If This Isn't Heaven, I Don't Know What Is

Biblical Reasons Why We Should
And Practical Suggestions on How We Can

Create Heaven on Earth

The idea for the title of this book comes from Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., the state author of New York. I haven't read any of his books, just seen a few quotes here and there. He doesn't appeal to me. I just happened across a recent article of his which, while confirming my good sense in not reading his books, did have an interesting anecdote that gave me the inspiration for my own book. The article is here.

The article begins with a typically anti-Christian but uniquely honest statement:

If you really want to hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be a homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts.

So much for "Honor thy father and mother." So much for the idea that homosexuality is not a choice. (I'm sure Vonnegut would say he was just being sarcastic, but the cat's out of the bag.)

It's a twisted culture when society's most popular authors -- in this case an author officially declared by the State of New York to be the state author -- would give tips on how to hurt people -- especially the very people who brought you into the world, protecting you when you were completely dependent and vulnerable. If I wanted to create hell on earth, destroying the loyalty and affection we should have for the people who gave us life would be my first step. Getting people to hate strangers would then be a piece of cake.

Nevertheless, here's his story:

And now I want to tell you about my late Uncle Alex. He was my father’s kid brother, a childless graduate of Harvard who was an honest life insurance salesman in Indianapolis. He was well-read and wise. And his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

I like that. I think gratitude is a powerful and Godly attitude.

This gave me the idea for a "spiritual exercise" -- a way of stretching the mind and building spiritual muscle to be able to lift heavy theological truths with greater ease.

As someone who has long been committed to working for the prayer of Jesus -- that God's will would be done on earth as it is in heaven -- I suspected that this might be a way of making that task appear easier, and might be a way of casting doubt on all the theological rationalizations offered for silence, inaction, and just "waiting for the rapture."

Can you say to yourself or to others, several times a day, "If this isn't Heaven, I don't know what is"?

What if we imagined that this is heaven, that we're in heaven now, and spent our time appreciating all the wonderful, marvelous, and beautiful things there are to appreciate?

If someone who lived more than a thousand years ago were to be transported through time and see the way we live, he would be astonished. His jaw would drop to the floor. Turn on a CD and let your guest enjoy a symphony orchestra in your climate-controlled living room. Talk on the phone about the symphony with people in Japan. Or you and your friend in Japan can turn on the TV and watch an Olympic event in Russia at the same time -- as it is happening live.

Your guest from the past might think these amazing feats were the work of demons. Could you convince him that they are not?

Our technology, our global society, the absence of a tribal dog-eat-dog spear-chucking world, would fill the Apostles with awe. We live lives of unparalleled wealth and luxury. And the rate of progress is even more amazing. Even my own mother's dentist extracted teeth without anesthesia. Diseases can now be cured which killed thousands just a few decades ago. The genetic code is just being cracked. Atomic teleportation has been achieved, and every home business will soon have supercomputers.

Your first reaction is to think it's ridiculous to think that we're in heaven now. Usually this reaction is based on a lot of unBiblical myths about heaven. It stems from a belief that the Bible says that Jesus is going to come again, resurrect us into bodies that never die, and we'll live in a new care-free world. There are many problems with this reaction.

     Chuck Colson: "An Everlasting Playground"
     David Brooks: “Hooked on Heaven Lite,” New York Times, March 9, 2004
     Adam Kirsch: “Paradise Lite,” Slate.com, February 5, 2004

First, as the articles in the box at right argue, the modern concept of "heaven" is self-centered. Many people find it impossible to say "If this isn't heaven, I don't know what is" because they think they know what heaven is: a place of eternal self-indulgence. A place of no work, no responsibilities, no challenges, no growth. These people understand that here on earth we have all of these things, so this can't be heaven. Logical, but unBiblical.

These people are convinced that our present life of work, responsibility, challenges and growth will very soon -- "any moment" -- be ended by "the Rapture," in which we are relieved of our duties and ushered into eternal vacation. These people are waiting, not working.

Stated negatively, many people could never say "If this isn't heaven, I don't know what is" because "heaven" is a perfect place, with no sin, no sickness, no death. Since we have those things now, thinking how "heavenly" things are creates "cognitive dissonance."

Ironically, any attempt to do away with sin and its effects -- to create heaven on earth -- is also viewed as wrong, "humanistic," or even blasphemous. They believe we are in "the last days" and things are predestined to get worse and worse as the prophecy clock ticks on down toward the Second Coming. Thinking of this as heaven, or working to create heaven on earth, is seen as contrary to the prophetic timetable, and if successful, may even delay the Second Coming.

This is a vicious cycle. This can't be heaven because there's war, sickness, poverty, ignorance, and sadness, but working to overcome war, sickness, poverty, ignorance, and sadness is wrong because we are supposed to be waiting to be raptured into heaven at any moment.

