Blog Tour: A Better Country
As promised, author Dan Schaeffer, whose new book A Better Country is now available, has stopped by to answer the questions submitted by our wonderful TNKZ readers. And thus, without further ado–ever heard anybody used that word, “ado”, without either the word “further” or the word “much” in front of it? Me either–heeeeeeere’s Dan!
Thanks so much for inviting me on to your blog. I hope my answers are half as good as the questions that were asked. Blessings to you!
OK, my question(s) would be about what we remember of our lives, specifically in two areas- the lost, and our sins. Recently, when chatting with one of my friends, who- like me- has non-Christian relatives, we discussed whether, once in heaven, we would remember those we know here who won’t be there. While we will see how hell fits in with God being loving, and we will see hell as being just, would we actually know “A is in hell” or simply not remember them? And would we remember our sins from this life? While we would know what Christ has saved us to, would we remember the sin He saved us from? Graham ~ Aug 15, 2008 at 5:16 pm
Wow, Graham, that’s a great set of questions. I am going to have to be a bit speculative here because we are treading on areas that the Bible does not directly speak to. I always want to be careful to differentiate between what we know about heaven, and what we guess or think about heaven. Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us that the “Secret things belong to the Lord…” There are simply things He hasn’t told us. We do know for certain that there shall not be any crying or sadness in heaven. In Revelation 21:3,4 we read, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
One of the things we worry so much about as we think about heaven is the possibility of regret. Regret for our past actions, regret for friends and loved ones who didn’t know Christ, regret for so many things. We are afraid of being eternally sad. Jesus Himself wants us to know that anything that could possibly cause us to mourn, or be sad, will simply not be a part of our new world and life. Pain, sadness and regret are all part of the life that will have “passed away.” The question of how much we will remember is probably not as important as the idea of how we will remember. Keep in mind that we are hobbled now mentally and spiritually by our sinful nature. It can still harbor a secret fear that somehow God is not just, or that if anyone else is suffering we can’t possibly be happy. Obviously God has emotions far more perfect and far more intense than we do, and yet it is clear that God will have created the Better Country for His joy as well as ours. If he will be able to know all things (including the fate of those who rejected Him) without mourning and regret, why couldn’t we? Knowing that would be a major part of our sadness and regret, wouldn’t He address that in our new creation?
Even today I can look back at things I have done which were wrong or just stupid years ago and not feel nearly as strongly about them as I once did. That is simply the result of the passing of time and a spiritual maturity that realizes I am prone to sin. What would happen if my very person, my mind, my heart, my soul were absolutely perfect? How would I then look on past mistakes? I’m not sure we’re going to have to forget everything, or have our minds and memories wiped clear to enjoy eternity. I think remembering my sin in the Better Country that God is preparing for us would not be a reason of sadness, but of joy, as we are reminded again of the grace of our God and His mercy towards us. However, I do not think we will be remembering our sin because there would be no purpose for it anymore. All consequences for sin would be a thing of the past.
I do think it is clear that our focus will be on the Better Country and the continual presence of Jesus and the joys of our inheritance forever. If we do think about others, we can know for sure that it won’t be a sad thing, or something that will cause us to be depressed. It could also be that our minds and hearts will be so full of the present that there will be neither room nor desire to think of things in our past except those which glorify Christ.
Please forgive the long answer, but you addressed several important issues. I hope this helps a little.
Will we have purpose outside of 24/7 worship of God? Adam was given the garden to tend, and based upon other scriptures I believe we were created in such a way that we need to have purpose (work?). Would that continue in Heaven? sherry ~ Aug 17, 2008 at 7:26 am
Hello Sherry! This is such an important question because so many of us have the idea that heaven is one long worship service (kind of like one long Sunday church service). It is this idea that, frankly, worries us. It sounds a little boring. Not that worship of Jesus would bore us, but we can just imagine us standing around singing and praising God for the rest of forever. Let’s put this idea to rest!
When you think about it, we were created as completely unique beings, each one of us. God intentionally made us good at certain things–gave us certain talents and abilities that He gave to no one else in exactly the same combination. He made us to work; He even gave us passions and desires for certain work more than others. One of our greatest frustrations in this life is that our passions and desires and giftedness are not often used in our everyday jobs. I’ve met people with incredible gifts in art or music or building who have to satisfy themselves with hobbies because their gifts, passions and abilities do not create enough income for them. You can spend your whole life in a job you absolutely hate, or one that bores you to death. We can spend an entire life unfulfilled in our work.
