Our earthbound language is very limited when it comes to describing heaven. But the old romantic ballad that Fred Astaire sang in 1938 probably describes it as well as anything: “Heaven, I’m in heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak…”
Astaire was describing the state of being in love. Anyone who has truly fallen deeply in love knows how powerful that experience is. We say love “makes the world go around.” So, if you think of heaven, don’t think of it as a geographical place somewhere beyond the last galaxy. Think of it as a state of existence or state of being.
To be “in” heaven is to be totally and completely united to God, the source of life and of all goodness for eternity. It is to be forever happy in every possible way and in a manner we cannot imagine now on earth. Heaven is not like your best day on earth: It's better. Heaven is happiness without end.
One of the elements about God and God’s creation is relationship. In fact, everything about God is relationship. God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When the Son of God became man in Jesus Christ, he called Mary, “Mother,” and Joseph, “Father.” Because God made us in his image and likeness, our lives, too, are about relationship.
The worst punishment a person created for relationships can have is to be absolutely alone and isolated. We hunger for loved ones and companionship. I have heard ministers say that in heaven there will be no relationship other than our relationship with God. All attention, they say, is upon God. This is absolutely untrue. What a lonely place that would be. We are all God’s family—husband and wives, parents and children. In fact, we are all brothers and sisters.
Because we are united with God completely and totally, we are also united with one another. While we are on earth we are even now the family of God. But in our heavenly relationship with God, we will relate to every other person with us in heaven in ways we cannot imagine. There will be no strangers, and the deepest relationships on earth with our loved ones will be even more intense.
Some marriages and parent-child relationships are near perfect, though none are totally perfect. Many of our relationships struggle because we are all fragile. But in heaven, in union with God, every relationship will be perfected. There will be no more resentment, hurt or anger. All of those things will be healed once and for all with no residue. Every relationship will be healed. It may be hard to imagine, but a murder victim and his or her murderer will be totally united with one another. Aborted fetuses and their mothers will be united in total and complete love for one another. If we struggle with this idea, it’s because we are not yet in perfect union with God.
What about the marriage relationship? Jesus was asked a question about a woman with seven husbands or a husband who married three times. Now what happens? Jesus gives us a hint of an explanation in his words: “People are not given and taken in marriage” (Mt. 22:23ff). Jesus is not saying that such relationships don’t exist. Rather, he says that the intimacy of a marriage relationship is only a hint of what real love will be in heaven.
With a child who is adopted, who comes first? Is it the birth mother or adoptive mother? They both do. There is no competition in heaven, only total love and total healing. There is no jealousy, rejection and pain. When our souls are reunited with our bodies, they will be “glorified.” Imagine being perfect. Every person with an injury, mental disability or handicap is restored to complete wholeness. There is no imperfection in heaven.
I emphasize relationship because this is what gives us the greatest joy even in our earthly existence. But there is so much more. Every question we have had will be answered in heaven. We will see God’s perfect plan for us and know how we were always in his hands even when God seemed a million miles away. How can that happen?
Because we will be perfectly united to God who is all knowing, almighty, and—most of all—love itself.
The key element is that love is the central concept that best describes our relationship with God. Therefore the most perfect description of heaven is perfect and eternal union with him. We can best understand God’s love by our loving relationships with each other—imperfect as they yet will be.
We know that heaven is not a place or location. It is union with God. This union perfects us as humans, but in spirit. There remain no imperfections and nothing that could detract from that perfect union with God.
If we are all in perfect union with God, then we are all in perfect union with each other. We cannot comprehend that in terms of experience, but it makes sense based on what we know of God and what Jesus has revealed to us. Heaven is perfection—no matter how we look at it.
I’ve talked with more than a few Christian fundamentalists. Their concept of heaven could best be described as “union with God—no one else.” Their rationale is that once we have completed our earthly journey, we don’t need anyone else to make us happy. Others would just get in the way and detract from our giving glory to God. Whenever I hear that explanation, I think they have created a rather insecure God who wants all our attention for eternity. It is such a shrunken image of the magnificence of heaven that God has prepared.
John spoke God’s word in a perfect statement that answers the question: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God” (1 Jn 4:7).
Amazing, isn’t it? God is telling us to love one another. We might automatically assume that our most important love should be directed to God. But no! God says that our love must be directed to one another!
Think of it this way: What mother or father would not be ecstatic to see how much their sons and daughters love one another? What could make them happier? Would loving parents tell their children that they must concentrate on them and not one another? Truly loving parents would say, “Loving one another is the greatest gift you could give us.”
And so it would appear that heaven will be union with God and with each other in perfect love. It means that eternity will be the revelation not only of all God’s love and goodness, but also of all that we have meant to each other. It pleases God when we love one another.