I had a conversation with a friend recently that prompted me to think about heaven. It occurred to me that if I were to ask a group of people to describe heaven, each person would probably have something unique to say—something personal that might give me an idea of what matters most to him or her. It can be a mystifying thing for us to envision, and unfortunately it can sometimes be used as a means of coercion as well. We may be told that unless we follow a precise set of rules, we’ll be denied entrance into this beautiful place and forced to endure unimaginable terror. This was a part of the elementary view of heaven that I had as a child. Heaven was the place we went to if we were good in this life, and hell was the place we went to if we were bad. As a Christian, more specifically, heaven was the place we went to if we believed the testimony of the gospels, and hell was the place we went to if we didn’t.
With so many different kinds of spirituality in the world—so many ideas that promote goodness outside of Christianity—many of us feel an attraction toward ambiguity about our beliefs. We’d rather agree with any philosophy that endorses peace and kindness than stand behind the tenets of one religion that compels us to look down at other people and declare them condemned. It’s natural for us to feel this way. After all, it’s not our place to condemn anyone.
When I look back upon my life up to this point, I realize that I wasn’t completely brought up to be a Christian. My parents were never very spiritual, and they didn’t make us go to church, but they didn’t discourage it, either. They wanted us to make up our own minds, and I will always respect them for that. Nevertheless, I did eventually decide that I wanted to become a Christian, and the more I came to understand what, exactly, that meant, the more passionately I wanted it. It’s probably most common to think of Christianity as a religion, but to me, it wasn’t a religion at all. It was a relationship. And I was in love. From the moment I first came to know Jesus of Nazareth, I was so completely in love. How could I not desire a relationship with Him? Creator of my life. Lover of my life. Life itself. This is who He is. And if He is all these things, then He must be Heaven, too. That’s the truth my heart came to understand. When I think of heaven, I don’t see a kingdom with pearly gates and angels playing harps on white clouds. I see Him. I see myself wrapped up in Him forever. And when I think of hell, I don’t see a torture chamber made of fire and brimstone. I see myself parted eternally from the One I love. It breaks my heart to think of all the people who don’t understand it this way.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said a prayer for every one of us who would ever believe in Him—every one of us who would ever belong to Him. “I have given them the glory you gave me,” He said, “so that they may be one, as we are— I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one (John 17:22-23, NLT).” That’s what heaven is. Oneness. Intimacy. I knew that in the beginning of my conversion, and I know it now. I pray that I’ll know it always, no matter how the world tries to sway me. I know who He is. I know who I am. And His heaven is the only one I’ll ever want—because no other heaven will ever give me Him.