But, have you ever met someone who gets paid for what they absolutely LOVE doing? It is so rare, but I believe it is a foretaste of heaven for us. The Better Country will be on a renewed and recreated earth, not in some celestial city in the sky. There will be buildings, towns, roads, gardening, etc. There will be nations who come to the Heavenly capital, meaning we will have so many of the same civil organizations we have here, except without the stain and crippling effect of sin. I believe with all my heart that God will give us jobs, real work to do, but not the kind we are worried about. Think of something that you would absolutely love to do every day, something that would fulfill you in every possible way. That is the kind of work we will have forever in heaven. You will do the job God created you to do—forever! Isn’t that exciting!
I am writer and a speaker. That is what God has made me good at and what I love to do. I expect to be writing for Him in heaven, creating pieces that I could not dream of writing here. I expect to share of His excellencies as well through speaking. I expect to explore the worlds that God will have remade. No time clocks. No pressure, just the joy of doing what you were made to do, what you have been gifted to do, and being able to present it to Him as worship. The more I think about it, the more excited I get about going to work in the Better Country. Hope this helps.
Does 1 Cor. Verse 41 by referring to three glories refer to 3 different levels of heaven. Eddie ~ Aug 17, 2008 at 8:16 pm
Hi Eddie. I’m going to assume that you are referring to 1st Corinthians 15:41 (you didn’t mention the chapter). It simply reads, “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.” I don’t believe that there are three levels of heaven if you are referring to eternity in heaven. The Bible makes it clear that all are equal in Christ, there won’t be a series of graduating lifestyles in heaven. You can’t have graduating levels of perfection ? You can’t improve on perfection. However, the Bible uses the term “heaven” in scripture in three distinct and different ways. First, the word “heaven” is used for the atmospheric heaven—referring to the sky, the space surrounding the earth to a height of 6 miles. This is the idea of “looking into the heavenlies.” (It is used this way in Deuteronomy 33:13, and Isaiah 55:10 to name a few). Secondly, the word heaven is used of the celestial heaven; that is the realm of the sun, moon, stars, planets, and galaxies, etc. (You can read about this use of the word heaven in Genesis 1:1 and Psalm 33:6.) The third use of heaven is the dwelling place of God. This is what Paul was referring to in 2nd Corinthians 12:2 as the “third heaven” and what Jesus called Paradise. (You can see heaven used this way in Psalm 2:4, Isaiah 66:1, Matthew 6:9, and Revelation 4:1ff). It is in this third sense that we speak of the Better Country (Hebrews 11:16), the place Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us to live with Him (John 14:1-4). I believe Paul is contrasting and comparing earthly and heavenly things in 1st Corinthians 15:35 and following to demonstrate that our human bodies will be glorified and changed when they are resurrected and “fitted out” for eternity (in this chapter Paul is countering the skeptics who doubted the truth of a literal physical resurrection from the dead). The glory of our earthly human bodies will not compare to the glorified human bodies we will inherit, just as there is a glory of the sun, and a glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars, so there will be another glory of our future resurrection bodies from our present earthly bodies. I hope I have answered your question!
Do we face some of the same challenges in heaven that we do on earth? Eddie ~ Aug 17, 2008 at 8:23 pm
No, Eddie, we don’t. (I’m assuming here that you are using challenges in a negative connotation. Some challenges are exciting). Our greatest challenges on earth (in fact, all of them) are due to our sinful nature which is magnetically attracted to sin. Either our own sin, others sin, or the effect of sin upon our earth make life on this earth a great challenge in so many ways. ALL OF THAT will be gone forever. You won’t ever even be tempted to sin. You will have a perfect heart, a perfect mind, and a perfect body with which to dwell forever in a perfect world that God is going to make for you. Think of it this way. God made Eden a perfect place. He created Adam and Eve without sin. Things went along just fine for awhile, no challenges at all! When Adam and Eve sinned, something foreign was introduced into a perfect environment, something which didn’t fit. Eden was no longer a place they could live in because they no longer fit in it. Perfect and imperfect blend together like oil and water. If you were going to try to fix a problem with your car’s engine, you would need to have the proper part. You couldn’t fix a valve problem with a new tire, or an overheating problem with a new pair of wiper blades. In the same way, we can’t “fix life” so that it works correctly because we no longer have (or are) the right tools. That is our greatest challenge. So God fixes it for us in eternity. He not only changes the environment, removing the stain of sin, but He makes us brand new and unchangeably perfect. If we do have a challenge in heaven it will be to find new and better ways to glorify our Lord. Isn’t that great news!
