Can We Truly Imagine Heaven?
- Gary L. Welton The Center for Vision & Values
- 2015 21 Aug
A pastor friend of mine, not trying to be irreverent or sacrilegious, once shared with me his own faint analogy of eternal hell—waking up every day and discovering yet again that it was moving day. I know that some will quickly suggest the reality far outstrips this weak analogy. Nevertheless, I do understand the picture—I remember very well each and every one of our moving days.
Sometimes I think I need a new analogy of heaven. The “streets of gold” sound gorgeous, but my mother always taught me that gems and precious metals never satisfy for long. “Pearly gates” sound welcoming, but where do those gates lead? I’m really not trying to be irreverent or sacrilegious, but readily admit that I am a wired, high-metabolism sort of guy, and my pictures of heaven often seem lame.
Conceptually, I understand that being in the presence of God will cause everything else to pale by comparison. Placing mankind in the infinite context of our Savior and Lord will put everything into perspective. God himself is the answer to all these sorts of questions. Yet, in my human frailty, I sometimes wish for some new analogy of heaven. An Old Testament prophet said that God’s promises are new every morning, but what would it be like after 1,000 years? Or 1,000,000? His faithfulness is great, but in my selfishness I sometimes crave a new analogy for heaven.
Then one day I visited Yellowstone. My first vision was of the geyser Old Faithful. It erupts every 90 minutes or so, but who knew that we would have a cabin with a view, and that Old Faithful would erupt just as we entered our cabin door? Old Faithful is a beautiful sight, yet it basically reminds me of a manmade fountain and hence does not overwhelm me or fill me with awe. It’s not all that new and different from what I have seen many times. But the next morning, and for the next few days, I saw wonders I had never imagined, natural formations that were surreal, one after another.
I saw mudpots at Midway and Lower Geyser Basins, where mud was bubbling from the inner earth, and I thought, “I have never seen anything like this before.”
I saw hot springs at the Upper Geyser Basin with bold and brazen colors that I had never seen in nature, and I thought, “Is this for real?”
I saw the Fountain Paint Pots and stole a look into the heat of inner earth, and I thought, “Seriously?”
I saw cooled lava rock formations in pencil-like shapes on the edge of cliffs, and I thought, “Who built this?”
I saw wolves and elk chasing each other, the elk seeking to protect their babies, and the wolves seeking their dinner, and I thought, “What a privilege to have a front row seat.”
One stop after another, one day after another, there were beautiful and engaging images. Indeed, at Yellowstone, the sights were new every morning. Every stop elicited from me the thought, “I have never seen anything like this before.”
Yellowstone is a natural and finite location, but it opened my eyes by providing a faint analogy of heaven. Being in the presence of God, being outside the scope of time, looking beyond the political-cultural turmoil of today, and yet every day thinking, “Here is something completely new and different.”
“Your mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.”
Dr. Gary L. Welton is assistant dean for institutional assessment, professor of psychology at Grove City College, and a contributor to The Center for Vision & Values. He is a recipient of a major research grant from the Templeton Foundation to investigate positive youth development.