When I ask you to think about what heaven looks like, what do you think of?
For most, the best the imagination can conjure are cartoonesque visions of chubby cherubs playing harps while floating on clouds.
What I have come to discover over the years is that most folks don't have a very clear picture in their minds of what heaven will be like. This may be why so many "Heaven is for Real" best-sellers do so well on the New York Times best-seller list. Inquiring minds apparently really do want to know.
But if I ask folks to delve a little deeper into their thoughts regarding heaven on their own most tend to produce fairly self-centered responses that emulate their current spiritual view of the world. Typically that revolves around what "stuff" is going to be there for them.
Personally, I do think that there will be "stuff" in heaven. After all, matter does seem to matter to God. Scripture even details some of the stuff that we can expect to encounter. But the focus of this stuff is not simply for us -- it is for the glory of God.
I think that, for most of us, our self-centered theological opinions have been influenced substantially by our practical context. We live in capitalistic America. We are told from a very early age that the way to be happy is to amass wealth so that we can live lives of retirement and recreation. This thus becomes the goal for us.
Logically then we assume that if this is the goal -- then that goal will extend for eternity in heaven. Heaven for most of us conceptually, is our retirement plan.
As such, heaven as an intellectual exercise becomes all about us.
But maybe we should think about heaven a bit more so that its reality would direct our current one.
What we know about heaven from Scripture reveals a different scenario. All focus seems to be on growing in relationship with God and interacting in relationships together that focus on God.
This to me seems to be a far different existence than what I have experienced week to week in the church universal, much less the rest of the world.
What if instead of the current American model we were focused on growing in relationship with each other and God right now? How would that change how we view retirement here on Earth and in eternity? Maybe then our retirement here on Earth might look more like spending our life savings to take care for an ailing relative or even a stranger? Or maybe retirement would look more like taking one's grandchild/child and the neighbor kid to a museum to learn more about God's creation? Possibly retirement might look more like housing a homeless person or feeding the hungry or taking care of the sick? Or what if retirement was more about divesting ourselves of all of our stuff and simply investing ourselves in all of those people who annoy us the most?
I've got some heavenly news for you that you may not want to hear. There are going to be some people in heaven that we might not currently like. As such I would encourage you to get over it and start loving them because eternity is very a long time.
Sound difficult? It may be. But the good news is that the heaven that Jesus talks about doesn't have to wait. You have the power to start enacting it right now.
The Rev. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church. Read his blog at www.christopherbenek.com.