The Most Important Question on Earth
Dr. Jim Denison
A dear friend sent me this story. A man says, “I’ve been married 25 years. I took a look at my wife one day and said, ‘Honey, 25 years ago we had a cheap apartment, a cheap car, slept on a sofa bed and watched a 10-inch black and white TV, but I got to live with a hot 25 year old blonde. Now we have a nice house, nice car, big bed and plasma screen TV, but I’m living with a 50 year old woman. It seems to me that you are not holding up your side of things.’
“My wife is a very reasonable woman. She told me to go out and find a hot 25 year old blonde, and she would make sure that I would once again be living in a cheap apartment.”
Some discussions are just not worth having. We should declare victory and go home, because we’re going to lose, anyway. Other discussions are crucial to our lives, families, and future.
We learned this week that North Korea is close to testing a long-range ballistic missile launch. South Dakota voters this fall will decide the fate of a law which would ban most abortions in the state; other states will be watching closely. Iran is being urged to suspend its uranium enrichment program. We could go on.
But none of these issues, as vital as they are, is as significant as the discussion we need to have this morning. We’re going to talk today about the most important question on earth. I need to ask it with you, and show you why it is so vital to your life today.
What is heaven like?
Let’s set out the context and parameters for our discussion. Our text talks about heaven. We’ve been watching Jesus reveal himself to us through the Revelation, not as The DaVinci Code’s human prophet but as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Today he wants to show us his home.
First, his word says that heaven is a real place. John said, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1). He didn’t feel it, or dream of it, or hear about it. He saw it, and we only see things which are. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14.2).
Heaven is a real place.
Second, heaven is a blessed place (v. 4). Because God is there, all that is perfect is there as well. There will be no death in heaven, thus no mourning or crying or pain. Our greatest enemy will trouble us no more. You’ll be glad you’re there.
Third, heaven is a place of great reward. Jesus told us to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). The psalmist testified, “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11). Our reward is forever, “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).
Is heaven real?
Now, let’s see if we believe everything we’ve learned thus far. Raise your hand if you believe in heaven. But I’m afraid there’s a “but.” In the back of your mind, is there ever a glimmer of doubt that maybe it’s not really true? That those you love who have died are really just dead? That this is all there is, and heaven is what we hope for but aren’t sure really exists?
I was in Houston a few months ago, and stopped at my father’s grave. The greatest tragedy of my life is that my father never met my sons. My spiritual side is sure he’s in heaven. My human side hopes so. I want there to be more than this. I want to see him again. I want him to meet my sons one day. I hope it’s true.
I’ve spoken with several people in recent weeks who tell me that they do not believe in an afterlife. Most of us are sophisticated, scientific people. It’s hard for many of us to believe what we cannot understand or verify through our experience, science, or logic. It’s hard to believe what we cannot prove.
Freud said that God is a projection of our need for an ideal father. By extension, heaven is a projection of our need to live forever. We conjure up the concept to make ourselves feel better about our finite time on earth.
Marx called religion the “opiate of the people.” Unfortunately, he’s sometimes right. During the horrific days of slavery, a slaveowner was happy for his slaves to believe that they would be rewarded in heaven if they were obedient on earth.
When I’ve thought about this issue in the past, it’s always comforted me to remember that every culture known to history has a sense of something beyond this world.
It’s impossible to find a civilization which doesn’t believe in life beyond this life. Pascal said that there’s a “God-shaped emptiness” inside us all; Augustine observed that our hearts are restless until they rest in him.
But what if that’s because we all share the same need to believe that there’s something more, the same horror at the idea that this is all there is? When we stand at the grave of someone we love, our hearts break at the thought that we’ll never see them again. So we believe in heaven because we need to believe in heaven, the same way we believe in peace even though our world is always at war. What if that’s all it is–a belief?
We can say that even if heaven isn’t real, believing in it is a good thing. It gives us hope, something to look forward to, a way to be comforted. The people I know who don’t believe in heaven don’t mind if I do. “Whatever gets you through the day.” Believe what you need to believe. So let’s move on, hoping that heaven is real. If we’re right, we’ll rejoice forever. If we’re wrong, we’ll never know it. What have we got to lose?