It is not easy to speak about heaven because it is beyond our limited comprehension. We can say that heaven is our eternal home. We can state God will share his divine life with us there. We can state that created order will be free from the stain of sin and suffering. And we can state that the souls who enter heaven will be completely at peace and will know indescribable joy. We can say all these things as Christians for they have been revealed in scripture.
What we cannot do is actually describe heaven. Because our experience of happiness thus far is severely limited due to our fallen natures and sinful world. Think of it this way. Dogs delight in having a stick thrown for them in the local park. Each time they dash off to gather the stick you discern joy. But we humans, being more enlightened and intelligent, would find the exercise dull. If you throw a stick for your best friend to fetch- unless he or she is playing the fool- the task will cause offence. Asking us to picture heaven before we get there is akin to asking a man who has only ever tasted porridge to describe the taste of chocolate.
I am certain then that what delights us now will seem banal and pointless in heaven, once we have tasted its true joy. Currently we lack the experience to discern its joys until its doors are opened to us. We might love eating chips- but an eternity of chip eating would be miserable. We might love listening to Palestrina- but an eternity of that would be insufferable. Indeed any activity we currently love would become tortuous within an eternity. We begin to see how heaven’s joy is beyond our imagining. All we can do is trust God’s promise that those who enter heaven will be deeply content. And trust that our vision of heaven will be lacking…
And a final thought on heaven for liturgical modernists to ponder. Sometimes people tell me they do not like the smell of incense. I do love to point out to them how, given that all the biblical descriptions of heaven speak of clouds of incense around God’s throne, they ought to get used to it. After all it is preferable to sulphur. But more on that tomorrow….