Is there more to it than merely playing harps and singing?

Many people suspect that heaven is boring: you find there only harp playing and singing and casting down of crowns. Surely heaven will be boring after a million years or so!

To escape that boredom, some people have imagined an eternity of activities—work, perhaps (maybe pruning the Tree of Life?), or a continuation of life vocations (like Kipling’s eternally painting artist). It would seem likely, however, that a surgeon would get bored with performing an infinite number of, say, tonsilectomies.

Other, more “spiritual” people, see heaven as an eternal camp meeting or Bible conference. Presumably, there all the fine points of theology will be worked out.

Still others seem to expect a posh (golden streets) retirement center, with God as the kindly caretaker (anyone for shuffleboard?).

The idea of infinite time on one’s hands seems to be the major problem in contemplating heaven: the idea of infinity is really mind boggling. Consider these bits of mathematics: ∞ (infinity) plus 101000 (101000 is a short form of 1 followed by 1,000 zeros), or minus 101000, or times 101000, or divided by 101000. The answer is always ∞.

Infinity appears invulnerable; whatever you do to it, it remains unaffected. What would it be like to celebrate New Year’s Day in A.D. 1,000,000 and know that so far as eternity is concerned, no time has passed? To imagine existence in a forever-ongoing eternity is truly mind boggling.

But there is evidently something wrong in many speculations about heaven—for they really are speculation. Scripture tells us little about heaven, and what is there is mostly in symbols. But some speculations are better than others, and perhaps a suggestion may help: The core of the difficulty is that we have had little experience that would prepare us for heaven and eternity.

First, our experience is earthbound, tied to jobs, houses or apartments, the kids, IRAS, and retirement. As a consequence, we are hardly equipped to think in terms other than the continuation of these concerns and activities. Probably that is why Paul can tell us that what is in prospect for us cannot be imagined; we have only what God tells us—and that’s not much (1 Cor. 2:9–10).

Second, our experience is time bound. Our activities have a beginning, a continuance, and an end. Today we are conscious of a time structure and of the passage of time. We look forward to an end, to the achievement of some goal. It may be a United Way campaign, or woodworking, or a game—even writing an article on heaven. But heaven is different: there is beginning and continuance, but no end. There is no achievement to look forward to. There is only the continuing. And it is this continuing that threatens to be boring.

Third, our earthly existence has been primarily self-centered. We have been busy with our careers and our families and our debts, with legislators and presidents. But in heaven, all these will be past, with heaven providing one long retirement from all those things we have been doing for ourselves.

Of course, retirement often comes as a relief. Frequently, however, the relief lasts only for a while, and then boredom sets in. In light of all these factors, it is easy to see why it is difficult to speculate about heaven. We could simply abandon all speculation and wait for the reality.

But one aspect of our earthly existence will persist eternally: it is our worship of God, glorifying and enjoying him. We do this on earth, we will do this in heaven—forever. Heaven will allow us to experience perfectly that famous answer in the catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Note, however, that we shall not be enjoying ourselves, but God. Now, on earth, we are not heavenly minded; we tend to think of ourselves, of enjoying ourselves. But heaven will be different. In heaven the center is and will be God.

But aren’t we back at square one with this idea of eternal worship—all those harps and so on? No, we are beyond them, for they are tools, maybe real, maybe symbolic. The reality beyond them is the state of heart and mind; it is our activity for eternity: glorifying and enjoying God. But is that boring?

Have you ever noticed a couple deeply in love? They can simply sit and look at each other without a word. Suppose they could be frozen in one of those ecstatic moments, to go on with no end and with no sense of passing time. Would not this be “heaven” to them? In the same way, we must remember that heaven is not timebound. Time, and the sense of time, will be swallowed up in eternity. But there it will be the church worshiping.

Think of a crowd of supporters whose athletic team has just won a championship game. Freeze them in that moment. Is that not “heaven” for them? Then think of the church caught up in glorifying and enjoying God and frozen there forever.

Does heaven still sound boring?

LAUREN A. KINGDr. King is English professor emeritus at Malone College, Canton, Ohio.

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