Do you ever imagine the next life? Some days it’s the only thing that keeps me going.
To be a little tongue-in-cheek, I have an “understanding” with God. Now, I know it is a silly thing to suppose I can make any demands of God or hold him to anything (and that’s not the point of what I’m saying, anyway).
But if there’s anyone who can make requests of the King with lighthearted, easy confidence, it’s the King’s beloved son.
Our understanding is this: God and I are going to have some time alone together at the beginning of the next life. The Bible tells us that in the next life we who are redeemed will all dwell together in perfect community, and I am looking forward to that.
But first, I think I need some time alone with him. For the wounds to heal, for the scars to fade, and for the tears to become mere memory. I don’t know if it will take one year or a million years.
I used to think healing would happen in an instant, but I’m not sure that’s how healing works anymore.
Part of the healing process is taking time to rest and process, and it’s unlike God to circumvent his own mechanisms.
One time I had a dream about a beautiful, sprawling house built into the side of a canyon. Balconies and catwalks gave breathtaking views of the vast expanse cut into red rock with a river rushing through the bottom.
For some reason this is where I imagine spending this healing time with the One who delights in me.
I imagine our spending the days together gardening, cooking, swimming, climbing, running. We sit by the fire, snuggled under a blanket, and we read aloud to each other from whatever Tolkien has been writing since he passed on.
There is a pool and we lie beside it and eat our favorite foods in the arid breeze. We dance together to Miles Davis. God teaches me pottery. At long last I get around to learning how to sing, play piano, and draw.
When we both start to miss the ocean, we take a trip to the beach.
I can finally drink deeply of intimacy without this world and the old flesh to get in the way.
A friend once objected to the concept of heaven, saying it sounded awfully monotonous. Who would want to do the same thing — worship God — for all eternity? I don’t remember how I responded at the time, but I know what I would say now.
You don’t get bored in the arms of your lover, I suspect; you get lost.
This is where he teaches me how to love, fully and truly. He teaches me how to love selflessly and without need. He teaches me, however long it takes, how to join my brothers and sisters in that perfect unity.
Then I’ll join the wedding feast when I’m good and ready.
I have wondered if it is healthy for me to try to imagine the next life in such detail. Growing up in evangelical culture has given me a deep suspicion of anything not stated outright in Scripture. I’m probably wrong about all the details.
After all, 1 Corinthians 2:9 tells us:
“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”
However, here’s the thing: it’s going to be at least as good as I can imagine. God has not promised me this particular vision, but I can trust that what I’ll receive will be better.
When I come face-to-face with my beautiful Warrior-Lover-King in the next life, and he tells me what’s on the agenda, there’s a 0% chance I’m going to be disappointed.
Until then, exercising my imagination helps me keep my eyes on the finish line. When the FOMO (fear of missing out) strikes, challenging my self-denial, I can find comfort remembering that the missing out is only a brief, temporary state.
Do you ever imagine any particulars for the next life? How often do you yearn for or take hope in a life of healing beyond this one?
I look forward, aside from meeting Jesus face-to-face, to seeing my father, who died when I was 11, due to cancer, back in 2000, again, as well as both sets of grandparents.
I also long for the day that I’m liberated from both my issues with same-sex attraction and mental health. Honestly, I think my issues with both same-sex attraction, and my mental health issues, are tied to the, for lack of a better word, trauma, of my father’s death, and there’s still a lot of pain and bitterness that I deal with, regarding his passing.
Caleb, I too have same-sex attraction and now deal with the loss of my wife. I am so very sorry you are deeply scarred by the loss of your dad; how very painful. I can imagine it all seems so unfair; it would be hard not to be bitter. Wish I could give you a big, long hug – maybe you can feel it through my empathy right now. Friend, I will look forward to you introducing me to your dad and your grandparents when we both reach heaven; I know I will enjoy their company! P.S you will really enjoy meeting my wife. Blessings!
Thanks for reading and commenting, Caleb. There’s so much to hope for in eternity, but there’s also so much to hope for in this life. I hope and pray for grace, courage, comfort and healing as you process that pain and bitterness. Much love, brother.
Ryan, what a great post, so beautiful man! Sitting with God by the fire, reading together, and singing and dancing together…that makes my day. I’ve never thought about heaven like that. Closest I get is during those sunrises or sunsets where the sky is all orange and red and purple and the whole world is glorious and beautiful, and I imagine heaven’s like that. And sometimes, just for a moment that always passes too quick, I imagine I’m a part of it, not just looking at it. Lost in it, like you said.
I have no idea what heaven will be like being there. I hope it’s like you see it. I hope I could finally learn to cook and make up for a lot of misery I caused. It’s going to be really beautiful, isn’t it?
Thanks! Yeah, it’s hard to know anything for sure, but the amazing thing is this is a situation where “don’t get your hopes up” doesn’t apply! Absolutely get your hopes up. Go crazy! Imagining what the Lord has prepared for us helps us remember day in and day out how much he loves us and how committed to us he is.
