A few weeks ago, I asked a room of high school students what they thought of when they thought of heaven. The answers weren’t particularly impressive. One answer of course was the familiar image of clouds in the sky. I was surprised to hear one student reference the 80’s hit song “Heaven is a Place on Earth” by Belinda Carlisle. In the end, nobody had much of an idea about our eternal destiny in Christ.
My casual observation is that a lot of contemporary theology emphasizes the temporal impact of faith in Christ. When we speak to kids about faith, I would guess that many of us tend towards talking about the benefits and impact of knowing Christ in this life. This emphasis is understandable. Eternity is something that is difficult for all of us to imagine, and adolescents are notoriously reluctant to think about anything too far in the future. There are other good reasons for communicating the immediate impact and implications of knowing Christ in this life. The body of Christ is called to make a real difference in the lives of people here and now. However, a faith that focuses on the here and now to the exclusion of the eternal is out of balance.
Jesus has plenty to say about eternity in the Gospels, and the following example paints a vivid image of what we can hope for:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” –John 14:1-4, NIV
The picture that Jesus paints about heaven is a picture of home. The picture has two facets I want to highlight here. First Jesus speaks of a “place.” Home is the place where we belong, where we go at the end of a long day or a journey. Our things are there. It is the place where we rest from our labor. The second facet of Jesus’ picture is that of relationships. Notice that Jesus says that the disciples will be “with him” where he is. Home is defined not just by place, but by relationships. In my current stage of life, anyplace feels more like home when my wife and children are with me. I can rest and be myself around the people who love me and know me best.
In wanting to describe our eternal inheritance, Jesus uses a word picture to communicate what we cannot fully understand in this life. What he describes is an existence where we have a fully realized sense of belonging, of rest, of familiarity, and of “with-ness.” We all long for this kind of “home” experience. Some kids that we know come from good homes. Their good experiences are but faint shadows of the ultimate reality. Some kids come from broken homes. In Christ, their longing for a safe place where they belong can be fulfilled. Jesus Christ does change lives now, and does redeem our earthly existence. He also has gone before us to make a home for us. Let’s be sure to tell them about it.