“What will our lives be like in Heaven?” That’s one of the questions that the Waypoint Youth Group has been wrestling with over recent weeks, while discussing the nature of God’s unending kingdom and our eternal home. As a volunteer leader in the youth group, I try to prepare diligently every week on our discussion topic (if for no other reason than to minimize the number of times these wonderful and brilliant young people stump me with their wonderful and brilliant thoughts). Every week I am astonished by how interested and thoughtful they are regarding Scripture and the Gospel. I would recommend anyone in our church body ask them their thoughts if you get the chance. It may edify them and will certainly encourage the asker about the steadfast march of the Gospel through cultures and generations. I realize my space is limited, but I hope that I can effectively share a brief moment in my life that I earnestly believe paints a very small, but rich picture of what God has placed on my heart about life in Heaven.
There’s a lot of backstory to this “vision” that I don’t have time for, so the facts of the day will have to do. The date is July 28, 2012. I had graduated from the University of Colorado ten weeks prior and had about two weeks to find a place to live to start my PhD at the University of Pittsburgh. This was complicated by the fact that although PhD students are usually offered a stipend with admission, I initially was not, and the graduate coordinator at Pitt (a wonderful guy, I know now) had forgotten to relate to me that I would, in fact, be paid enough to live there should I choose to make the cross-country move. Oh, and my mom had just passed four weeks prior from a four-month battle with kidney cancer. Mercifully, at 4:30 a.m. on the morning of July 28, 2012, I had other things on my mind: 14,036 of them to be exact. I was going to climb Mt. Sherman, which standing 14,036 feet at its summit, is one of my native Colorado’s famous “14ers.” Despite being in the best (and maybe only) shape of my life after finishing my senior year D1 rugby season with CU, this was going to be a challenge.
My three friends from college and I met up near Red Rocks and drove the two-ish hours to the trailhead. Nestled at the base of a prototypical Rocky Mountain couloir, we made our first steps up the trail in the delayed twilight common to all alpine mornings. Mt. Sherman, relatively speaking, is an inglorious 14er; the smallest and most isolated of the 14ers in the unkindly named Mosquito Range. Its trail is desolate, monotone, sterile even. It has suffered the further indignity of being the only 14er upon which an airplane has landed (intentionally). Even so, the ruins of the century old Hilltop Mine at just shy of 13,000 feet along the trail should have struck me as symbolic of the treasure to behold on this mountain. Another 250 feet up I reached the saddle between Mt. Sheridan and Mt. Sherman, and I wonder even now why I did what I did at that moment. I crested the saddle to find a surprisingly verdant alpine flat, rampant with low flowers and multichromatic moss. I stopped, looked northwest at the valley past Leadville, back southeast over the South Park valley, and took off sprinting northeast toward the summit, still 750 feet above. With every breath I expected the refreshment of the thin, cool mountain air to become a searing reminder of my folly, but that simply didn’t happen.
I didn’t make it more than 100 feet up and 100 yards out before my friends called to me in bewilderment at my sudden flight, but those few seconds at full stride on the saddle ridge were undeniably divine. The whole of Isaiah 40 resounds in that moment: the people walking the streets of Leadville or Fairplay far beyond and below were no more distinct than the smallest shoot of grass; the 2,000 foot rims of the precipitous basin we had climbed could not measure up to the crease of a crease in the hollows of God’s hands; the rotted mineshafts below testified to the impermanence of man’s labor after even the most precious things of our material world; I beheld with certitude that God had created all I could see – and that it is good. The bookends of that chapter in Isaiah so clearly convey the means and result of God’s good plan for us. “A voice cries, ‘in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.’” Jesus has come and made a way. “They shall run and not be weary.” Our perfection, accomplished by, and first in Christ, will enable us to perform work without toil in the unified Heaven and Earth. The curse will be undone. Hallelujah!
Another verse came to mind when reflecting on this moment from my past. At that time, with everything else transpiring and spiraling beyond my control, I related to Habakkuk at the close of his prophecy, when he declared, “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places.” Habakkuk was - as my wife Eni and her hipper ilk would say - literally shook by God’s fame and past displays of power, even in the face of utter destruction. His awe and trust in God in that moment caused him to declare his hope that he would not just walk but bound ahead, and not just in the valleys but the high and “holy” places of the land over which he prophesied. He rejoiced in the hope of striding, bones no longer rotted, in a new and perfected body, across his country, the hills where he was born, where he belonged and found perfect love at the end of the world.
I suppose that I could be accused of projecting my own Coloradan idea of Heaven into this hopeful vision, limited as it is. However, the idea that God has made us and will remake us perfectly, to tread upon the highest and most glorious parts of His restored Creation, is not a new one. In his centuries-old commentary on the last few verses of Habakkuk 3, Matthew Henry summarizes the prophet’s posture and sentiment beautifully. He notes the eternal perspective that we as Christians are called to hold. “Within the compass of these few lines we have the prophet in the highest degree both of trembling and triumphing, such are the varieties both of the state and of the spirit of God’s people in this world.” Then he closes, “In heaven there shall be no more trembling, but everlasting triumphs.” Praise God that we can look forward to an eternity of vigorous and glorious triumph from a vantage to behold His new and perfected creation!