For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)
Every worldview has to answer these questions:
-Where did we come from?
-Why are we here?
-Where are we going?
Christianity has a very simple answer to all three questions – GOD. Where did we come from? We came from God, “from whom are all things” (1 Corinthians 8:6). Why are we here? We are here “for him” (Colossians 1:16), since he is the one “for whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6). And our ultimate destination, the final goal of our existence, is God, “for from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36).
It is this last point that I think is especially worth serious reflection – at least, I need to think about it more. It is the truth I have most neglected in my own view of the world. The question of origins is so fundamental that I – like many Christians – have placed great emphasis on the role of God as Creator and on the serious weaknesses of a purely naturalistic view of the origin of the universe, life, and consciousness. And early in my preaching I encountered several authors who helped me see the crucial purpose for our lives as revealed in Scripture – to glorify God (as Jesus taught in Matthew 5:16).
But the answer to that third question – “where are we going” – is the one that I have failed to grasp for far too long. And yet, the Bible could not be clearer. Just as surely as God is the origin of our story, he is also the destination of our story. “To him are all things.” The end of the story for a child of God is God.
When the Bible speaks of heaven, it uses language like “many mansions” (John 14:2, KJV) and “streets of gold” (Revelation 21:21). And if our vision of eternity is not properly God-centered, then it is easy for these portraits to distract us, or even to mislead us, away from the true meaning of eternity. Heaven is not a celestial Disneyworld, where we can ride all the rides we want without waiting in line or have an endless supply of Mickey Mouse ice cream bars. For many years, if you had asked me if I would be satisfied to go to such a “heaven” even if God wasn’t there, I would have said, “YES!”
But what those biblical images are designed to convey is the much deeper truth that in heaven we will be reunited with God. The streets are said to be made of gold because heaven is the new and eternal temple of God – the dwelling place of God – and the most holy place of the temple in the Bible is always decorated with gold. This emphasis is found all throughout the glorious picture of heaven in Revelation 21-22. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man” (21:3). Indeed, in this vision, there is no separate temple because the entire heavenly city is itself one enormous Holy of Holies, and “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (21:22). When this reunion is realized, we “will see his face” (22:4).
The same God-centeredness is true with the “many mansions” of John 14. Jesus was not promising that everyone in heaven gets their own personal Biltmore House! The word translated “mansions” in the King James Version is better rendered “many rooms,” which is how modern translations express the point. And the point of the many rooms is that there will be plenty of room for all of Christ’s disciples to abide with him. “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).
In the Christian tradition, the final goal of dwelling with God and seeing his face is called the “beatific vision.” But I am sad to say my own grasp of such a vision has been seriously impaired through the years. And there really is no excuse, since Scripture and reason so clearly point to this truth.
Why do I say that even reason pushes us to this conclusion? Because it speaks to universal human realities, such as truth, goodness, and beauty. Human beings have an innate desire for truth, fueled by the unique human capacity for reason. And we also have a yearning for goodness, and for its derivatives like justice and compassion. And we have a longing for beauty, that which is intrinsically deserving of adoration. And where can we find truth, goodness, and beauty? In the final and complete sense, only in the One who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
This to me explains the restless longing of those who do not seek God and therefore face frustration and disillusionment. In the words of Isaiah, they “labor for that which does not satisfy” (Isaiah 55:2). Even worse, those who accept the atheistic dogma of materialism undermine the very concepts of truth, goodness, and beauty by reducing human consciousness and rationality to purely physical processes.
But I am primarily writing this for fellow Christians who, like myself, need reminding that the goal is God, that the one ambition that counts is “the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). This longing will indeed be completely and eternally fulfilled by the one who made us.
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)
Or as a more recent psalmist put it –
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise
Thou mine inheritance, now and always
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art
(“Be Thou My Vision,” Eleonore Hull 1912)