Thanks to you for writing a great post that open things up. Life’s tough and sometimes hope gets limited to what’s coming tomorrow or the next hour. But when hope’s big and seems real, it’s like grace is present. It makes meeting today better, like your post did for me this morning.
Ryan,that was stunningly beautiful! Thank you! I am at a shelter for trafficked women in Mexico today; I will try to share your vision with the ladies today. Thank you!
Thanks for reading, MI! I hope things are going well in Mexico.
What a beautiful picture. Completely resonates with me, Ryan. Like you, I’ve thought about my “deal” with God in this. For me, I just want to sit as His feet and listen to Him talk. I don’t even have to be the one He is talking to- I simply want to listen for a long, long time. Basically, I want to do what Mary in the Bible did- but for much longer than a day. I don’t know if I’ll get that. But as you mentioned, whatever is on the itinerary is going to be absolutely perfect. And I cannot wait for it. Thank you for sharing this post, Ryan.
Oh man I’m over here like “there will be a MANSION with a POOL and EVERY LUXURY I CAN CONCEIVE OF,” while your vision is just to sit at His feet. Oof! I love your vision. May God grow me in humility and satisfaction in nothing more than his presence : )
Gosh, Ryan, I used to think my dreams about being with Jesus were wonderfully soothing, but friend, I like your image even more! 🙂 I, like so many of us men with same-sex attraction, have often longed to just “leave this world” and join Him. Not through suicide or by checking-out of reality down here, but just somehow “transported” right into Jesus’ arms. I too believe, while I am here on earth, being me (while attempting to be more like Jesus), it is very comforting to let my mind imagine being with Jesus. Thanks for using such magnificent images to strengthen my own!
Thanks for reading Mike! I definitely know that feeling–not wanting to die exactly, but longing for that rest. I often have to remind myself that Jesus knows that feeling, too. He knows the day-in-day-out toil of human life; in fact he subject himself to it in order to make eternity together with me possible. Sometimes following him is just continuing to put one foot in front of the other.
Ryan, a good, thoughtful post. Yes, I do think about eternity. And it’s enough that I will be with Jesus. But I wonder about my body. It’s intersex, you know. And most Christians insist that our resurrected bodies will be sexed, “like the angels” statements notwithstanding. That we’ll have perfected, functional, reproductive systems. That will never be used. Which is fine, I suppose. One Christian scholar thinks we’ll have new uses for them. Will I menstruate each month for eternity? Or, perhaps I’ll have a perfect male body. And never have a, well you know. But that wouldn’t really be me. ‘Cause I’ve never been functionally male. So, yeah, quite a few of my thoughts revolved around the whole sex and gender thing. But then maybe my body will reflect my perfected self rather than the other way around. I hope so.
Thanks for reading, Lianne, and thanks for your comment! Such good questions. I tend to imagine that our resurrected bodies will be much more subject to our will than our current bodies are, which would govern the day-to-day realities of having a body (with respect to, for example, menstruation, perhaps). Ultimately, I tend to agree with/hope toward your last statement: “Maybe my body will reflect my perfected self rather than the other way around.” That’s the sense I get from 1 Corinthians 15.
A final, stray thought: Our trajectory is an arc into eternity, not a return to Eden. God is redeeming things, not reverting them. The fruit is not being un-eaten. Adam and Eve left the garden, and soon there were cities–you don’t get cities without economies, and you don’t get economies without scarcity, and you don’t get scarcity without the Fall. And yet, the vision of eternity that Jesus reveals is a city, not a garden. A city where scarcity has been resolved, leaving only the wonderful and beautiful aspects of the city: a new kind of city. I tend to think of the trajectory of my sexuality in those terms. I don’t resonate with narratives that suggest I will be straight (or whatever Adam was) in eternity. It doesn’t seem to fit with the rest. Whatever aspects of my sexuality are fallen, I believe God is building something new and beautiful out of them–a new kind of city. Likewise, if there are aspects of intersex conditions that are fallen (I’m not eager to litigate this premise, but that’s not my point here–my point is the IF/THEN), then it doesn’t seem to me like God’s plan would be to resolve them against Eden’s binary of male/female, but to build something new and beautiful in/of intersex bodies. Of course, I have no idea what that would look like beyond the vaguest abstract, but that’s how it seems to me.
Yes. I agree. Every nation, tribe, peoples, languages is a little more diverse than the Garden.
We were never meant to be clones of Adam and Eve. One question I raise with people is how far away from modal does diversity become disorder? I know a woman with Turner Syndrome who is perhaps 4’6″. She’s tiny but gorgeous. Yet some would claim her short stature is a result of the Fall. Simply because she isn’t as tall as everyone else. I would not be at all surprised to find her that same height in the Resurrection.
That’s an extremely good question. As I was typing my comment I wondered whether/how my outlook would apply to different mental conditions. Certainly some murky waters there.
