Recently a good friend asked what I thought about heaven - did the promise of what awaits provide comfort in the midst of my present sufferings? I had to be honest and admit that no, most of the time I didn’t think much about heaven and the glorious promises that await there - no more pain, no more sickness, no more death, eternal fellowship with Christ in his glory. As I thought about the question, I confessed my ideas were still muddled by the ideas of heaven I got from my childhood - a formless place where everything is white, and we just kind of sit around wearing white and signing songs for all eternity. As a kid heaven actually kind of terrified me - it sounded so boring and monotonous. In the present, I said the intensity of chronic pain, and the realization I may experience years or even decades of this - makes heaven often feel like a million miles removed from my reality…
And yet it is reality - far more so than the endless list of self-help gurus peddling their notions of “positivity” and self-reliance as our salvation here on this earth. Yesterday one of my best friends stopped by after work to offer his presence as a ministry of encouragement after a very difficult day. I’ve been blessed by so many people taking the time to help point me to Christ this week - some sharing much needed advice, some just listening as we cried together, all praying over me. I think those experiences are little tastes of heaven; they help counter what Joni Eareckson Tada calls “the little splash-overs from hell” we know as suffering here on earth. They help us have “godly optimism,” something Randy Alcorn writes about so well in his blog entry of the same title. His blog includes an excerpt from a sermon from the legendary preacher and theologian Charles Spurgeon - a man who lived much of his life with severe chronic pain that forced him to rest for months at a time. In his sermon, Spurgeon says in essence that when the sufferings of this life hit us hard, let the truths of what the gospel has done in our lives absorb the blows and replace them with hope.
Alcorn begins his observations with these powerful statements:
Secular optimists are merely wishful thinkers. Discovering the present payoffs of optimism, they conduct seminars and write books on thinking positively. Sometimes they capitalize on optimism by becoming rich and famous. But then what happens? They eventually get old or sick, and when they die, if they haven’t trusted Christ, they go to Hell forever. Their optimism is an illusion, for it fails to take eternity into account.
The only proper foundation for optimism is the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Any other foundation is sand, not rock. It will not bear the weight of eternity.
There’s so much good stuff in this blog entry it’s hard to decide what to quote; I think this was maybe my favorite, and the one that probably challenges me most:
Anticipating Heaven doesn’t eliminate pain, but it does lessen it and put it in perspective. Meditating on Heaven is a great pain reliever. Suffering and death are temporary conditions—they are but a gateway to eternal life of unending joy. The biblical doctrine of Heaven is about the future, but it has tremendous benefits here and now. If we grasp this truth, it will shift our center of gravity and radically change our perspective on life. This is what the Bible calls hope, a word used six times in Romans 8:20-25. In this passage, Paul says that all creation longs for our resurrection and the world’s coming redemption.
So many things in life require an active choice on our part. Last night at community group we talked about the fact that forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. I think the same thing is true of hope - it doesn’t just happen. We have to choose where we focus our hearts - on the here and now, or on the eternal things of God. I’ll be the first to admit at the age of 46 I still have a lot of growing to do in this area - but I’m growing, and that in itself gives me hope. Maybe the scared little boy I’ve been most of my life really will keep growing into the courageous man of God I know I was created to be - so let’s help each other seek after godly optimism!