Heaven – Is It For Real?
By Karen E. Verderber
Recently the St. Luke’s book club selected a book that would lead me on a spiritual journey which I had not anticipated. The title is “Heaven Is For Real.” Tied into the theme of heaven for me was the singular event that completely changed my life and my thinking – the passing of my husband John just a year and a half earlier. One of John’s last questions asked of our priest Father Andrew was, “Where am I going?” Since then I’ve had so many of my own questions. Perhaps John’s passing combined with thoughts of my own mortality stretched my curiosity to the point that I began instigating conversations about heaven with family and friends. I gathered a wide variety of ideas and responses, a few of which I can share with you. Some people just don’t know if heaven exists at all, while others thought they would never be allowed “in” due to their many indiscretions. One friend’s comment was that our ultimate goal on earth is to be striving for heaven constantly. But the most wondered about thought that people had was whether they would know one another and what their relationships would be like. Scripture is abundantly clear on this. Jesus appeared to many following his resurrection. Many saw and recognized Him (John 20:18). The twelve saw Him and recognized that it was Jesus (Matt 28:9). These appearances of Jesus are a reminder to me that we will be identifiable as the same person we were on earth, only way better. But even more importantly, in heaven we will recognize the
One who died to redeem us. We will know Him by the nail prints in His hands (John 20:25, I Cor. 13:12).
In these conversations I found it interesting that while ¾ of us agree that heaven is real, a lot of us don’t seem very excited about getting there. I’ve asked myself, “why is that?” The thought of a glorious reunion with our loved ones and being in God’s presence should elicit joy beyond description. Could it be that we just don’t understand heaven? Although we’ve heard talk about angels floating on clouds while strumming on harps, nothing in scripture suggests that this is what eternal life will really be like. So what is it really like and how do we get there? My eight year old granddaughter’s response was, “we just float up to heaven above the clouds and when we get there, we rest until God shows us all kinds of fun things to do.”
The world famous physicist Steven Hawking says that there is no heaven and that it’s just a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark. But 3 ½ year old Colton Burpo has proof that heaven is for real. Why? Because he’s been there! In the book “Heaven Is For Real” Colton Burpo leaves his body during surgery and is able to describe with exact clarity what his parents were doing in another part of the hospital. With child-like innocence and matter-of-fact language, during his visit to heaven, Colton talks about meeting Peter and John as well as deceased family relatives whom he had never met. He also shares events that preceded his birth. His details about heaven astonishingly matched the Bible exactly even though he had not yet learned to read. So why has this book remained so popular?
Well, l think people are interested in heaven because everyone has someone there and ultimately we know that we are all going to die. People have valid questions and want some valid answers. And we all need hope, comfort and encouragement. However, there’s a definite limit to what we can know about heaven. If God gave us all the awesome details we’d be looking for an early exit ramp. However, the one true universal belief about heaven since Christianity began is that it is a real physical place. It’s not far from where we live now - just another realm away. I think the most profound description of heaven is found in Paul’s words to the Philippians. He said that to “depart and be with Christ is far better (Phil 1:23). Paul describes how he saw heaven but was not permitted to say anything about it (2 Cor.12:3-4). The apostle John saw a new heaven which he described for us in Revelations 21 and 22. This new heaven was God’s eternal kingdom revealed as a holy city, the New Jerusalem. Jesus himself extends a personal invitation to us in John 14:2 when He called heaven, “My Father’s House” – in which are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” Many mansions is a word picture meaning there are more than enough living quarters in the Kingdom of God. When believers arrive, their rooms will be reserved and they will find the warmth, welcome and intimacy of the family home which some sadly have never experienced here on earth.
In conclusion, I would like to submit that not even any of our great artists can come close in depicting what John saw in Revelations. It’s just a matter of logic, that if God is going to be in heaven and He is the creator of all beauty, life and joy, then heaven must be overflowing with all these things. Some who have read, “Heaven Is For Real” have been bothered by the fact that since Colton’s dad was a pastor, maybe he had coached him in remembering biblical stories and descriptions – a valid concern. But I take a different view. I think God chose Colton Burpo to speak to us in this twenty-first century about some of the mysteries of heaven that we haven’t allowed ourselves to be small and silent enough to notice. So how do we get a glimpse of this invisible world? I think three key ingredients needed are, simple trust, openness and purity of heart. Christ said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 18:2-4. Maybe if we spend more time humbling ourselves, God will reveal to us a lot that’s hidden from the rest of the world. For those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ, we have an unimaginable destination ahead of us – heaven. And there’s no deeper personal peace than to know where we will be going when we die.
In the words of the great apologist C.S. Lewis, “We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all of the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get in.”