Why do we long for heaven? Why do you long for heaven?
We talk about “one day” when we’ll see Christ, when we’ll be freed from sin and suffering, when we’ll be united with the witnesses of the faith. We sing about being there 10,000 years, we hear sermons about what it will be like, we do our best to imagine it from the Bible’s descriptions, but what is it that we’re really looking forward to?
Is it to be with Jesus? I want to be in heaven because I want to be in perfect, complete relationship with Jesus forever, worshipping God with all my heart, desiring only to love and serve him and being completely fulfilled in his presence. Why else?
As true as it is that we will be with Christ in heaven, and that he will be our greatest joy forever, there’s just one small problem for me in this answer: I don’t really know what it means.
Our Longings Have Limitations
What does it mean to literally worship God forever? What will it be like to personally know Christ completely? What will it feel like to be eternally satisfied with him? I want to be overwhelmed by excitement at this future reality, but if I’m honest, it’s not always my most immediately felt desire when I think about heaven.
Often my more immediate desires are focused on being rid of the trials of this world. What relief it will be to have freedom from the sin that keeps clawing at me. To finally escape my pettiness and hatred and selfishness. To be free from all feelings of guilt – what a day. I long for freedom from sin. Lord, come quickly!
I long for freedom from pain. Just the thought brings a flood of peace, to be free completely from heartache, from brokenness, from sadness, and from disappointment. To be free of the fear of sickness and the weakness of the body. To know that I will be able to shed all the struggle that this world churns out and be eternally comforted — how long, oh Lord?
How long until we are free, until the burdens of this world are lifted from our shoulders forever? Lord, haste the day.
We groan under the weight of these burdens, longing for them to be lifted. And though Christ is at the core of the Christian’s longing for heaven, removal of worldly suffering can dominate our immediate emotions about heaven. These desires to be free from sin and pain, I think, are often our more immediate desires because we know sin and pain so well.
We know how sin twists us and hurts us and drives us away from God and others. It’s easy to long for freedom from sin, because we know how awful it is.
We know pain and grief. We know loss and sickness and decay. We feel brokenness, and we know that this is not what God created us for. It’s easy to long for God to heal all our wounds and make all things new, because we know pain so well.
And this freedom is a promise of Scripture. God promises that he will be the one who frees us:
Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:3-4)
Here we see though, that he not only frees us, but also is with us, dwelling with us, leading us as our God. He doesn’t stop at removing our pain, but gives us himself. But what does this feel like? How do we long for it? It seems to be harder, or perhaps less automatic, to look forward longingly to a complete, eternal relationship with Christ, because we don’t know what that will be like.
Our Longings Point to Something Greater
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that now, being away from the Lord but at home in the body, we walk by faith and not by sight. We walk by faith that Christ is all he promises to be, not yet having a full experience of all that he is. We long for something that we don’t fully know. We know Christ only in part.
So we are left knowing Christ is greatly to be desired, and beginning to desire him, but unable yet to know all that we are desiring. I’m comforted to be in C.S. Lewis’ company, when he admits in The Four Loves that, finding all love in this life to be only a shadow of the love God offers:
We are then compelled to try to believe, what we cannot yet feel, that God is our true Beloved.
Happily, this is an occasion where our feelings and experiences are inadequate to describe reality. Though we may not be able to feel all that the Lord is, we can be assured that he will not only be the one to fulfill the promises of freedom from sin and suffering, but also be far more beautiful and powerful than our feelings can currently measure.
Throughout the Bible, God shows himself to be more than we can handle. In Exodus, God covers Moses’ eyes while his glory passes by. In Job, God declares his thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways, but they are far above our understanding. In Isaiah, even the angels cover their eyes with their wings so as not look fully on the glory of God. In the Gospels, Jesus’ teaching and authority astounds and confuses his disciples. In Ephesians, he is able to do far beyond what we can ask or imagine.
Longing for freedom is good, and it is longing for a promise of God; but we can long for so much more. In a way it is a relief to know that even our deep longings to have no more sin and no more pain are aiming for only a fraction of all that we will experience. God is so far beyond our imagination that our desire for him can’t even encompass all that he is.
So when we long for comfort, we can remember that he is our Comforter. When longing to be freed from sin, we can remember that he is the one who lifted our burden of sin onto his own body. When longing to be away from the body and at home with the Lord, we can remember that the Lord who will make his home with us is greater than we can even long for.