On numerous occasions, my kids have asked me what heaven will be like. They are usually looking for some kind of physical description of the place or a schedule of events. They know about the streets of gold and gates of pearl, but that just isn’t very satisfying for a 13, 11, and 8 year old. I’m pretty sure their concept of heaven would equate to an eternity of summer vacation – no school, no homework, and no bedtime. Add a continual smorgasboard of junk food, and unlimited use of Wii and Facebook and now we’re talking paradise. Instead of an eternity of worship, heaven would be eternal play and chillin’ with friends. Through the eyes of my kids, this is what a real heaven would look like.
I personally have to admit that the “streets of gold” thing doesn’t really excite me either. But I understand that God is just telling us that the most valuable things on earth will be the things that we walk on in heaven. I am pretty sure that we have nothing in this fallen creation to compare to what is in God’s dwelling place, no good frame of reference. This sinful and imperfect world often takes my breath away and it is just a shadow of what heaven will be like. Paradise will be breathtaking and perfect – exactly what it should be. And not knowing all that heaven is doesn’t bother me. If God offers it as part of the gift of salvation I know it has to be good.
I think I have sufficiently established that we can’t really know what heaven will look like. It will just be a fantastic surprise when we get there. However, there is one aspect of heaven that I am very sure about. My sinful nature will not follow me there. And this reason alone is enough for me to long for the place. In the book of Romans, Paul succinctly sums up this human condition of sinfulness.
15I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21So I find this law at work: when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being, I delight in God’s law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Romans 7:14-24 (NIV)
Lately, I‘ve been feeling that Paul was thinking specifically about me when he wrote these verses. He describes my current struggles with incredible accuracy. His despair and frustration are mine as well. I feel like a country divided against itself, a civil war raging within my body. I love God and desire to live my life for him. My heart knows his love and my mind understands His will for my life. My soul desires the completeness that only Jesus Christ can give. And yet, my own will, that sinful nature I was born with, is persistent and powerful. Temptations are absolutely everywhere. And let’s face it. Many sinful things are fun, exciting, and even satisfying (at least in the beginning) or they wouldn’t be temptations.
Sometimes my life feels like one continual struggle between following God and following me and this struggle often wearies me to the core. I know I will never be able to reconcile these two opposing desires in my lifetime. Paul understood this as well. “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” The desperation in these words is almost tangible.
God doesn’t leave us in this wretched state, though. Christ is the answer, his death covering all our sins, past, present and future. In my life, I do not have to be a slave to my sinful nature. Even when I do give into temptations, I am already forgiven. And because God is all-powerful, He enables me to resist temptation when I ask for His help. There is hope in the knowledge of this. I thank God I don’t have to deal with my dark side alone, but while I am on this earth I will always have my sinful nature with me.
Heaven is a different story all together. The minute I pass from this world to the next I will shed the sinful part of myself. I can almost feel the heavy weight of that burden falling away. No more split personality, goodness and evil mixing like oil and water. My focus will be singular – to worship God in all the forms worship takes in heaven. I will finally be completely and wholly the person God intended for me to be with absolutely no more sin. And no more temptation to do the wrong thing. I will be a country united and real peace will reign in my soul for the very first time. Hallelujah!
I realize that heaven is so much more than simply losing the sinful part of me. Seeing heaven with such a narrow perspective is like describing an elephant by looking at his trunk and nothing else. At this particular time in my life, however, liberation from sin is one of the things I most look forward to. Streets of gold and walls of jasper are nice and all, but freedom from my bad self and the weight of sin – now that is heaven indeed.