Going Home to a New Place
Scriptures: Revelation 22:1-5, Revelation 21:1-8
As I have mentioned before I have on my book shelf The
Complete Works of Calvin and Hobbes, three volumes of some of the most theologically intriguing comic strips ever produced. Here is an example. [Slide 1] Calvin says to his pet tiger Hobbes [Slide 1], "Hobbes, what do you think happens to us when we die?" Hobbes thinks about it a minute, then says [Slide 2], "I think we play saxophone for an all-girl cabaret in New Orleans." In the last frame Calvin says [Slide 3], "So you believe in heaven." Hobbes says, "Call it what you like." [Slide 4: Blank]
I don't know how you would describe heaven, but I think many
people have a false idea of heaven. Either they see heaven as a projection of their own desires-an all-girl cabaret in New Orleans-or they see it as a boring, disembodied realm of people floating on clouds playing harps all day.
In her book Heaven: Your Real Home, Joni Eareckson Tada
describes her first reaction to the vision of heaven we just heard from Revelation 21. She writes,
I picked it up with the first verse: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth." Okay, I'll buy that. This old planet is in bad need of repair. ". for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away." Wait a minute, you mean everything about this earth will disappear and pass away? But there are lots of things I like. Chili dogs with cheese. The NBA playoffs. Bridal Veil falls at Yosemite National Park. ". and there was no longer any sea." What! No sea? But I love the ocean. The waves, the wind, the smell of salt in the air. What about splashing in the breakers? What about digging my toes in the sand? To me, heaven has to have oceans in it. . I'm struck that heaven is often described in terms of "no this" and "no that." No more sea. No more night. No more time. No more moon or sun. And what about food, marriage, sex, art, and great books? . That's not all. I was also struck that the positive descriptions about what heaven is seem clumsy and ungraceful. Rainbow thrones? Streets of gold? Pearly gates? . It more closely resembles Minnesota's monolithic Mall of America (9-13).
I have known other people who felt put off or at least not
that excited about the picture of heaven in the Bible. The problem is a failure to understand the symbolism, particularly the connection to the story of creation.
The key to understanding the end of the Bible is going back
to the beginning of the Bible. There are a series of intentional parallels between the first two chapters of the Bible and the last two. [Slide 5: Parallels between Gen. 1-2 and Rev. 21-22] The Bible begins with these words in Genesis 1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." [Click 1] It ends with these words in Revelation 21: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth." [Click 2] Just as the first creation included the heavens and the earth, so the new creation includes a new heaven and a new earth. Notice that. Heaven is not a disembodied place where you float on a cloud playing a harp. Heaven is part of a new creation that includes a new earth, a place where beauty is no longer marred by greed, where children are no longer decimated by hunger or disease, where love is no longer broken by death, where hate no longer gets all the headlines.
Another parallel: in Genesis 2 we read about a river that
flows out of the Garden of Eden to water it. [Click 3] That river breaks into four rivers, one of which is called the Tigris and another the Euphrates. In Old Testament times those rivers flowed through the kingdom of Babylon. Today they flow through Iraq. Think how much violence and suffering has played out along those rivers as people fought for control of them. But in Revelation 22 we see a new river flowing from the throne of God [Click 4], and this river has trees on it with leaves for the healing of the nations. Imagine a river that actually brings people together instead of dividing them.
Finally, Genesis 2 mentions the tree of life. [Click 5] In
Genesis 3 when Adam and Eve are driven out of the Garden of Eden for trying to be god, they lose the tree of life. But in Revelation 22 it is back [Click 6] and people of all nations are invited to partake of it.
Heaven is not a place where the goodness of creation is left
behind; it is a place where good in creation is redeemed, a place where all of nature and its people are transformed into what they were meant to be all along. [Slide 6: Blank]
The key is that God will be there with us in person. Revelation
22:3-4: "But the throne of God and of the Lamb [Revelation's image for Jesus] will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads." Finally we will have the personal relationship to God for which we were created and from which Adam and Eve hid when they tried to be their own gods.
But this new relationship to God does not just affect us; it affects
the whole creation. In II Corinthians 5:17, a verse you have heard me quote numerous times, Paul says, "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new." That's what the book of Revelation describes. When we are joined to Christ, the whole creation is transformed.
But for this to happen certain things will have to go. This
is mentioned in both Revelation 21 and 22. Revelation 21:8 says, "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, and fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."
I don't like reading verses like that, and you probably don't like
hearing them. But there is a truth involved that we cannot avoid. In order to experience God's new creation, certain things in the old creation will have to go. Think about it. The rivers of heaven cannot bring life if they are allowed to be polluted. So the polluters have to go. The idea that we can fowl the rivers for our own benefit-that idea has to go. So does the idea of keeping the river and the tree of life for ourselves, so we can control it, so we can eat of its fruit any time we want and keep it away from the people we don't like. That idea has to go. The murderers and sorcerers-the perpetrators of violence and exploitation-they have to go, as do those who prostitute themselves at the altar of false gods: power, money, sex, fame, or the simply idolatrous notion that you can have your way no matter what. Those things have to go, or heaven will not be heaven; it will be a continuation of the messed up world we already have.
There is another Calvin and Hobbes comic strip on this subject.
[Slide 7] Calvin says to Hobbes, "If heaven is good, and if I like to be bad, how am I supposed to be happy there?" Hobbes says [Slide 8], "How will you get to heaven if you like to be bad?" Calvin replies, "Let's say I didn't do what I wanted to do. Suppose I led a blameless life! Suppose I denied my true dark nature!" Hobbes says [Slide 9], "I'm not sure I have that much imagination," to which Calvin says, "Maybe heaven is a place where you are allowed to be bad!"
Not according to Revelation. [Slide 10: Blank] In the
kingdom of God pride will have to go; but what you will get instead is acceptance, which is what pride yearns for in a misdirected way. In the kingdom of God lust will have to go; but what you will get instead is love, which is what lust yearns for in a misdirected way. In the kingdom of God greed will have to go; but what you will get instead is fulfillment, which is what greed yearns for in a misdirected way.
Later in her book Joni Eareckson Tada comes to a new
understanding of Revelation's picture of heaven. She writes,
Remember how I soured on all the "no this" and "no that" descriptions in heaven? No food, no marriage, no moon, no need for good books? Faith reminds us that every negative is only the reverse side of a fulfilling. . True, we may enjoy a good charcoal broiled steak or a night of romance with our husband or wife under a full moon, but faith tells us these things are inklings of better tastes and enraptured delights yet to come. They won't be negated, no; rather, the whisper of what they are on earth will find complete fulfillment in heaven (23).
T. S. Eliot once said, "We shall not cease from exploration.
And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." I think we can apply that to our journey this year through the Bible. The result of our reading is to arrive back where we started, this time finally able to enjoy it.