Imagining What Heaven is Like (with 3 Great Book Recommendations)
One of my favorite Disney films is Hercules. There is a scene in which Hades’ demon toadies, Pain and Panic, are feeding the infant Hercules a baby bottle full of poison intended to make him mortal. Just before he finishes glugging the poison down, something startles the little demons and they drop the bottle, spilling the last tiny drop. Hercules becomes mortal but retains just a spark of divinity – his strength. I believe our ability to imagine heaven is like that spark of divinity – it is our connection to what lies beyond this mortal world.
Belief in Heaven is an intriguing connection to eternal divine reality. Even if I did not believe in Heaven, I think the ability to imagine it would be my refuge from a life of anxious misery, busy superficiality, or dull resignation. Even when life is going well, we are aware of its shortness, if not constantly then in the wee hours of a sleepless night. Perhaps some people who do not believe in God have given up imagining a Heaven; it can be painful to think about a state of happiness, peace, and beauty without the hope that you will ever be there. But if we can believe, at least in the possiblity of Heaven, the tiniest drop of that vision and hope has the power to get us through any hardship or suffering this life has to offer.
Heaven is beyond our wildest dreams
Usually Heaven functions in my daily life as a distant hope, a comforting safety net to keep the fear of death at bay. But sometimes I stop to contemplate what Heaven must really be like. Though it is fun to imagine, I realize the reality is beyond my wildest dreams. I can no more grasp all that Heaven will be than my dog can know what it is to become absorbed in a novel like Wuthering Heights. In Heaven there will be things that are simply outside the capacity of our earthly brains to comprehend: colors that are outside the limits of our spectrum and dimensions beyond our familiar three.
I suspect that one of Heaven’s pleasures will be the unfolding discoveries of new delights and truths. We will surely not be all-knowing at the moment of our arrival, and probably never will be, because knowledge and creation come from God, and must therefore be infinite. That is the way it should be; we get too much joy from exploration and discovery for learning ever to end. For a reader and seeker of knowledge perhaps Heaven is like an infinite library where you know you will never run out of time to read all the books you want to read. For a nature lover, perhaps it will be endless vistas of hills to climb, forests to explore, and plants and animals to discover. As the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:9:
“ Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Heaven is not boring
I do not know where the images about Heaven being an endless state of sitting on a cloud singing hymns comes from, but stagnation, unending stillness, and boredom are certainly not my idea of Heaven. That kind of existence seems more like Hell to me. Not that I do not like singing, but the idea of existing in a state of monotonous perfection, doing nothing and going nowhere, is not appealing. I have also resisted the idea offered by some religions that we lose our individuality in Heaven, becoming “one” with the Universe or God. This seems to me pretty close to annihilation, which also is not appealing to me.
Fortunately, that scary vision of Heaven is nothing at all like any idea of Heaven the Bible teaches. To help me along in my contemplation I have been fortunate enough to find a few books about Heaven that have assured me, by their Biblical evidence and reasonable common sense, that Heaven is a place where we will be the creative joyful active beings God made us to be.
Three great books about Heaven
There are many books published in which people claim to give true accounts of having been to the afterlife and come back. I am a little leery of these, because we know so little of the spiritual world that we may be easily deceived by any brief sojourn there. The most credible such account is Don Piper’s account in 90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death & Life. I found the story fascinating and I believe Mr. Piper really experienced what he describes after a horrific automobile accident. Still, he is only one person and the part of the book that describes his experienced in Heaven is very brief. Most of the book deals with the aftermath of the his injuries and his longing for the love and beauty he experienced during his time in Heaven. Keep in mind that there is only so much of Heaven that anyone could describe after a 90-minute experience. How could we describe even an earthly place such as say, the Rocky Mountains after a 90-minute trip to Estes Park? Or New York City after a whirlwind trip to see the Rockettes Christmas show?
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis is one of the most, if not the most, imaginative books I have ever read. Lewis tells a story of a group of souls who have gone to Hell but who are given a chance to enter Heaven, if only they can give up the character flaw or sin that is preventing them from accepting what God offers. In this story, Lewis express some of his philosophical ideas about the nature of Heaven. I first read this perhaps 15 years ago and ever since I have been convinced that Heaven is not at all the airy-fairy pale blue place frequently portrayed in pictures, but rather is more solid and more real than anything we know on earth. Another idea Lewis presents in this little book is that those who do not go to Heaven choose not to go there because they value some erroneous belief or idea more than they value Heaven and will consciously choose the error, even when they see what Heaven is. This book will give you plenty of ideas to contemplate and once you read it, you may never look at yourself or the people you know the same way.
Anthony DeStephano’s book A Travel Guide to Heaven is an imaginative work with a different approach. He take the information the Bible gives us about Heaven and spins these verses out to their fantastic conclusions in a way that is inspiring, fun, and accessible. Without contradicting the Bible, DeStephano uses the metaphor of a travel guide to imagine the implications of the scriptural hints. He discusses what our new bodies might be like, whether we see our departed loved ones, whether our pets will be there, and the sorts of things we may get to do there. If you have lost a loved one, are dealing with illness, or just down, reading this book will boost your spirit and give you hope. And while we live in this world, hope is what heaven is all about!