Mr. Burger, thank you for this comment. Very well written and thought-out. Heaven will be Edenic, I think, in the sense that things will be perfect. But not Edenic for the sake of Eden. If you know what I mean. There is so much water under the bridge since the Fall. So much about mortality that (to use Paul’s language) will be swallowed up in life. God will change what we are. I like your point about our trajectory being an arc, not a return. Amen and amen. As Job says, all the days of my struggle, I will wait for my change to come. And, until then, I will triumph over it all through Christ.
Right–I hadn’t thought of in these terms till now, but there’s a pre-fall perfection and an eschatological perfection, which, while both perfect, are not the same.
Right. And then there is the Wesleyan idea of Christian perfection….a concept that I personally submit to. This is not to be confused with angelic perfection. Not even Adam had that. 🙂
That’s excellent. “Not Edenic for the sake of Eden.” What of Paul’s are you thinking exactly when you say “much about mortality will be swallowed up in life”? I enjoy Paul’s view in general on this subject, but can’t think of a specific reference. That’s a great new (for me) way of looking at things).
I guess I’m just borrowing the language of 2 Corinthians 5:4. And to me it means anything and everything that we deal with while in this body (“this tabernacle”). All of our struggles. All temptation. The cares of life. Christians groan, not to just be rid of it all, but for it to be replaced by something far better. Life is good, but eternal life is better. Struggles are hard sometimes, but when they are swallowed up by the life which is to come, how puny and insignificant they really will seem.
Paul says it in another way when he says our light afflictions, which are but for a moment, work for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). I think viewing things in the light of eternity discovers them for what they are–light afflictions. If we think of them this way, instead of letting the devil capitalize on them and make them larger than they should be, walking in victory is a lot easier.
Thanks Ryan…you shared one of my favorite verses in the Bible from I. Cor 2. It gives me hope in the noise and clamor of this present life. As I’ve seen so, so many people I know die…I think about heaven and what they are experiencing. I love beautiful, quiet music and one of the things I can only image is the most beautiful music I have ever heard there in heaven.
I also believe those relationships we had on earth will be better than we can only think about right now. No more goodbyes…no more hurts…only love like we have never known before.
And…to hear the Savior say, “Well done…” I am not worthy of that, but to see those nail-pierced hands will be awesome! thanks again!
Thanks for reading and commenting, WaveDave! The “Divine Accolade” (as Lewis calls it) also figures prominently into our hope for eternity, and I didn’t even get around to mentioning it! I have often longed for it, though.
Ryan, this is a beautifully written, POWERFUL narrative. Ive spent a fair amount of time imagining what Heaven will be like- though I’ve got to be honest- I don’t know if I’ve ever thought of it as being just the Lord and me. But, I love that idea!! That it would provide time and space for REAL healing, for being made whole, for realizing my utter dependence on Him.
I’ve often pictured Heaven as a family seated at a banquet, or myself as a member of a band or orchestra, creating the most beautiful harmonies. And of course millennia will pass as the Lord and I peruse the Library of Heaven. In this life, books have been my escape, in the next, they’ll be more like an old friend who’s come to visit.
Thank you for encouraging me to think and consider this. Great post, man!
Thanks for reading, FlowerGuy! Yeah, the whole banquet/community image is certainly the one with more scriptural basis, but I don’t see what’s wrong with wanting some one-on-one time as well : )
Oh Ryan. You have written something so so beautiful out of a heart so beautiful with a longing so beautiful and I just KNOW WITH ALL MY HEART God will give you this, just as I know, somehow, Jesus will find me to hold me for as long as it takes to heal me when His Kingdom comes in all it’s glory. My thoughts are most frequently in this place, as daily I set myself to obey…for the joy set before me. Ryan, thank you for sharing this…I want to write it on the walls of my house for all to see. Thank you.
Heard this song recently, One Day (when we all get to heaven) by Matt Redman and thought of your post Ryan. So many challenges and struggles, looking forward to leaving things behind.
One day You’ll make everything new, Jesus
One day You will bind every wound
The former things shall all pass away
No more tears
One day You’ll make sense of it all, Jesus
One day every question resolved
Every anxious thought left behind
No more fear
I think others have exhausted all the appropriate adjectives, and they still can’t say how awesome this is. I think my efforts to set up camping trips with guys is an attempt at a small taste of what you’re describing; although my craving is a bit more general for any kind of male connection rather than specifically Christ. I have a hard time seeing Him as a friend or brother on that level.
Anyway, your this post and some of the comments (I especially love 1 Corinthians 15), make me think of two things: C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra, (the part at the end with the meeting between Tor and Tinidril and the Oyeresu), and The Afters “Gonna Live On Forever” music video. It’s like what you said swimming, climbing, running, hiking, but with their perspective of resurrected bodies. I recommend checking it out. I pray that your desires and all of ours will be fulfilled in the way He intended, in the time of His choosing.