Last night I saw a TV promo for a well-known televangelist that disturbed me more than I am usually disturbed by such stuff. At first I was encouraged by what I heard. The smiling TV preacher and his wife were excitedly pumping us up for 2007, proclaiming it “the year of heaven”, quoting the well-known petition from the Lord’s Prayer: “on earth as it is in heaven”. They claimed that in the coming year we should all ask and seek to bring life on earth in line with life as it is in heaven. With this I whole-heartedly agree!
Then came the disturbing description of what heaven on earth would look like. [The following quotes are partially verbatim, mostly paraphrase.] “There are lots of crazy things going on in our world today,” said Mr. Televangelist, “all the wars and such.” “But in heaven, there is no pain, no sickness, and no poverty,” proclaimed Mrs. Televangelist. “That’s right,” Mr. Televangelist chimes in, “and Jesus promised that He is building mansions for us in heaven right now! Now, that’s prosperity! We can have prosperity in the midst of these troubling times!”
So now, let me get this straight: In the midst of all the war, famine, disease, poverty, injustice that run amok on our planet, I as an American Christian should expect God to bless my life with a truckload of pain-free living, great health, and financial prosperity?! No!! That’s not the Gospel! Jesus did not die on the cross so that I could have the American Dream! The Gospel is about Jesus Christ dying in my place in order to transform me from a hellish, self-absorbed person into a heavenly, God-obsessed and others-oriented person. And that happens as I get to know Him intimately.
When Jesus said He was going to prepare mansions in heaven for us, He was speaking to us as our betrothed bridegroom. It was Jewish custom for a man and woman to be pledged to marry for about a year before the wedding. During that time the bridegroom would build an addition onto his father’s house for he and his bride to share. After the period of engagement concluded, the bridegroom would return to take his bride home for a great wedding ceremony and feast before finally bringing his beloved into the home he had prepared for her, finally enjoying unhindered intimacy together.
Heaven will be pain free and we will enjoy unlimited abundance forever. But health and wealth are not the essence of heaven. Intimate relationship with the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit is the essence of eternal life. “And this is eternal life,” Jesus said to His Father, “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Most of us are, in the words of C. S. Lewis, “far too easily pleased” with health and wealth while the greater joy and treasure of knowing Jesus and making Him known through self-sacrificing service to others is rarely promoted.
The kingdom of God is not about having stuff, but about sinners who are at peace with God, enjoying Him (not merely His gifts), and loving Him and others (this is what righteousness or holiness looks like) by the power of His Spirit (see Romans 14:17). Lord have mercy on me! I want heaven more than I want You!