“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, I would 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
I’m a Christian and I have a dirty little secret. I don’t understand what will happen to me when I die.
Now before you send the Intercessory Prayer Squad after me, I want you to understand what I mean when I say something so provocative. I believe that when I die, I will go to heaven. Why? Because the Bible tells me so and I believe the Bible. But just because I believe that “when I die I will go to heaven,” that doesn’t mean I understand what that phrase means.
In the Book of Matthew, Jesus has a lot to say about the “kingdom of heaven,” but much of it is wrapped in parable and metaphor. The kingdom is compared to a man who sows seed in a field, a mustard seed, leaven, a treasure in the field, a merchant, a fishing net, and the head of a household.
Heaven is also described as a city paved with gold (Revelation 21:21), and also a place where God’s people “will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (Isaiah 65:21). Mind you, Isaiah also says that young men will live to be 100, except for the accursed, who won’t quite make it that far (Isaiah 65:20). So, people are still going to die in heaven? Some scholars assert that this passage speaks not of heaven, but of the millennial earth, when Christ will be its ruler for 1,000 years. If that’s so, we’re no closer to understanding the experience of heaven than when we started.
And yet, in Matthew 13:11, he tells his disciples, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.” So, perhaps the mysteries were only revealed to the Twelve, but the verse implies that true followers of Jesus have intimate knowledge of heaven.
So many books have been written on heaven and what it’s like, and so few of those books agree with each other. Rob Bell asserted in his controversial book, Love Wins, that heaven isn’t a place so much as it’s an intimate existence with God that eventually, everyone will realize. His conclusions required some creative biblical interpretation, and earned him the moniker of “heretic” from a large community of evangelical Christians. Randy Alcorn wrote a highly popular book about heaven, which explored the present heaven (the place where God is and believers who die currently live) and the future heaven, which is a glorious fusion of God coming to earth and dwelling forever amongst His children.
Yeah, okay. It all sounds delightful, but it still doesn’t help me with my dirty little secret. Telling me that when I die, I go to heaven to be with God doesn’t help me fill in the blanks:
• I left my dead body on earth, so will I get a temporary body in heaven until the old one is resurrected and perfected? Or will I just be some kind of spirit until then?
• Will I eat, like Isaiah implied? If so, what will I eat? Will food taste the same? Do I eat out of necessity or just pleasure?
• Do I have the ability to make choices like I did on earth? Will I have the freedom to make bad choices like Lucifer did? If not, is it really free choice?
This just scrapes the surface of my lack of knowledge. What did Christ mean when He said that the mysteries of heaven would be revealed? I have been through every page of the bible and consulted with many modern works and articles on the topic. I spent three years in seminary taking the study thing to ungodly heights. I am as riddled with mystery now as when I started asking these questions decades ago.
But then, I remember reading 1 Corinthians 2:9: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” Notice that Paul doesn’t say that only the ungodly are the ones in the dark; God has seen fit to leave those who love Him uninformed regarding the details of their own destiny.
Maybe this verse infuriates you. We are, after all, curious to a fault and being told about our own eternal future seems more than just a reward; it seems like a right. But over the course of my entire Christian life, I have been brought back to one inescapable truth: if the all-benevolent God really wants to keep the details regarding my heavenly future to Himself, how could that possibly be a bad thing? Perhaps this verse, then, provides more comfort and peace than images of streets paved with gold or a thousand hills strewn with cows.
So, I don’t know what will happen to me when I die, except that I go the place where the Father—the One who created me for His own pleasure—awaits my own triumphal entry.
Could you imagine being given the job of fitting a square peg in a round hole? The idea that someone would remunerate you to perform a task that is categorically impossible seems preposterous.