A couple of phrases, words, ideas popped up more than once last week, unintentionally, but perhaps now is as good a time as any to expound on that. It's the idea of Creation as good, of Eden as good. Not perfect, you understand, but simply good.
Because the time is coming when things are gonna be good again.
We spend a good deal of our time wondering about Heaven, contemplating the life that is to come. We dream about the streets of gold, mansions, robes. We tell stories and crack jokes about what it might be like to meet St. Peter at the gates, waiting to see our name in the Book of Life much as a VIP on the list at the nightclub. We long to get in. We long to go home. And yet...I think we put a bit too much into the place.
Most of us are longing, dreaming for the day when life, eternal life, is going to be just perfect. That creates quite a mess, particularly when you try to figure out what exactly perfect means. It's something different to me than it is to you. It's something different entirely to the next man and different still for the woman next to him. If that is true, then what can we say definitively about heaven? Nothing at all. It is an idea based on the individual heart of man. Which puts you eternally in your own heaven, and you may quickly find out such a place is hell.
If Heaven is to be desirable, it must be above all things definitive. There must be something about it to which we can cling, a truth that doesn't depend on us (and therefore doesn't change with a man) but rather relies on the Unchanging. And indeed, when we read the Bible, we find that such a truth is real.
Jesus says, "I am going to prepare a place for you." In other words, "I'm going to my place to make a space for you." It's His place. We are invited into it. It's His design. There is accommodation for us. It's His heaven. He welcomes us to be there. And what really can we say about it?
We can say simply this: that Heaven is Eden restored. This is another one of those things that takes a little deep Biblical thought...
The voice said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, 'Release the four angels who are held at the great Euphrates River.' - Revelation 9:14
At first, maybe you're thinking, 'Okay. And....?' But from Revelation all the way back to Genesis, we see the connection...
A river flowed from Eden to water the garden. Outside the garden it divided into four rivers. ...The fourth river is the Euphrates. ...So the Lord God sent the man out of the Garden of Eden to farm the ground from which the man had been formed. After he sent the man out, God placed angels and a flaming sword that turned in all directions east of the Garden of Eden. He placed them there to guard the way to the tree of life. - Genesis 2:10, 14b, 3:23-24
Do you see it now? It's the kind of simple Biblical truth that is so easy to miss if you're not thinking about it. But in the coming judgment, as God restores the world, He reopens Eden. He releases the angels from their guard (yes, they go on to kill a certain measure of humanity, but such is the price of unrepented sin) and the Garden is once again open to man.
I prefer this image of Heaven; I can relate to it. I can relate to a longing for the Garden. For lush plants and beautiful flowers. For perfect harmony. For lions and lambs to lie down together. For abundant fruit and succulent vegetables. For sunshine and rain in perfect season. For the footsteps of God to be fresh in the fields, for His voice to carry over Creation, for His hand to be in my hand. For us to walk together, face-to-face, and talk as friends. For me, in all my indwelling sarcasm, to hide in the bushes and giggle when He finds me, declaring, "Just kidding!" Then laughing all the harder because in such a place, I feel no shame.
I never really connected with the idea of Heaven. I've never longed for marvelousness, for opulence. I can't imagine being happy with streets of gold or big mansions. It's so far out of my realm of experience, and even out of my heart of longing, that I can only fathom this version of Heaven being...awkward. At best. But I love the idea of Eden restored. Of the simple things. Of perfect pleasure. Of personal presence. Of just being relaxed in a fruitful place, diligent and disciplined but also fanciful and free. Of being in the quiet presence of love and knowing things are just as they were meant to be. It happens in the final days, when the angels are released from the Garden. When they no longer have to block the way. When man is allowed to step in and eat of the Tree of Life (Rev. 2:7) because God's desire for eternity finally comes to pass.
With a restored Creation that, contrary to our concept, is not perfect. It's simply good again.