Heaven: The Eternal Increase of Joy
May 1, 2007 - And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!” —Revelation 5:13
by Sam Storms
Something about heaven makes our anticipation of it profoundly life changing. Of course, not everyone thinks it helpful to focus on the future. They’ve bought into the adage that people who do are “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” But Scripture is clear that we will never be of much use in this life until we’ve developed a passionate obsession with the next. We must take steps to cultivate in our souls an ache for the beauty of the age to come. Why? For one thing, meditating on heaven delivers us from excessive dependence upon earthly wealth and comfort. And how do we escape the grip of “earthly things” that the Apostle Paul mentions in Philippians 3:19 and find strength to “stand firm,” as he instructs in Philippians 4:1? By celebrating our heavenly citizenship! The orientation of our souls and affection of our hearts must be shaped by the glories of the age to come.
Abraham and the patriarchs faithfully endured the incalculable trials and hardship that confronted them by “seeking a [heavenly] homeland” and were energized by desire for a “better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:14, 16). They found the strength to endure their present suffering in the fruit of meditating on future satisfaction.
Paul assures us that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). We do not lose heart because we contemplate the unseen things of the future and nourish our souls with the truth that whatever we endure on this earth is producing a glory far beyond all comparison. Christians are not asked to treat pain as though it were good, or grief as though it were joy, but to bring all earthly adversity into comparison with heavenly glory and thereby be strengthened to endure.
A friend of mine, whom I’ll call “Steve,” suffered the loss of his young wife after only two years of marriage. Not long after, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. As he tried to make sense of his tragic past and the frustrations of the present, his confident hope of future glory sustained him on a daily basis (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). His inescapable suffering was bearable only as he embraced an eternal perspective. He regarded the afflictions of his “present” as minor when compared with the weight of the glory yet to come. Steve found the key to endurance when he took the long view. Only when he looked upon the hardships of this life in the light of endless ages of eternal bliss was he empowered to persevere and even rejoice.
Now Counts Forever
What we do on earth determines where we will spend eternity. The Bible makes it clear that only those who put their trust in Jesus Christ will be allowed to enter heaven.
People often mistakenly think that everyone in heaven will be equally knowledgeable as well as equally capable of enjoying God. But this would mean that the progress we make now on earth is irrelevant to our heavenly state. Yet, we are often exhorted to do things now precisely because it will build up and increase for us treasure in heaven. Jesus promised great reward in heaven to those who suffer for righteousness’ sake now (Matthew 5:12, 19:29-30). Surely not everyone responds to such commands in the same way or with the same degree of faithfulness.
What we know and achieve in this life, by God’s grace, will have eternal consequences according to Paul in
1 Corinthians 3:13-15:
“Each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.”
This ought to be a great motivation for us now! What we experience in joy and understanding and insight now is neither discarded nor destroyed, but it is the foundation on which all our eternal experience and growth is based.
Heaven’s Irresistible Appeal
So what is it about heaven that makes it so irresistibly appealing? For one thing, heaven is not simply about the reality or experience of joy, but its eternal increase. The blessedness of the beauty of heaven is progressive, incremental and incessantly expansive.
We must never forget that God made us alive together with Christ and raised us up with Him “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7). If the riches of His grace are immeasurable and if God Himself is infinite, as we all agree, there is no way He can ever be exhausted or that our knowledge of Him can ever be comprehensive. Therefore, it stands to reason that there will be increase in our understanding, joy and love. There will not be in heaven a one-time momentary display of God’s goodness, but an everlasting, ever-increasing infusion and impartation of His kindness that intensifies with every passing moment. Like waves crashing on the shore, one upon another, so the ages of eternity will, in endless succession, echo the celebration of sinners saved by grace, all to the glory of God.
Throughout the ages to come, we will be the recipients of an ever-increasing and more stunning, more fascinating and thus inescapably more enjoyable display of God’s saving grace and kindness in Christ than before. We will see and savor and be increasingly enthralled with fresh displays of His redeeming love. The knowledge we gain when we enter heaven will forever grow and deepen and expand and intensify.
We will constantly be more amazed by God, more in love with God and thus evermore relishing His presence and our relationship with Him. Our experience of God will never reach a consummation or become stale. It will deepen and develop, intensify and amplify—and will reach a crescendo that will even then be only the beginning of an eternity of new and intriguing insights into the majesty of who God is.
One of the greatest misconceptions of heaven is that it is static and unchanging, as if to say that all we get, we get all at once, at the beginning. But if our ideas and thoughts of God increase in heaven, then so also must the joy and delight which those ideas and thoughts generate. With increased knowledge comes intensified affection and fascination. With each new insight comes more joy, which serves only to stoke the fires of adoration and celebration around the throne of the Lamb.
We must never think that what we perceive to be beautiful now is the limit or boundary for what will be beautiful in heaven. The new heavens and new earth will undoubtedly be filled with new colors, new hues, new depths of radiance, new sounds and new sights. And, with new faculties of mind, sense and spirit, we will apprehend new disclosures of God’s infinite splendor.
When we get to heaven there will be nothing that is abrasive, irritating, agitating or hurtful. Nothing harmful, hateful, upsetting or unkind. Nothing weak, sick, broken or foolish. Nothing deformed, degenerate, depraved or disgusting. Nothing polluted, pathetic, poor or putrid. Nothing dark, dismal, dismaying or degrading. Nothing blameworthy, blemished, blasphemous or blighted. Nothing grotesque or grievous, hideous or insidious. Nothing illicit or illegal, lascivious or lustful. Nothing marred or mutilated, misaligned or misinformed, soiled or spoiled, vile or vicious (Revelation 21:4, 8, 27).
Wherever we turn our eyes in heaven we will behold only glory and grandeur and beauty and brightness and purity and perfection and utter, unending majesty. Why? Because we will be looking at God (Revelation 22:4). Although now we see through “a mirror dimly,” God will one day unveil Himself in breathtaking beauty and clarity for us to behold (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Ultimately, what makes heaven heavenly is the presence of God Himself. John Piper put it best in his book, “God Is the Gospel.” He asks the pointed question: “If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?”
Your answer should be No! I trust you would find nothing heavenly in heaven if our great triune God—Father, Son and Spirit—were not there to be adored and enjoyed forever.
In this life it’s often hard to be happy when you hurt. In heaven, with new and glorified bodies, there will be no pain, fatigue, discomfort, chronic aches or itches. No bodily obstacles will diminish our ability to see and feel and hear and touch and taste and smell the glories of paradise. On earth, physical pleasure often competes with spiritual happiness, but in heaven they are one! The physical, emotional and intellectual pleasures of heaven will infinitely exceed the most ecstatic of physical pleasures on earth.
There will be no sinful lusts to pull us down, no wicked impulses against which we must fight, no dullness of heart to hold us back, no lethargy of soul to slow us down, no lack of energy to love or absence of passion to pursue what is holy. All our senses will be heightened and their capacity to see, touch, feel, hear and smell will no longer be hindered by disease or distraction.
Even when the present is pleasant, what we see and sense and savor in this life is an ephemeral shadow compared with the substance of God Himself. Earthly joys are fragmented beams, but God is the sun. Earthly refreshment is at best a sipping from intermittent springs—but God is the ocean.