WHO WILL WE BE WITH?
“Heaven should not be conceived of in terms of what we will do, or even who we will be, but rather who we will be with.”
CHRISTIANS THINK ABOUT HEAVEN in many diﬀerent ways. One of the questions people ask is “What will we do in heaven?”
Popular culture often depicts people in heaven as those who laze around on clouds, leisurely playing their harps. is idea probably has biblical roots for, after all, the book of Revelation does speak about clouds and harps (Rev. 5:8, 14:2, 14; 15:2). There is also the notion that we will all be one eternal choir praising God
– just look at all the heavenly songs in Revelation. is usually begins as a great thought, especially for those who love singing, but after a while, even they ask, “But what else will we do in heaven?”
The problem is that we may be approaching the subject from the wrong angle. Even those thoughts that begin with biblical passages can be hijacked by our culture and dominant mindset. Yes, the Bible does speak about harps and clouds, and about heavenly singing. But if we see them as nothing more than actions or activities, then we have misunderstood what the Bible actually teaches.
Our problem is that we have become captive to a pragmatic way of thinking in the modern era – brought on by pragmatic philosophy and absorbed into our way of life in every sphere. We therefore tend to measure ourselves by what we do or achieve, and judge others in the same way. is is reflected in every conceivable area of life. Take, for instance, going on holiday. We tend to be obsessed with what our holiday destination has to oﬀer in terms of what we can do. We are terrified by the thought of becoming bored with nothing to do. e problem is that we in the modern age tend to define ourselves by our “doing”.
Those who see the inadequacy of such a perspective try to find a more satisfying basis – by exploring what was the dominant way of thinking in the pre-modern era. en, the focus was more on being rather than doing. We are defined by who we are rather than what we do. us, we have people who remind us today that we ought to focus on being rather than doing, that our Christian lives really have to do with who we become than what we achieve. This is immediately helpful and a needed corrective in a culture infected by an activism that makes us run in meaningless circles. Let us stop and think about what sort of people we are, and are becoming.
Perhaps we can approach the question of heaven from this angle. Asking what we will do is not as important as thinking of what we will be in heaven. is thought obviously has better mileage. However, even here we will face limitations, for we know ourselves. The human condition, as pointed out by Thomas Oden, includes boredom (as well as anxiety and guilt). If we are left with ourselves, we will soon hit rock bottom and become bored with ourselves. Just lock yourself in a room for a few weeks with nothing else to do and no one to talk to, and you will know.
This brings us to what the Bible really teaches. The biblical worldview is that we are defined not by what we do or achieve, and not even by who we are, but by whose we are. We are defined by who we are with. The core of existence is not doing or even being but being with. ( at is why Jesus warns disciples that judgement will have to do with being with rather than doing per se – Mt. 7:21-23).
WHEN PAUL, THE AGING APOSTLE, was imprisoned in Rome, he, no doubt, thought much about what would happen to him. Would he be martyred or would God allow him to continue his ministry for a few more years? In his letter to the Philippians, he reveals some of these thoughts: “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body … so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me” (Phil. 1:23-26).
For Paul, heaven was defined as being with Christ. e alternative was being with God’s people. In putting it this way, Paul summarised the heart of Christian living – which is being with the Lord and His people. Another way this is seen is what the Lord Himself taught – that the heart of the Law is love for God and neighbour (Mt. 22:37-40). The call to Christian discipleship is a call to enter into holy and loving relationships with God and others. It is essentially a relational matter.
We now return to our previous questions about heaven. What will heaven be like? Paul quoted Isaiah by declaring: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). No one can fully imagine or even accurately depict how heaven will be like for us. But Paul did add a clause immediately after his quote from Isaiah: “but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:10).
We now have some idea of how heaven will be like. It should not be conceived of in terms of what we will do, or even who we will be, but rather who we will be with (Rev. 21:3). We must approach heaven not with a “to do list” or in terms of some Gnostic idea of self-fulfilment, but rather in terms of relationship. In heaven we will be with the eternal God who created and saved us, who sustains us moment by moment. He is an infinitely creative Being in whose presence we will not get bored. We will get bored with activities and ourselves but we will never get bored with eternal God. His love will remove our deep boredom.
This much we know from Scripture. We already have a brief description of heaven. The reality, however, awaits us in the future, and we can look forward to it with great anticipation. And yes, we will sing, but in a self-forgetfulness and without needing to check our watches, in the presence of divine majesty.