Misunderstanding Heaven

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Part 2: Homesick at Home and The Ships of Tarshish

This post is a part 2 of a series on common misunderstandings of heaven. If you would like to begin with part 1, click here.

On the day I graduated from college, my roommate and I loaded up his truck and we set out on a three-week cross-country trip. No plan, no GPS, just camping gear and a map of the US. At one point we ended up in Mexico camping on a beach. We explored the fishing village, cooked seafood over a fire, snorkeled out to a reef to feed the tropical fish our leftovers and ended the day watching the sun go down over the Sea of Cortez. It was a great day to say the least. Now imagine if at the end of the day, my roommate looked over and said, “Enjoy it while it lasts, this world is not your home. This is all going to go away when Jesus returns.”

Fortunately he did not say that. In fact neither of us said anything. Rather we sat quiet, stunned at the artistry of the scene.

For many people, the idea of heaven is not really appealing for fear that what they enjoy and love on this planet will one day be gone, destroyed; Sunsets, a favorite beach, architectural wonders, skilled craftsmanship, music, etc. Somewhere along the way we have adopted a default view that there is very little continuity in the New Earth. Which brings us to our third misconception:

#3 Assuming the earth will be destroyed and everything in it.

We love days like that. I’m sure you’ve had similar moments in your life where the glory of God was on full display and you loved everything about it. There are many things about this world we love and should love. We were created to enjoy God’s creation. That won’t change in the New Earth. He made us relational creatures, creative beings, able to think, able to experience joy, relish in beauty. These experiences are simply a foretaste of heaven. Good things tainted by sin and then redeemed to bring God further glory.

As we look at scripture, Christ’s resurrection is the forerunner of our own resurrection, but it is also the forerunner to the earth’s resurrection. (Romans 8:19-21) The earth cannot be redeemed by being destroyed, rather it will be renewed. The curse will be lifted. All of the sin, darkness and decay of the earth will be destroyed but not the earth itself. The current state of existence will pass away but not the existence of the earth itself.

G. K. Chesterton coined the phrase “homesick at home” to describe the feeling we all have sometimes. Craving the goodness and creativity of this world and feeling bad about it because we are supposed to want heaven. Well in some sense (given your craving are actually for good things) this feeling is biblical.

Our eternal home will be a familiar place. The earth will be renewed, not annihilated. Randy Alcorn makes a good case for this continuity in his book entitled Heaven. He follows the continuity of two created things in the Old Testament that appear in The New Heavens. The first is the Cedars of Lebanon (part of the creation) and the second is the Ships of Tarshish (manmade from the creation). In Isaiah, Lebanon and Tarshish are chastised for their arrogance, pride and their idolatrous view of creation and the works of their own hands.

“For the LORD of hosts has a day against all that is proud and lofty, against all that is lifted up—and it shall be brought low; against all the cedars of Lebanon, lofty and lifted up… against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful craft. And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled, and the lofty pride of men shall be brought low, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.” Isaiah 2:12-17

“Behold, the Lord GOD of hosts will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the great in height will be hewn down, and the lofty will be brought low. [34] He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an axe, and Lebanon will fall by the Majestic One.” Isaiah 10:34

Given these words, we can easily make the assumption that the ships and cedars will be destroyed and be no more. However, that is not what we see if we track the Ships of Tarshish and the Forests of Lebanon through God’s Word. Later in Isaiah we find that they will not be destroyed. Chapter 60, in describing the New Earth (which is later echoed in Revelation 1:22-27) gives the imagery of the people of God coming into the Great City. What will God’s people bring to The City? They bring the forests of Lebanon. How do they get there? They sail on the Ships of Tarshish of course!

“For the coastlands shall hope for me, the ships of Tarshish first, to bring your children from afar, their silver and gold with them, for the name of the LORD your God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because he has made you beautiful… The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and I will make the place of my feet glorious.” Isaiah 60:9,13

There is nothing inherently wrong with ships, cedar wood, sunsets and beautiful beaches. But what is wrong is the idolatry and abuse of these things. The earth will not be destroyed but the sinful actions and misuse of creation will be. In turn Christ’s redemption will restore all things.

The Apostle Peter makes this clear when he said, “the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” (2 Peter 3:10) and that our Lord Jesus is waiting in heaven “until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” (Acts 3:21)

Christ’s plan is not to annihilate the earth but to redeem it, to restore it and make all things new. This includes the works of his own hand, trees, mountains and animals; as well as the workmanship of mankind, ships, music and buildings. Christ’s redemption is broader than you think. Beginning with continuity in mind as we ponder what heaven be like, will give you a greater anticipation for heaven as you catch glimpses of our eternal home. Look for it and experience being “homesick at home” as you go through your day.

Where have you seen glimpses of heaven today? Where are your favorite places on earth? Do they give you a greater desire for heaven? Given the continuity on the New Earth, what should you anticipate?

To learn more about heaven and to strengthen your desire for heaven, I recommend Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven or you can click here for the audio from our Sunday School series.

Author: Wes Andrews
Image: Provided by Author

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