3 Things We Get Wrong About Heaven

3 Things We Get Wrong About Heaven

The hope of heaven is one of the most central beliefs of the Christian faith. It is also one of the more mysterious and, frankly, poorly understood.

For many of us, the word “heaven” conjures images of a gated community in the clouds. Saint Peter stands at the entrance of a city with gilded streets and sun splashed white cathedrals. We are all wearing white robes and singing in a choir with angelic beings who look like renaissance paintings come to life. 

Some of these conceptions are pulled from various passages of Scripture, albeit overly literalized versions of them. Others come from artistic renderings that have offered imaginative imagery to represent eternity. Ironically, these same renderings have too often limited our imaginations rather than inspiring them. 

In the end, there are any number of things about heaven that Christians tend to get wrong. Here are three of them. 

1. Heaven Won’t Be Disembodied.

One of the biggest misconceptions about heaven is that it will be an ethereal, disembodied experience. That simply isn’t the case. Throughout the New Testament, we are told about the resurrection—a time not when we will go to heaven but when heaven will come to earth. 

In Revelation 21, we are given a vision of a New Jerusalem descending from heaven to make its eternal residence in the new creation. 

In 2 Corinthians 5:8, we are told that to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” But Paul also tells us in 1 Thessalonians that there will come a time when the dead will be raised to life and the living will be caught up in the clouds with Jesus, whom we will accompany back to the earth in new creation. And in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul tells us that Jesus’ resurrection to a glorified body is the firstfruits of the coming resurrection in which we will all be given physical bodies that are “imperishable.”

In other words, we will not be bodiless souls floating in the clouds. We will be embodied people who live and work in a city without injustice, disease, conflict, or pain. We will, to again quote Paul, not be “unclothed” of material substance but rather “further clothed” (2 Corinthians 5:4). 

In a certain sense, it will be the first time in our existence that we will be adequately clothed as our frail mortality is “swallowed up by life.”

2. Heaven Won’t Be Static.

Many of us imagine that once we reach a point of moral perfection, there will be nothing left to do. After all, any change from perfection is to become less perfect. Or at least that’s what we think. 

That’s why so many of us have conceptions of heaven that are terribly boring. They’re inaccurate. 

When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he charged them with keeping and cultivating it. He empowered them to have dominion over the earth. They were meant to work. To create things. To build things. They were given this commission in a world without sin. So it stands to reason that they will still be our commission in a world where sin has finally been removed. 

We tend to view work as something we hope to eventually escape. But I would argue that we don’t actually want to stop working. It gives us purpose and meaning. We derive pleasure from the expenditure of our energy and progressing toward a goal. 

What we hate is bureaucracy. What we hate are inefficiencies and egos. What we hate is when people aren’t in the right roles, when we don’t have the resources, time, or energy to truly reach our goals. 

But what if those limitations were removed and we could work joyfully and harmoniously toward achieving audacious goals and building things that were once only in our imaginations? That’s heaven. 

I also believe that we’ll continue to learn in heaven. After all, only God is omniscient. And in heaven, we will get resurrected, glorified bodies. But we’ll still be human. We won’t know everything. However, what we will finally have is the time to explore knowledge in a way we never could before. 

3. It Won’t Be About Us.

When we think about heaven, it is only natural to begin asking about what the experience will be like for us. I mean, this is eternity we’re talking about. We want to know what to expect. 

But, oftentimes, we allow our experiences of the world to shape our understanding of heaven rather than the reverse.

We understand that the things that hurt us in this life will be brought to healing in eternity. But sometimes our focus on those things leads us to hypotheticals that I believe cultivate a smaller vision of what heaven truly is. 

Heaven is about Jesus. It is a place where we will, to quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “glorify God and enjoy him forever.” But some of us imagine that we cannot enjoy God unless he addresses some of the things we feel are missing in our lives. 

For example, some ask whether they will be reunited with their dearly departed pets in heaven. Others ask whether they will be free from the physical scars or disabilities that cause them pain and shame or limit their ability. 

These are fair questions, and there are theological arguments to be made for and against them. A number of theologians living with disabilities actually believe that God does not desire to eternally remove such a personal distinction as a disability any more than he wants to remove the distinctions of gender or ethnicity. 

But then there are others who argue that anything that brings you pain or makes you sad is something that cannot be a part of heaven—because heaven is a place where pain and sorrow are finally removed. Therefore, if it would make you sad never to see your pets again, then it must logically mean that they will be in heaven. Or if it brings you pain that you will never walk again, then you will surely not only walk in heaven, but also fly!

None of this is to dismiss the depth of these desires or the pain we experience in the longing for the redemption of our bodies and souls. But what if redemption looks differently than we thought?

One thing about Jesus’ resurrection that has always struck me is that, even in his glorified state, Jesus still had scars. He had holes in his hands, feet, and side. The Apostle Thomas touched them. And the sight of these wounds that were once a source of excruciating pain, shame, and death, were now cause for worship. In some mysterious way, they had become beautiful. 

I wonder if the most important thing that will change in heaven is not our circumstances or surroundings. I wonder if the biggest change will occur within us—when we see God perfectly and know his love wholly. Maybe the very things that make our hearts heavy now will fill our hearts with gratitude for the way God has been in them, the way we can see his goodness and glory not in spite of them but because of them.

Maybe, in heaven, God will give us everything we wanted. Or maybe he’ll just show us that all we ever really wanted was him.

Maybe both. 

But definitely the second one.