REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 72: Heaven’s joys and Covid-19 disappointments.
We used to sing a chorus: Heaven is a wonderful place, filled with glory and grace. I’m going to see my Saviour’s face, heaven is a wonderful place. Woody Allen wrote in 1977, The fundamental thing behind all motivation and all activity is the constant struggle against annihilation and against death. It’s absolutely stupefying in its terror, and it renders anyone’s accomplishments meaningless. Contrast the two and we see the assurance of the believer and the hopelessness of the unbeliever, the light of Christ and the world’s darkness . We have been thinking about persuading friends of the attractiveness of heaven, when most seem happy with what earth offers. I suggested last week that a good reminder of hell’s awfulness, with its separation from God and all things good, may be a helpful place to start. But how might we get people to consider the delights of Heaven? Here are some thoughts.
Our chorus offers us a clue. The joy of heaven is the Lord of Heaven. Since most people, believers and unbelievers alike, consider Jesus to have been the most attractive and significant person to have lived this may be a way to their self-sufficient, but dare I suggest, aching hearts. Lives filled with an overflow of dopamine has effectively blocked the pleasure-centre of their brains. Instead of finding joys in the simple pleasures of life, a constant increase in more and more bizarre pleasure is necessary. Increased sexual stimulation, more gadgets, expensive holidays, more food, risk taking gambling and the like, are a sure recipe for bondage to the law of diminishing returns. Jesus, on the other hand, offers pleasures that are as real as they are inexpensive. Even the pleasure of giving rather than receiving [Acts 20:35] turns out to be the path to the rich pleasure of giving that nothing else can hold a candle to. The returns Jesus gives never diminish but continue to overflow to us in direct proportion to their flowing through us to others [Psalm 16:9-11, John 4:13-14, 6:35, 7:37-39, 8:12,32,36, 10:10-11, 12:23-26, 14:25-27, 2 Cor 9:10-15, 1 Thess 3:11-13 contrasted with Jer 2:12-13 and Rom 1:18-32].
The ascension of Jesus may well give us another way into the self-sufficient mind of the average well-to-do Aussie. Understandably they are somewhat cynical and wary of a spiritualised heaven. I certainly am. My cynicism has been met by a real, incarnate, flesh-and-blood Saviour from heaven. My wariness of the boredom of an ethereal out- of-body experience is met by the glorious ascension – a bodily ascension following the real bodily resurrection of our crucified Saviour. He so clearly went out of His way to assure us [and to immune us from false teaching to the contrary] that not only was he the same Jesus who died upon the cross, but was also raised bodily [Luke 24:36-49]. And 40 days later it was with this same body that he ascended back into heaven [24:50-53]. Though heaven is real enough, and believers go there immediately at death, clothed with a body fit for heaven, [2 Cor 4:16-5:10, Phil 1:21-26] it is not our final home. This will take place when He returns in glory where all believers will be fully clothed in their new, but continuous with their old worn out body, [1 Cor 15:35-57] fit for the new heavens and the new earth. C F D Moule, writes Leon Morris, argued that if the ascension means the taking of our humanity into heaven, ‘it means that with it will be taken the humanity, which he has redeemed-those who are Christ’s, at His coming. It is a powerful expression of the redemption of this world, in contrast to mere escape from it’. Our friends who find this world’s pleasures full of joy are right, but sadly sell themselves short, not only by failing to double their joys through thankfulness to God, but by failing to see that all godly service, work, relationship-building, research and discovery, in the words of the Apostle will never be futile or in vain [1 Cor 15:58]. The taunt that we who look forward to heaven are escapists can be evidence of our failure to live as salt and light, but also, sadly, of our taunter’s captivity to earth’s transience. The frustration of life outside the garden, portrayed so poignantly by the Apostle in Romans 8:18-25, will be forever redeemed and reversed at our Lord’s coming in the new heavens and new earth. The future weight of glory is already tasted by believers through the Holy Spirit’s ministry of transformation, paradoxically through and because of our many troubles [2 Cor 4:16-18]. Living out our prayer your will be done on earth as it is in heaven will bring blessing to many now and contribute in some way to the final glorification of the future. This world-view would keep us from Woody Allen’s ‘stupefying terror’ of life itself and at the same time fill us with a real sense of purposefulness as God’s children and disciples of Jesus. Nothing could be as ennobling [Eph 2:10].
The way to get as many people into heaven, wrote Dallas Willard, is to get heaven into as many people as you can: that is, to follow the path of genuine spiritual transformation or full-throttle discipleship of Jesus Christ. Without minimising the hardness of unbelievers, this insight provides us with a compelling motivation to be winsome in our individual and corporate witness, thus creating a thirst for heaven, through our gracious fellowship and conduct in the world. Willard’s context was the meanness we believers can so easily convey to brothers and sisters in Christ. The pandemic, with its uncertainties and pressures, provides us with opportunities for displays of heavenly grace.
Peter Brain 20th April, 2021