Last week someone said to me that they thought the prospect of an eternity in heaven was almost just an added bonus, and even then a very distant reward for being a Christian – for them the real joy lay in knowing the love of God now as demonstrated in the sacrifice of the cross and being able to express gratitude for that in a life of evangelism.
I was quite troubled by this.
In fact, it still really bugs me that a believer should have such a lack of yearning for eternity. It seemed so out of step with what I understand to be the ‘future-centricity’ of the New Testament.
As I’ve thought about it I’ve tried to nail down just what it is that bugs me and the degree to which that’s valid.
Is this sort of thinking a symptom of our all-too-comfortable 21st century western Christianity? It would be hard to imagine a suffering Christian finding the prospect of eternity merely an ‘added bonus’. Maybe life in God’s promised world would seem less vague a hope if life in this present world were less comfortable?
Is this kind of statement evidence of a poor conception of ‘heaven’? Of course the New Testament promises not so much heaven but a new creation, and it is hard to imagine someone not being excited at the prospect of a fully physcial life free from sin, pain, death, suffering, illness and wasps (!), all amidst the perfectly just, loving, joyful and benevolent reign of God. Has this friend of mine just been sold a shoddy replica of our eternal hope? A kingdom and creation eschatology would surely preserve even the dullest heart from being dispassionate about the future?
Is it evidence of a lack of God-centredness? Surely what we know and experience of Him now is meagre compared to what we will enjoy in eternity?
How does this attitude fit with a robust and biblical understanding of sin and the curse? How does this attitude fit with a practical experience of the ongoing fight with indwelling sin and the brokenness of creation? Where is the Spirit-inspired battlefield prayer which cries to ‘Abba Father’ for deliverance and the redemption of our dead-in-sin bodies? Where is the groaning for a new creation (Romans 8)?
But then I also got to thinking;
Is the problem just that this friend of mine has an over-realised eschatology (over-spinning the present blessings) or does the strength of my discomfort indicate that perhaps I have an under-realised one (stoically under-estimating the benefits of kingdom life in the now)? Are we both guilty of a ‘heresy of emphasis’? And, if so, given that I can readily see the pitfalls in my friend's error, what are the corresponding ways my error stunts my discipleship and skews my reading of scripture?
No doubt the Apostle Paul got it right; his confidence in the future resurrection meant a life of joyful Christ-proclamation in the now. It's not an either or, but rather joy now because of the bigger joy later.