I recently participated in a memorial service for my mother who died during covid, a second service for a dear friend engaged to another dear friend and a third for the son of a long time and close friend. As a consequence, heaven has been much on my mind. Our church group studied the book Heavenby Randy Alcorn as a means of grieving with hope; that is, with confident expectation based on the wonderful works and unfailing promises of God in Christ.
For those united with Christ and His benefits through faith, this hope includes the perfection of our spirits immediately at death and then dwelling in God’s presence in peace and joy. During this time, our bodies “rest in their graves as in their beds” (Westminster Larger Catechism). Departed believers will be the first to be raised in new bodies at Christ’s coming. Then other believers will be raised with them and all of us will be acquitted by Christ in judgment and will enter into His eternal joy in the new heavens and new earth. Those outside of Christ will experience the terrors of His justice in their spirits at death and in their bodies also at the resurrection. These things we know with certainty from the testimony of the Holy Spirit in and through the Scriptures.
Heaven by Randy Alcorn is, by the author’s own declaration, a long series of extraordinary speculations about what heaven will be like. Unfortunately, these speculations are the result of faulty reasoning from the Scriptures. And, in any case, no speculation is able to anticipate the unimaginable blessings Christ has won for those who love Him (1Cor.2:9). Every speculation will be like a lit candle that is vaporized into nothingness by the appearance of the glory of God in the new heavens and new earth on the day of Christ’s coming.
Mr. Alcorn makes two basic mistakes. The first is his idea that heaven consists, primarily, of a restoration to the original creation. That is true but does not come close to the glory of the whole truth. We will not be restored merely to innocence with the opportunity for perfect obedience and eternal life like Adam and Eve. In Christ, we will be restored to innocence through the forgiveness of our sins but we will also be perfected in His righteousness for entrance into His glory. We can imagine restoration along with Mr. Alcorn but we cannot begin to conceive of the glory of enjoying perfect righteousness in Christ.
The second mistake is also that of a partial truth. Mr. Alcorn insists that the new creation is primarily in continuity with the original creation. This also is true but does not come close to the glory of the whole truth. The new creation is characterized at least as much by discontinuity as by continuity. St. Paul dismisses the futility of trying to imagine what the resurrected body will be like and gives the illustration of the change in form from a seed to a plant (1 Corinthians 15:35-58; see Philippians 3:21). We may also illustrate this change from metamorphosis: from caterpillar (our current body) to chrysalis (our body after death) to butterfly (our resurrected body). It is very appropriate that many hospice ministries use the butterfly in their communications. From all of this we see that there is both substantial continuity from one form to the other but also significant discontinuity. Again, we can imagine the continuity but we cannot begin to conceive of the glorious discontinuity.
Set your hopes – your confident expectations - on the solid foundation of the Holy Spirit testifying in and through the Scriptures. Do not be distracted by foolish speculations. Be content with the promise that, through faith, you will be with your Beloved Savior, Jesus Christ, in your spirit at death and also in your body at the resurrection from the dead. As St. Paul says, “and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). What else do you need but to know that you will be with the One who has loved you before the beginning of creation and will love you after the end of this age? We love Him because He first loved us. The glories of the new creation in Jesus will make us forget the sorrows and even the joys of this life. That is unimaginable and more than enough to sustain us in life and at death.
This article was submitted to The Palladium-Times (Oswego, NY) for publication in their Saturday, August 27th edition and is used with permission. For questions or comments on this article, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or (517) 630-6325 or The Reformed Presbyterian Church, 207 S. 1st St., Fulton, NY 13069.