We’re in heaven: So now what do we do?

I picture myself in heaven after a few weeks of being there sitting on a cloud leaning on one elbow and muttering to myself, “Now what?” Because now what do we do? We’ve gazed on Jesus’ beauty, toured every nook and cranny of our heavenly mansion, talked with all our relatives and ancestors, met all the famous people of the Bible, and done the rounds of the golden streets of the heavenly city in our new spiritual bodies, so now what do we do – for the rest of eternity?

And yet this is the great hope dangled before grieving people when facing the death of a loved one – or the approach of their own death – that heaven awaits, and in an instant after death they’ll find themselves in a completely new and totally unfamiliar dimension somewhere beyond the universe where God lives, and they’ll live there with him and their loved ones forever. No one quite knows what it looks like, or what they themselves will look like, but the cartoon image of people dressed in long white robes with a halo over their heads, a harp in their hands and a serene look on their faces has caught on, even when there’s no such picture in Scripture.

It all sounds terribly boring, and just as boring for God too, I imagine, with all these disembodied souls floating round his heavenly home with nothing to do except sit on clouds, play harps and sing in choirs a lot. It must be a terrible anticlimax for him after all those centuries of hard slog patiently working with every human being to make us all fit for eternal life, to then leave all that labour and excitement behind, have nothing more do with the earth or humans or animals or any part of his amazing physical creation anymore, and end up instead with all these souls wandering round heaven seeking beatific visions.

I suppose it’s better than hell, at least, but hell doesn’t make much sense either, because how can a soul feel torture? If all that’s left of us after death is our soul and not our physical bodies with nerve endings, how can flames have any effect on us? How can a soul feel the jab of a demon’s pitchfork?

But this is the cartoon mess we’ve got ourselves into as Christians when we say our souls go to heaven or hell forever. Being a disembodied soul in heaven sounds boring, and being a soul in agony in hell is nonsense when you haven’t got a body that feels pain. Could we drop the cartoon, then, and see what the Bible really says?

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