There's more irony: the people who spend the most time waiting for heaven and the least time working to create heaven on earth are probably least likely to be comfortable in the heaven of the Bible. People who aren't interested in a systematic, disciplined, hard-working, international effort to create heaven on earth are not mature Christians. They have a childish view of heaven and an adolescent mentality here on earth. If the Pearly Gates are opened for them, they're going to be very surprised.

"And for fear of him the keepers did shake,
and became as dead men
Matthew 28:4

First, cherubs (cherubim) are not cute and cuddly little baby-faced angels. They are big, fearful and awesome; visible indications of the presence of God. They are heaven's "bouncers," God's thugs, divine henchmen. A 1904 US Supreme Court opinion declared: "The flaming brand which guards the realm where no human government is needed still bars the entrance."[1] We'll talk about the Court's view of human government a few chapters from now, but it's true that man never went back to Eden -- nobody dared to cross the path of the cherubim that blocked the entrance. When human beings see cherubim, they usually fall on their faces in fear. That's usually the first word out of the mouth of a cherub: "Fear not" (Daniel 10:11; Luke 1:13, 30; 2:10; Acts 27:24). And heaven is full of these menacing toughguys. Which is one reason why people who long for escape from earthly dominion -- re-creating heaven on earth -- might not be comfortable in the real heaven.

The descriptions of heaven in the Bible are almost nightmarish in intensity. The King James phrase "heavenly host" really means "heavenly army."

When they moved, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of mighty waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army; when they stopped, they let down their wings.
(Ezekiel 1:24, NKJV) 

The visions of heaven given to John (Revelation) and Ezekiel are filled with the noise of innumerable crowds, earth-shaking peals of thunder, and worship -- worship day and night, worship which cannot be described as "warm fuzzies" that come from "feeling good about yourself."

I've been to a few churches in my day. And I've read the Biblical descriptions of heaven. They are poles apart. Preachers won't offend, music ministers won't challenge, knuckle-rapping in Sunday School is long gone. The goal of modern churches is to make the audience feel good. But in heaven the goal of the audience is to make God feel good:

Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple
Revelation 7:15

These visions of heaven are designed to spur us on in the work of creating heaven on earth, of seeing that God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven.

Most Christians can't imagine being in church "day and night,"
but they claim they want to spend eternity serving God.
Millions of Christians are longing for "heaven lite"
and they refuse to serve God day and night by working in this life to create heaven on earth.
I think there's a surprise or two in store for them.

So here's the whole point of this book:

Only those who in this life
are working in the fear and presence of God
to create heaven on earth
have a legitimate hope of spending eternity in heaven.

One reason I was intrigued by Vonnegut's little anecdote is because I've been reading about a view of eschatology (the doctrine of "last things") called "preterism." If you're not interested in prophecy and eschatology, and would rather consider the benefits of gratitude, click here. But if you're interested in what the Bible teaches about "last things," here are three options:

Here's what I've concluded on the matter of prophecy. Jesus said "all these things" would come to pass "upon this generation." The Apostles believed and taught -- based on what Christ taught them -- that the coming of Christ, the resurrection, and the last judgment were about to occur, and would occur within the lifetime of those who were eye-witnesses of Christ.

If we assume that modern self-indulgent theories of heaven and the Kingdom are true, including their views about the Second Coming, then we must conclude that Christ and the apostles were mistaken about the timing of these events. If they were correct about the timing, and these events really did come upon that generation, then our modern ideas about the nature of these events must be mistaken. I prefer to believe that Christ was correct and the writers of the New Testament were divinely inspired and free from error, and "all these things" really did come to pass in the first generation after Christ. Therefore I have to admit the logic behind this claim: if all prophesied events have already taken place, then we are already in "the New Heavens and the New Earth." I believe Christ as the Second Adam has returned us in principle to the position the human race had before the rebellion of the First Adam, and our task is to convert the Garden of Eden into the City of God. Or to use another phrase, create heaven on earth.

The emphasis here is on duty, not eschatology. I believe most prophecies were recorded in Scripture to undergird our duties. Even if you believe Christ and the Apostles were wrong by over 2,000 years about the timing of the Second Coming, and that He is going to come again in the future, you still ought to be about trying to create heaven on earth. You don't really have to be a preterist to work to create heaven on earth, though I think it may help.

If you haven't felt the interest to click on any of the prophecy links above, you must be ready to consider the issue of gratitude.

Here's an overview of all the chapters in this book. The order in which you read them really doesn't matter.

Table of Contents

continued click here for next chapter

[1] U.S. ex rel Turner v. Williams 194 U.S. 279, 24 S.Ct. 719 (1904) at 194 U.S. 294, 24 S.Ct. 724.