Let’s be honest, a part of us wants Jesus to come back right now so he can put a stop to things like ISIS and Ebola and Obamacare. Another part of us wants him to wait a little while, at least long enough for us to get married, have kids, buy a house, get that book published, see Paris and have dinner in the Space Needle.
The thought of standing along the banks of some celestial river singing “I Flew Away” with several billion people clapping on beats one and three for all eternity is not exactly at the top of our post-bucket list.
Despite what we might say in church, we really do love this world. And why shouldn’t we? If I’m reading the book of Revelation correctly, the things we hate—death, disease, war, kale—have an expiration date, leaving all the things we love behind. There is supposed to be a new earth after this one, one where Christ is in charge and we all have new, immortal bodies.
For now, human life is little more than a death prevention program. We are trained by our parents to eat right, look both ways before we cross the street, never run with scissors, and try to avoid marrying a psychopath. We are trained by our teachers to develop enough knowledge and skills to secure a decent job, assuring us a steady supply of food, shelter and insurances. We are trained by our instincts to chase pretty people, seduce pretty people, and make more pretty people. That way, our species endures to future generations of street-crossing, food-acquiring people-makers.
Now let’s pause and consider an afterlife. Death prevention would be soooo passé. No need to look both ways before crossing the golden streets. No need to work for a solid education, secure food or shelter, reproduce—none of it. Our “lives” will be something else entirely.
Will we eat? We’d like to think that because Jesus ate with his disciples after the resurrection, or this impending Marriage Supper of the Lamb, or the existence of a fruitful Tree of Life, that we will still enjoy food in our new bodies. Well, okay, maybe. But what’s the point? Flavor?
We can be pretty sure that God and his angels are not in the regular practice of fueling their non-bodies. Food is an invention for physical creatures. Besides, would we really need or want to figure out how to provide an eternity of food for billions of people that can’t die?
What about hormones? When the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into some riddle about wives in the afterlife, Jesus said that they would be like the angels, and angels don’t marry. It makes sense. With immortal bodies, there would be no need to preserve the species. That means zero sex drive. No more adultery or prostitution or pornography, but also no dating or marriage. So we gain immortality, but lose an entire genre of movies.
What will our purpose be? Without the need to ensure food or shelter, we won’t have to be trained or employed. No one will do anything for a living. They’re just . . . living. But without the prospect of a job or a meal or a date or Netflix, what the heck are we supposed to do with eternity? If we strip away our death prevention program, we’re not left with much.
We often think of the afterlife as an enhancement of this life, offering us the best that this life has to offer. Let’s say you end up with a mansion. Well, you won’t need the kitchen. No need to eat. You won’t need the bedroom. No sleeping. Probably no showers either. Do we just need a living room? Where else can we sit down with Jonah and ask what it was like living in a fish for three days?
Okay, you get my point. Rather than picturing our eternity through the lens of an eternal retirement center, we need to ask ourselves what God really has in mind. What should we be looking forward to?
In I Corinthians 2:9, Paul says that God has prepared something for his people that no eye has seen, and no ear has heard, and has not entered into human imagination. In other words, our new life in Christ cannot possibly be an advanced version of this life because we can see, hear and imagine all of that. What God plans for his people is beyond the reach of our imagination.
But in the very next verse Paul writes: These are things God has revealed to us by the Spirit. Did you catch that? Not will reveal, but has revealed. Past tense. He’s not talking about the afterlife here, not in this context. He’s talking about life in the Spirit, a life shared with God.
Not even our gift of eternal life is in reference to the afterlife: Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. John 17:3. Eternal life is not about living forever in heaven (you would live forever in hell also); it is about sharing life with an eternal God now and forever. In a sense, the day of our rebirth is our spiritual wedding day.
There’s a reason David wrote with such passion. There’s a reason why Jesus had to comfort and encourage his disciples when he was leaving. There’s a reason why Paul says that he considered all of his education and achievements like garbage compared to knowing Christ.
Knowing God fulfills our deepest needs and desires, but so often we look to the shadows for satisfaction—food, shelter, success, marriage, children. Jesus claims to be true food and drink. He claims to be the true bridegroom, the true shepherd. We look down on pretty young women that marry rich older men for wealth and security. Is it any different when we join with God to get our sins forgiven and inherit an eternity of heavenly bliss?
There is lasting happiness and contentment to be found in a genuine, interactive relationship with God. If we pursued him with the same drive that we pursue our American Dreams I think we would begin to see, hear and imagine things that we would never trade for all the Almond Joys and Happy Meals this life has to offer.