It all started with reading 1 John 3:2-3.
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
Apparently, we are sanctified by meditating on both seeing Jesus face-to-face and the transformation we will experience when we see him. In other words, it is good to think about heaven.
So I started asking people how they imagine heaven. I can’t say that people’s responses have always been sanctifying. Many have been hysterical, some have been spooky (with relatives peering over clouds and seeing our every move), and some have been sad. But the enterprise, as a whole, has been a blessing.
Most of us have our own versions of heaven and they change (and hopefully mature!) over time. I will use myself as the case study.
Age 0-5 I don’t remember any thoughts about heaven. I do remember thinking about hell, which I thought was really hot.
Age 5-12 Heaven was filled with clouds that looked like rolling hills. It was also fairly small. A few random people were there and it was relatively quiet—like I was supposed to be in church.
Age 13-20 The dark ages. I don’t remember any thoughts about heaven in my teen years. Music, girls, sports and school, not always in that order, were my preoccupations. If anyone asked me about heaven, I probably would have given them my age 5-12 version.
Age 20-35 I got married during this time and also had a rooted profession of faith. My thoughts on heaven were quite specific: there was no marriage and no sex with my wife. I imagined heaven by what was absent. That made heaven just a little disappointing. Suddenly other religions, in which you get to stay with your spouse in heaven, made sense. I also realized that this was all quite juvenile. I wanted to be enthralled with seeing Jesus and being like him, which I have always understood as being without sin, but the sex thing did trouble me.
Age 35-45 Heaven became more peopled. The interest in sex was reduced to casting an occasional lascivious wink in the direction of the-woman-who-was-once-my-wife. I was still growing in appreciating heaven’s main event: I would see Jesus through sinless eyes. But there was still some baggage. Two things. One, I was concerned about long lines when I wanted to talk with notable people like old friends, family members and the woman-who-was-once-my-wife. Two, I was fairly certain that the godly people I know would live in heaven’s zip code for spiritual giants. I could only visit them on certain days and would then have to return to the place for those who just barely squeaked into the kingdom. So, there were wafts of loneliness when I pondered eternity.
And, of course, the heavenly judgment preceded this, and I had a suspicion that this judgment would not be pretty for me.
Age 45-the present Sanctification happens! My heavenly wink to my one-time-wife is now less sexually charged. It is more an acknowledgment that we shared something unique for a time.
That difficult entrance into heaven—the judgment? I have not worried as much about the details. Instead, since I will be perfect, I will be perfectly in step with whatever the Lord says and I will have a smile on my face.
Clouds? Like so many other people, I am beginning to understand that heaven will be burgeoning with created life and look more like earth than unlike it. It will be more real than surreal.
And there are lots more people. The older you are, the more citizens of heaven you know: my parents, my father-in-law, my friends Al, Ben, Roger, and so many others. There are also lots of people I don’t know now, but will love fully.
Ah, to love without sin—to love the triune God and other people—without sin.
Future hopes If the past is a harbinger of the future, then my present hope of heaven is sure to be revised. I expect my future reflections to be more real and earthy, filled with more people, less concerned about long lines for conversation with a favorite few, more refined by other brothers and sisters and their reflection on Scripture, and certainly, more filled with joy at being sinless, which is the best vantage point to see Jesus. But I think I will hold on to the possibility of a wink or, at least, a head nod to my wife.