is an idea: People could use this surname as the basis for a terrific joke that calls into question the validity of the book and its contents. ↩
- Since then the best article I’ve seen that surveys the tragic debacle is from The Guardian here. ↩
- This also seems worth interrupting The State of Christian Fantastical Fiction 2015 feature series. ↩