Heaven

The relationship between the moviegoer and the movie preview is a complicated one. It’s bittersweet, it’s a double-edged sword, it’s pros and cons, et cetera. On the one side, we appreciate the previews because by them we stay hooked into the world of movies and entertainment. By watching the previews we are updated to the latest and greatest in cinematic brilliance and keep our interest in movies consistently high. On the other hand, the movie preview is something we’d often rather do without. The sole motivation that brings most of us to the movie theater in the first place is to watch the feature film, not just a preview. It is for the feature that we blocked out 3 hours in our schedule and paid such a high price for our tickets.  We know that in order to stay excited and in tune with the latest movies, we must see the previews.  Therefore, we humbly accept the preview as more something to be endured than enjoyed, but they have a job to do. Previews are made to achieve three primary goals. They should:

Display the best aspects and moments

Make radically confident claims

Leave us wanting more

 

 Display the best aspects and moments

It’s always amazing how in a two minute trailer, almost any movie, regardless of the true level of cinematic quality, can seem worth watching. This idea reminds me of an episode from one of my favorite television shows, Seinfeld. In one particular episode, the flawed “people’s person” George Constanza found himself dating a girl with no knowledge of his lost list of faults, flaws, disappointments, and setbacks. He proceeded to act like everything he’d accomplished in his life (a job with a steady and competitive salary, knowledge of New York City and a stable standard of living) had all miraculously come together within days. By doing this, he hoped to impress his new girlfriend with his sudden success and accomplishments. While telling his friend Jerry about this plan, he said, “You know, if you take everything I’ve done in my entire life and condense it down into one day, it looks decent!”

To me this is exactly what a movie preview attempts to do. The movie preview has two minutes to condense the best moments, the most action-packed fight scenes and the funniest one-liners into a compact one-two punch experience that will leave everyone anxious for its release. It is for this very reason that so many movies wind up failing at the box office. In many cases, the preview outdoes the feature film.

Speaking in terms of our earthly life and its relation to heaven, what we experience in this life is what the Bible calls a “foretaste.” Embodied in the life of Jesus Christ, but then regenerated in the lives of disciples, are experiences and foretastes of things unknown, yet promised. At the heart of each of our lives are experiences of purity and perfection that are only attained and experienced intermittently.

Paul writes about these experiences by comparing them to “fruit” when he writes in Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

During our lives, God willing, we all will experience each of these at their purest form at least once. These moments tend to last only for a little while and then disappear, but we remember the experience forever. The moment that we were truly loved by someone, we never forget. The moment someone was truly faithful to us, we never forget. The same can be said about all nine “fruits.” These fruits are born out of the Spirit and the Spirit is born out of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In his being and identity, Jesus embodied all of these fruits. They are, in turn, recreated and reflected in the lives of those reborn of the Spirit.

The difference between the way that we experience this “foretaste” and the way that a movie preview attempts to impress a moviegoer, is that there is no secret that the movie preview is attempting to sell something that cannot entirely satisfy. If the movie is not as good as the preview, the audience leaves unsatisfied. However, even if the movie is as good as the preview promises, the movie is still simply a movie. In this case the audience, while completely entertained, leaves exchanging comments like, “Well, life’s not like the movies.” But the essence of the fruit of the Spirit as a foretaste to something unknown, something wonderful, and something promised, is the truth that the foretaste is for something that exists.  That offers satisfaction, and ultimately delivers. This “thing” is heaven, and it is there that we not only can experience these fruits independent from one another, but also where we experience all fruits simultaneously in an ongoing coexistence with the “gardener” himself, God, who planted the fruits in the beginning.

Make radically confident claims

Movie previews are great at making the particular featured movie seem like the best movie ever made, ever. It doesn’t matter if the actors in the movie have a track record of box office busts or if the director has “lost his touch.”  During those two minutes, anyone can look like a genius. I remember a few years ago there was a lot of hype about two movies. The first movie was a science fiction movie, “Cloverfield.” The preview for this movie had a lot of people talking and the hype was impossible to avoid. The other was a movie called, “The Happening.” This movie was from the director M. Knight Shyamalan, of such box office hits as “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs.”  Many people were talking about how great this movie looked and how excited they were to see it. However, when both movies were released, audiences were largely disappointed. Moviegoers felt taken by the timeless “preview” illusion.

