When we do allow ourselves to describe heaven in a material way, we usually think of angels or saints walking around wearing long white robes and choirs singing in the background. The only activity we imagine these strange beings engaging in is never-ending worship of some invisible God, who is as cloudy, nebulous, and undefined as heaven itself.
And then we wonder why no one is excited about traveling to this place!
Well, the first thing to do before we begin our trip is to get the picture of robes and choirs out of our minds altogether. Many of us have such a monumental misconception about heaven that it severely limits our capacity to imagine it, much less look forward to it. The reason is partly that the entertainment industry has programmed us to picture heaven in a very cartoonish way, with clouds, harps, halos, and the like. The real culprits, however, have been poets. Down through the ages, poets have attempted to capture the joy, rapture, and happiness of heaven by giving us an abundance of "ethereal" images. These images, while designed to elevate our souls and show us a glimpse of the transcendent nature of heaven, often have the opposite effect--they leave us flat, dry, and bored.
Now, I am not disparaging poets. They have merely tried to do to heaven what they do to everything else: reduce it to its elemental truth. But in this cynical, skeptical, practical age of ours, we don't necessarily want the elemental truth. We already know that heaven is "paradise" and that we're going to experience "ultimate joy" when we get there. What we desperately want to know is the specifics! We want to know how we're going to be so happy there.
Do you want to understand heaven better than you have in your entire life? Do you want to have a true experience of heaven, right this second? You can without reading another chapter. Simply try this experiment: Take the page you're reading and crinkle the corner. Now listen to the sound it makes. Then grab the chair you're sitting on with your hand and squeeze. Feel how hard it is. Then take a deep breath and let your lungs fill with air. Smell the odors of the room you're sitting in. Finally, look around and see all the various shapes and colors of the objects that are before you.
I'll tell you a secret: heaven is going to be like that. Heaven is physical.
Don't misunderstand me. That's not all heaven is. Heaven is radically, amazingly, incredibly different from the room you're sitting in. If it weren't, it would hardly be worth the trip. But we have to start with the basics. Before we discuss all the exciting and transcendent spiritual aspects of the place, we need to get straight, once and for all, this fundamental truth: Heaven is, at its core, not only spiritual, but material as well.
If the great monotheistic religions of the world--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--have taught us anything at all, it's that God is a God of creation. He loves to make things. From the very beginning of the Bible to the very end, God has been busy creating all sorts of wonderful objects: galaxies, stars, planets, oceans, canyons, forests, animals, fish, human beings. You name it, he's created it. And he's always busy using those things to accomplish his will. Very rarely does he snap his fingers and make something appear out of thin air. He usually employs the help of one of his creations to bring about the change or effect he wants. In other words, he usually uses physical means to do the things he wants.
While Christian theologians have certainly used poetic language to expound upon the spiritual aspects of heaven, for two millennia they have also insisted that heaven will have physical characteristics as well. Indeed, just like the exotic ports of call here on earth, heaven will have its own distinct climate, landscape, and population. Christ himself used very physical images to describe heaven. He said, for example, that in his Father's "house" there are many "mansions," and that he was going there to prepare a "place" for us. In the Book of Revelation, that point is driven home yet again. Even though the biblical description of heaven makes ample use of both literal and symbolic imagery--complete with streets made of gold, pillars made of pearls, and walls adorned with jewels--there can be no doubt that heaven is going to be very tangible. It will be a visible locality, made up of visible structures and materials, with real dimensions and distances.