Heaven is often characterized as Disneyland for believers in Jesus, but “what if the fires of heaven are hotter than those in the other place.” When it comes to present thoughts on heaven, images of gold streets, mansions, jewels, angels, and thrones abound and don’t forget the toga parties, for what is heaven without togas and harps. Eternal bliss is also on the eternal docket. No more tears, simply white-washed emotional experiences of euphoria and 50 cent smiles await the resurrected. Reminds me of a non-drug induced Brave New World stupor. And yes, my Sunday school teacher has assured me that we’ll be able to float on clouds and walk through walls. We may or may not be hungry, but I can’t imagine a place of perfection without food or at least a buckets of wings.
Dallas Willard points out that there persists a theory within western Christianity that passing through death transforms character. I call this the Cinderella theory:
Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo Put 'em together and what have you got bippity-boppity-boo
The only problem with this theory is there is no theological or scriptural basis for believing this to be true. While it is true God will complete what he has started, it isn’t true that this has anything to do with the individual in the context of Philippians 1:6. This was written to the community of Philippians. There is simply little proof that a neglected character will be miraculously transformed or perfected at death.
This begs some questions, “What would one do with a debauched character or hate saturated heart in heaven?” Would one with an debased character or who just “makes it” into heaven by the skin of their teeth actually stand it? “Whosoever will may come” but “standing it” or living within “the unrestrained presence of the fulness of God “may prove to be incredibly difficult. This is why Willard suggests the fires of heaven may be hotter than those in the other place. Is it possible that our popular versions of heaven may in fact be woefully ill-informed drawn from television, movies and popular preaching? “What if death only fixes us as the kind of person we are at death?” I can honestly say that I’ve never thought about this possibility before, although it makes complete sense. I find myself wanting to apply grace to this question but the problem is there is no support to prove that our characters will be overhauled just for passing death’s door or that what we do in this life has no bearing on the next. A part of me has always believed that the kind of person I become in this life matters in the next. If not, than why bother being a disciple, why bother warring against the flesh. If in the end, it’s all going to be overhauled anyway, so what? Sadly, this is the reality for many of us who profess to be Christians. A decision is made at some point in life and the rest of life is lived with fire insurance in hand. But we are called to so much more!
What if this life is a training ground for the next? What if the things done in this life do in fact ripple into eternity? What if discipleship in the here and now truly matters? What are we being saved for? Individuals are not being saved for the sole purpose of personal satisfaction in this life or the next (although this may be a legitimate piece), they are being “enlisted for the reign of God, liberating themselves, their sins, and their entanglements, so that they will be free for God and neighbors.” (David Bosch, Transforming Mission). John Stott suggests, “An evangelistic invitation oriented toward discipleship will include a call to join the living Lord in the work of His kingdom.” Following Christ is a call to mission and a call to service. It’s within this call that kingdom values are honored and cultivated within the life of one professing Christ. It’s within this call that character is challenged and re-structured through the renewing of the mind. As one takes on the character of Christ, it is no longer I who lives but Christ living through me. It may be that those most at home in heaven ultimately will be those that were most at home in the reign of God while alive on earth. As for the flames of heaven, we may “make it” to heaven by the skin of our teeth, but whether we will “stand it” once there is worth pondering.