Throughout our lives we will all experience setbacks, obstacles that try our patience, strength and character. As time progresses, many often resign to the particular belief that, “thus is life.” There is a resignation to a belief that some things just go wrong. People get hurt, things don’t work out and there is ultimately nothing we can do about it. But the Bible says otherwise. In the Bible we read that we all can experience the fruit of the Spirit during our time on Earth, and that in Heaven, suffering, pain, sadness and injustice will be reversed and undone.

Heaven promises a reemergence or renewal of the original state of existence, an existence void of all of the things unwelcome in this life like pain and suffering. There is a reason why, regardless of our differing religious beliefs, we all are so uncomfortable with crimes against the innocent and the breaking of a heart. The Bible explains that this inner distaste for such things lies at the heart of our original state within the original creation. We are troubled because we were not made for this place. We are troubled because this “preview life” is only a preview with foretastes, but not the actual full-length feature. Paul expands on this point in his letter to the Philippians:

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, the apostle John is given visions of this final recreation and return to the original creation.  The visions of John support the claims of Jesus in regards to the final act of “recreation” and “regeneration.” 

Revelation 5:9-13

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,  and they will reign[a]on the earth.” 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” 13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Revelation 21:4

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

  

 Revelation 22:1-5

 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

These scriptures describe a place that, regardless of your religion or spirituality, all of us desire. Death, sickness, heartbreak, tears and pain are universally despised. These Scriptures offer a glimpse of a place that seems far too good to be true. The Word of God makes truly radical, yet confident claims about what awaits those who “die in the Lord.” Heaven, therefore, is the ultimate good, and is a reality to all of us that seek a place where such things cease to exist.

Leave us wanting more

A good movie preview will be so impressive that it will almost distract you from enjoying the movie that brought you to the theater in the first place. The preview will be tattooed in your mind and the daily countdown to the release date will pass ever so slowly. A good movie preview will always leave us wanting more.

The life of a disciple of Jesus Christ is a process of daily transformation. We often do not see ourselves progress, but, at various moments in our walk, we realize that something in us is changing or has already changed. There comes a point where reading the Sermon on the Mount no longer feels like a list of impossible demands placed upon our limited human hearts, but rather realistic expectations of a renewed heart. The more one becomes recreated in Christ through his sacrifice and grace the more one begins to reflect his nature.

The more we let Jesus into our lives, the more he is revealed in and through us. We are born again in him, and therefore we find unity in our character with his.  At this point we no longer view certain things in the same light as we used to. To begin with, troubles no longer seem like the end of the world. Our jobs cease to define us.  Our relationships cease to guide us.  Our money ceases to control us. The more we become privy to the foretastes of heaven the more we realize that all earthly things do pass away but the joys of heaven are ongoing, without end. As we walk deeper into this new life and existence in the spirit, there emerges a push and pull on the heart of two very different worlds.  While we value the time and opportunities God has prepared for us in this world, we anxiously anticipate finally seeing and being with the Lord. Paul puts it perfectly in his letter to the Philippians:

22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. (Philippians 1:22-26)

The words “death” and “the end” loom over our lives, applying pressure in one direction or another. We know how fragile this life is, and how with each passing day we inch closer to the end and further from the beginning. Many people are scared of death. This fear is completely understandable. For most of us, life is enjoyable, but perhaps more than that, it is known. Death is an end we know nothing about.  We never like to see the end of something familiar and good and death signals such an end. With the knowledge of death constantly looming overhead, we feel pressure to achieve or become something in the time we have left. It is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that breaks that chain.

Jesus proclaims that to believe in him is to have life, not death. And in his words we come to the understanding that this life is simply a preview for something else, something wonderful and confidently promised and assured. Whenever Jesus speaks about heaven in the Gospels, he always says that it is “like” something. The reason he teaches about heaven in this way is because to describe heaven accurately to a human mind is to be describing something completely unimaginable, incomprehensible and impossible for a human mind to fully understand. He uses the word “like” is because it is “like” nothing else we totally know of yet.  Therefore, there exists no true comparison for us to appropriately use.

In his brief, powerful dialogue with the thief hanging next to him on the Cross, Jesus clearly believed in the place he so confidently promised to lead the man after their suffering was to end.  Jesus described it as “paradise,” and so we must believe it to be, a place of life in Jesus that does not come to an end. Forever enjoying the presence of the Savior. For the Christian, this desire for Heaven isn’t about what we will get or see or do there, but about knowing Jesus completely. This process begins here in this life, but not until Heaven will all the work of God in us be made complete.

Previews and Promises