“Imagine there’s no heaven,” sang John Lennon in what is, according to some sources, one of the most popular songs of all time. It might be a popular song, but it expresses a very non-Christian sentiment. We don’t want to imagine a future without heaven, because heaven is one of our greatest hopes and aspirations. Indeed, God created us to spend eternity with him in heaven.
Unfortunately, many Christians today can’t imagine being in heaven. It’s not that they’d rather end up somewhere else... It just that they think that heaven is going to be, well, boring. Recent surveys indicate that heaven is often thought of today as a vague place of eternal survival where happiness becomes monotonous. This sentiment was expressed on a t-shirt I recently saw which read: “Good girls go to heaven. Bad girls go to Vegas.” The implication being that “Sin City” is much more fun than the heavenly Jerusalem.
Today we remember and celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven- thereby opening the possibility of heaven to all of us. But for some, the response to this is: “Big deal! Who cares?” Why is this? Maybe we can’t imagine living forever in heaven because we don’t know how to live life now. We’re bored and jaded, not really knowing why we’re here, and not really knowing where we’re going. So we attempt to distract ourselves with amusements and busyness. We try to fill our emptiness by chasing worldly success or indulging in self-gratification. But we’re never really happy, as hard as we might try. So why would we want this sort of existence to continue forever?
We wouldn’t. Which is why it’s a good thing that the reality of heaven is very different from what we sometimes imagine it to be. But just what is the reality of heaven? Endless boredom surrounded by chubby cherubs with harps on clouds? An extension of our empty lives today? Or maybe something else, something better? To answer that question, we need to acknowledge right off the bat that we’ll never totally understand what heaven is like until we get there ourselves, God willing. However, there are some very important things we do understand about heaven- and they can help us to imagine heaven as a place where we’d want to be.
First and foremost, heaven is where we will see God face-to-face. And in seeing God, we will find perfect happiness- the happiness that always eludes us in this life. Being with God will fill us with joy- a joy that will come from being with God himself, and not through anything he has made.
St. Augustine asks us to imagine God making us a proposal. God says: “I will give you whatever you want. You can have anything in the world. Nothing will be forbidden, nothing will be impossible, nothing will be a sin, nothing will be punished. There’s only one catch: Never, ever in all eternity will you ever see my face.” The choice is between seeking happiness in the things of this world, which ultimately never give it, or finding happiness in God himself, in heaven. In other words, if we want to be supremely happy, we need to place our hope in heaven.
A second thing we can say about heaven is that if heaven if about God, then heaven is also about love, because God is love. Our world filled is with loneliness, war, hatred, resentment, and back-stabbing competition. Our relationships, as good as they might be, are always compromised by sinfulness, selfishness, pride, and immaturity. We always hurt the ones be love. But not in heaven. There, we will love and be loved perfectly, with no strings attached or fingers crossed behind the back. In heaven, no one is rejected, used, abandoned, or hurt, because heaven is full of God’s peace, harmony, forgiveness, healing, and joy. And who wouldn’t want that?
A third thing we can say about heaven is that if heaven is about love, then heaven is also about service, because Christian love is expressed by service to others, as Jesus showed us at the Last Supper when he washed his disciples’ feet. This means that in heaven we will have servants. Which sounds great, doesn’t it? At the same time, it also means that we will be our servants’ servants, because in heaven we’ll all be serving one another in love. We’ll serve and be served. This is an important point to consider, because not everyone cares for the prospect of serving other people- especially for all eternity. Maybe they’re tired; maybe they’re selfish. But consider this: We can’t really love others without showing them we love them, and we do that through service. Furthermore, service in heaven is always a joy, because it’s always done in love. Remember: Adam and Eve had to work in the Garden of Eden. Work only became a burden when sin entered the picture. That’s why we often find our work and service so difficult today. In heaven, however, our service and work will be meaningful, appreciated, and satisfying. And it certainly will never be boring!
Heaven will be many things- things we can only begin to comprehend now. But we can safely say that whatever it will be like, it will exceed our wildest expectations. We know we’ll be with God; we know we’ll be loved; we know we’ll love others; and we know we’ll find peace, joy and happiness in who we are, who we’re with, and in what we do. The deepest longings of our human heart will be satisfied and fulfilled.
In this life, we may at times look around us and think: “Is this all there is?” But in heaven we’ll look around us and exclaim: “It doesn’t get any better that this!” Some may still want to imagine that there’s no heaven. I think, “Heaven save us from such a gloomy picture.” I prefer to side with St. Therese the Little Flower. “I will do anything,” she said, “for heaven.”