Heaven is (at Least) as Important as Noah

After the firestorm surrounding the Noah film, I’ve been surprised to see no online discussion about the upcoming film version of Heaven is for Real. Is it possible that people care more about the Noah story than they do about heaven? It seems to me that our eternal destiny is more important than whether or not rock people helped Noah build the ark.

I haven’t seen Heaven is for Real, but I have read the book. I’m guessing that, like Noah, the upcoming film will have its strengths and weaknesses. I’m going to suggest one of each, just as I did for NoahKeep in mind that my thoughts are based on the book, so it’s possible the movie could move in a different direction altogether.

One strength of the book is its clear testimony to the biblical idea that death is not the end of life for those who trust in Christ (e.g. Phil 1:22-23; Luke 16:19-31). That’s why the story has generated hope for so many people. The book also affirms the deep love that Jesus has for children, something we adults often forget or minimize (Matthew 19:13-15).

One weakness is that the book minimized (or omitted) the reality of future, bodily resurrection. In other words, our ultimate hope as Christians is not a disembodied existence, floating around like angels with wings. Instead, we look forward to a new body on a new earth (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). The intermediate state, where our souls are separated from our bodies after death, is called “nakedness” by the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 5:3). Everybody knows that it’s not OK to be naked all the time! Instead, we seek to be clothed with an eternal, resurrected body. That won’t happen fully until Jesus returns and we rise from the grave. Heaven is for Real focuses exclusively on the intermediate state and places all of our hope there, rather than pointing us ahead to the final resurrection.

Here’s what I’m recommending for those who want to see Heaven is for Real: Spend as much time comparing it to the Bible as you did with Noah. Don’t assume that because the book issued from a Christian publisher that every concept in the movie is biblically accurate.

I’m not suggesting that we cynically doubt the Burpos’ claims. I’ve no reason to believe they are lying or making up their story. On the other hand, this movie (like Noah) is a great opportunity to revisit what the Bible says about heaven and hell and death and resurrection. Go to the movie with an open but critical mind. (By critical, I don’t mean “negative,” but thoughtful).

Ask questions like these: 

-Does this movie accurately reflect the Bible’s testimony about heaven? Why or why not?

-How do we reconcile this story with passages like Luke 16:19-31, in which Jesus says that Scripture itself ought to be sufficient testimony for us to believe in heaven?

-How can we appropriately discuss this movie and its story with our non-Christian friends and neighbors? Should we whole-heartedly endorse its picture of heaven, or should we be cautious?

As with any media, take this story back to the Bible and consider its claims in light of God’s Word.

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When You Think of Heaven…

…what comes to mind?

This week we’ll be continuing our sermon series about heaven and hell, and talking a bit more about the perfection of heaven. What comes to your mind when you think about heaven?

It’s interesting to observe how our culture discusses heaven — for some, it’s a place where we fly around like angels on clouds. For others, it’s a place where we find true romance. For still others, oooooh, heaven is a place on earth. (Oooh baby, do you know what that’s worth?)

For some reason, I keep remembering the lyrics to an old Counting Crows song:

“When I think of heaven (deliver me in a black-winged bird), I think of flying down into a sea of pens and feathers and all other instruments of faith and sex and God in the belly of a black-winged bird.”

Spooky. What’s with the black-winged bird? Why are we going into its belly? Sounds yucky.

And later in the same song:

“When I think of heaven (deliver me in a black-winged bird), I think of dying, lay me down in a field of flame and heather, render up my body into the burning heart of God in a belly of a black-winged bird.”

Even spookier. Now I’m going into the belly of a black-winged bird, but this time I’m on fire. I’m not sure what Adam Duritz was reading or doing when he wrote that, but he wasn’t reading the Bible. That’s for sure.

Biblically, heaven is a place of perfection. God will restore everything to the way it ought to be, and those who know Jesus will be with Him forever. No more curse, no more sin, no more death.

Absolute perfection. Perfect bodies. Perfect relationships. Perfect surroundings. Perfect everything. And if there are blackbirds, they aren’t swallowing us into their bellies.

What about you? When you think of heaven, what comes to mind? What excites you the most about it?

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Is God Unfair?

This week I’m speaking in our college service about the fairness and justice of God. We’ve been talking about heaven and hell this semester, and last week we introduced the topic of what happens when we die. The bottom line is that the Bible tells us that we have one of two destinations — there is no middle ground and there are no second chances. Whether the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 is to be taken absolutely literally or not, it seems clear that Jesus believed that our destination after death is permanent and determined by our response to God in this life.

The idea of eternal judgment naturally raises the question of God’s justice and fairness. What about people who have never heard the Gospel? What about babies who die in infancy? What about those who are mentally incapable of understanding the Gospel? For every rule, there are possible exceptions, so we’ll talk about those a bit this week.

I would like your input as I prepare! When you think about God and the concept of eternal judgment, what questions do you have?

Do you struggle in some way with His fairness? Do you wonder about the justice of eternal punishment? Is there a situation or a question related to this issue that you would like addressed? If so, please let me know in the comments.

If you have particularly interesting and challenging questions, I can also deal with them next week on the blog. Especially if I don’t get to them all on Sunday. Thanks!

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I’m Not Looking Forward to Sitting on Clouds

Or playing the harp forever. Or floating around disembodied. Or being bored for eternity and wishing I had a good book to read.

I don’t like most of those things (although sometimes harp music is very nice).

It’s probably good that none of those ideas about eternal life comes from the Bible. They mostly come from Far Side comics, George Burns movies, and Precious Moments figurines.

Our biblical hope is a real city (Hebrews 11:13-16) with real houses (John 14:1-4) and real people with real bodies (1 Cor 15:35-49; Jn 20:24-21:14). It’s a place with food and water (Revelation 22:1-2). A place where we will serve God and rule for Him, forever engaged in meaningful and significant work (Revelation 22:3-5). It’s a very real place.

It’s earth, just a whole lot better. The last two chapters of the Bible actually describe heaven descending to earth (Revelation 21-22)!  Imagine what earth would be like if it were absolutely perfect, if you had a perfect relationship with Jesus, if you never struggled with sin or pain or death or sadness (Rev 21:4). That’s a more accurate picture of eternity.

So next time you see a silly picture of bored people floating on clouds, playing harps, with halos taped to their heads, just chuckle and remember: We’re not looking forward to that! We’re expecting something much better.

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