One of my favorite hymns of all time is “To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King”—because it is sure in its hopefulness.
From thanks and praise, extolling the unending virtues and great majesty of God, the third verse ascends:
To You and to Your Church, great King,
We pledge our hearts’ oblation,
Until before Your throne we sing,
In endless jubilation.
In this I have long rested my own hope, and indeed my own faith. Simple, pure, and without qualification (or justification), it is a promise that extends to all high and low, great and small.
But this “endless jubilation” is anticipatory. We yearn for it, not knowing what it looks like, nor how we might ever attain it. Reaching—we are always reaching beyond ourselves to God.
And yet, in recent works and days (if I can borrow the title from Hesiod’s masterwork), Christians have stumbled across a new understanding of eschatology. Heaven, that once-was unreachable height beyond the clouds, is no longer outside of us. It is the world in which we live; it is today, right now.
The trouble is, it’s not infrequent that moments other than jubilation mark our day-to-day. So where’s the reconciliation of this endless joy with the pain and suffering present in our now-heaven?
Well, we can either assume heaven is what we’ve always assumed it is—angels floating by on crystalline wings all aglow, beaming smiles, eating frozen yogurt. Or we can take a step back and re-evaluate. What if heaven isn’t anything at all like what we’ve envisioned? What if heaven has a bit of pain, a bit of joy, a bit of calm, a bit of storm? Would that wreck our faith? Would it really run us out of church and religion altogether?