I’m a sucker for news articles with headlines such as “The 10 Most Enjoyable Places to Live” or “The Least Expensive Cities in the US” or “The Best Places in the US to Retire.” But it’s not because I want to know where my state or city ranks. My curiosity is focused on the reasons that are given: everything from climate to taxes to crime rates to job availability and other similar factors.
My wife and I are profoundly happy living in Oklahoma City, the occasional tornado notwithstanding. But neither here nor your place of residence can begin to compare with life in the new heaven and new earth. What is it that makes the prospect of our eternal abode so appealing? What makes heaven so heavenly?
Those who love to fish, sail, water-ski, and ponder the expanse and beauty of the ocean may be upset that in John’s vision “the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1). But this does not mean there won’t be bodies of water in the new earth for us to enjoy. In the Bible, the sea is often regarded as a symbol for evil, chaos, and anti-kingdom powers with whom Yahweh must contend (Isaiah 17:12–13; 27:1; 51:9–10; 57:20; Jeremiah 46:7–8; Job 26:7–13). The sea is the origin of the beast as well as the pagan and rebellious nations that oppose the kingdom of God (Revelation 13:1; 17:2, 15). It is also the place of the dead (Revelation 20:13) and the location of the world’s idolatrous trade activity (Revelation 18:10–19).
This, then, is John’s way of saying that in the new creation, all such evil and corruption and unbelief and darkness will be banished. Also absent are tears of sadness, death, mourning, crying, and all pain, whether emotional or physical (Revelation 21:4).
But what makes heaven heavenly isn’t the absence of the things that we dislike now on earth, but the presence of God. The new heaven and new earth will be glorious not primarily because there will be no sin or death or pain or tears, but because God is there. God will be with us. We will be his people, and he will be our God (Revelation 21:3).
John’s point is that saving faith or belief is more than mere intellectual agreement with the truth of the gospel. Saving faith, the belief that leads to eternal life — the belief that slakes the thirst of the dry and desperate soul — is at its core a yearning and desiring for the satisfaction that only Christ can bring. Simply put, everyone in heaven will be a Christian Hedonist!
The second of the two blessings is God’s promise that he will be our God and we will be his children (Revelation 21:7). There is no blessing greater than this: to be a child of God. As his beloved sons and daughters, we get God and all that God has. Just like the father of the Prodigal, who cast aside concern for personal dignity and ran down that road to embrace his repentant child (Luke 15:20), God comes to us with a ring and a robe and a never-ending feast of every spiritual blessing.
But how can we know that this joy and deep delight in God will be endless? Countless things in this life satisfy, but only for a season. Virtually everything on which we depend comes and goes. No matter how much of an experience we relish, it eventually fades. Over time it loses its capacity to enthrall and excite. Will our joy not also suffer from entropy? How could God possibly sustain in us not simply the presence of joy in the new heaven and new earth but its endless, incessant, expansive increase?
The answer is rooted in God’s infinity. He is the one Being in the universe of whom it can never be said, “That’s all there is; there isn’t any more.” Given enough time and patience, we could eventually count every grain of sand on the shores of earth. They are not infinite in number. The same can be said of the stars in the sky. Though there are undoubtedly trillions and trillions of them, they are not limitless or without number.
But God is! He is truly without limit. There is in God an inexhaustible plenitude of power and perfection. There is no end to his attributes. And with each attribute there is an infinite height, depth, width, and breadth. If at any time anything about God were to reach a conclusion or be exhaustively comprehended, he would cease to be God. God is by definition infinite in goodness, beauty, power, and majesty — and these are only the beginning of a never-ending supply of characteristics and attributes and features.
This means that what can be seen, known, and experienced of God is likewise without limit. And if our sight, knowledge, and experience never cease, never fully exhaust all there is in him, so too it must be with our enjoyment of all that he is and does. With each revelation of yet one more facet of his immeasurably complex being comes more joy, more fascination, more excitement, more love, more worship.
If you live in fear that the never-ending revelation of God’s splendor will overwhelm and eventually short-circuit your faculties of comprehension and enjoyment, recall the words of Jonathan Edwards, who said,
Without doubt God can contrive matter so that there shall be other sort of proportions, that may be quite of a different kind, and may raise another sort of pleasure in the sense, and in a manner to us inconceivable, that shall be vastly more ravishing and exquisite. . . . Our animal spirits [i.e., our physical senses] will also be capable of immensely more, fine and exquisite proportions in their motions than now they are. (Works of Jonathan Edwards, 13:328)
Or again, in the new heaven and new earth, “every perceptive faculty shall be an inlet of delight” (Works, 18:721).
At Christ’s return, our bodies will be glorified and thus delivered of weakness and frailty and obscurity. Our intellect and senses will be heightened and magnified, and their capacity to see, touch, feel, hear, and smell greatly increased and no longer hindered by disease or distraction. Our experience of joyful satisfaction in God will then suffer from no limitations, and none will fathom the depths of our delight.
Joy in the new heaven and new earth never occurs in a vacuum, but is the inevitable fruit of our ever-increasing comprehension of God and his love, grace, beauty, and kindness. With each new revelation comes a corresponding insight that in turn fuels the flame of delight and exhilaration.
Joy will increase forever because there will never be a moment when God’s greatness diminishes or runs dry. Throughout the ages to come, forever and ever, we will be the recipients each instant of an ever-increasing and more stunning, more fascinating, and thus inescapably more enjoyable display of God’s grace and glory than before.
If our ideas and thoughts of God increase in heaven, then so also must the joy, delight, and fascination that those ideas and thoughts generate. As understanding grows, so too does affection and fascination. Edwards put it this way:
Therefore, their knowledge will increase to eternity; and if their knowledge, doubtless their holiness. For as they increase in the knowledge of God and of the works of God, the more they will see of his excellency; and the more they see of his excellency . . . the more will they love him; and the more they love God, the more delight and happiness . . . will they have in him. (Works, 13:105).
But how can we be so certain? How do we know it isn’t all a pipe dream? How can we be sure that if we put our hope in this promise, it won’t come crashing down on us and leave us disappointed, as has happened in so many other instances in this life? John provides the answer in Revelation 21:5: “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
And we know they are trustworthy and true because they are the words of him who is “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 21:6). God has staked his reputation on it. His honor and fidelity hang in the balance. He said it, and therefore it will come to pass.