The Bible tells us the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, the tongue is unruly evil and full of deadly poison; we battle with pride, self-centeredness, covetousness – how will God make us fit citizens for heaven? Laurie ~ Aug 18, 2008 at 12:08 am
Laurie you hit on such an important point about heaven in your question. How can anyone be made fit for a perfect place? We know that heaven is the city of the living God, the Better Country we have been waiting for and searching for all our lives. But how can we be made good enough to be fit to live there? The answer is we can’t possibly be good enough, unless God does something miraculous to us. That is what salvation is. Salvation is where God saves us from the penalty of sin and then begins the process of transforming us into the image of Christ. That process cannot be completed perfectly until we are made perfect by Him in eternity.
In Romans 12:1,2 we are urged by Paul to “present our bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Here Paul urges us to be an active participant in God’s constant prompting to be transformed. Yet, no matter how hard we try, we can never be perfect because we have a sinful nature. Our very nature needs to be transformed. But Paul later, in 2nd Corinthians 3:18 says, “18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” God is slowly transforming us even now, even when we fight the process. God’s promise in the Old Testament was that He would “Put a new spirit within them. And I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances, and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:19,20). The process of becoming perfect is called sanctification. To be sanctified means to be set apart from sin unto God. It has three parts, a past, present, and a future. We are sanctified in the past by being saved from the penalty of our sin, we are presently being sanctified by being saved from the power of sin, and in the future we will be completely sanctified by being saved from the very presence of sin. The wonderful part is that ultimate sanctification (being made perfect, fit to live in a perfect place) is God’s responsibility. This happens not only when He forgives us our sins and washes us clean, but also when He gives to us His own righteousness. Galatians 3:27 reminds us that we have been “clothed with Christ.” His righteousness is added to us, finishing our glorification in our resurrection.
Only someone who has been made perfect could even enjoy a place of perfection. God will change us from sinful to perfect, that is the promise of our salvation. Good question!
Will God’s Plan be revealed to us? Will we know what the future will hold and why? Will the unexplained mysteries of this life make sense when we make it to heaven? Chris ~ Aug 18, 2008 at 12:59 pm
Chris, that is an interesting question and one I’ve not only heard often, but one I’ve wondered about myself. I’m not sure we are asking the question properly however. We always assume that the answer to all the questions will be so important to us in the Better Country. Today, as we struggle with the pain and frustration of sin in our lives and in our world we want answers, answers that will help it all to make sense. We know intuitively that this isn’t the way life was supposed to be, don’t we? Because we are surrounded on all sides with failure, pain, mistakes, conflict, and questions we are unable to answer, we imagine that once we get to heaven these questions will hold the same attraction to us. I’m just not sure that’s true to be honest.
If you are hungry and want to get something to eat in a strange city you have tons of questions about the quality of the restaurant you are visiting. Will the food be good, will the service be good? You want answers, but unfortunately you don’t know anyone in town so you can’t get them until you enter the restaurant and order some food. But when you walk through the restaurant, you see and smell wonderful dishes, you see happy people commenting on how they love the food, and observe wait staff smiling and attending everyone carefully. You no longer wonder about the food or the service, your questions have been answered without ever having to ask them. I think that is what heaven is going to be like.
What about the unexplained questions and mysteries of this life? Will we still feel the same about those questions when our hearts and minds have been perfected and we see things in exactly the same way God does (not that we will be divine, only that we will have hearts made perfect by Him)? I don’t think we will. I think many of the questions we have will be self explanatory when we reach the Better Country and have been glorified in mind, heart, and body. Whether or not we will ever be told by God His ultimate plan I can’t say, no one can.
I do know we will know perfect and unending joy which is impossible when we have nagging questions. Most of our questions get down to trust anyway. Do we trust where God has taken us, what He has allowed us to go through, and where He intends to take us? When we enter heaven, all these questions will have been abundantly answered as we see that the Better Country was what He intended for us all along. Life wasn’t supposed to be painful, it wasn’t supposed to be hard and frustrating and sad. We will instantly know, “This is what life was supposed to be like!” Hope that helps Chris.
Hi Pastor Schaeffer,
Your book sounds great and I’m excited to read it.
For many years I had drifted away from the ‘childishness’ of imagining a physical Heaven. It became crass and immature to me to think in terms of rewards in the afterlife. I thought it was more important, and certainly more noble, to try to concentrate on being with God and doing His will here on Earth – while letting Him worry about what Heaven actually was like.
Part of this, I’m ashamed to confess, came from accidentally allowing New Age concepts to seep into my thinking. I started to think in terms of dissolving back into the ‘energy’ of the universe and the ultimate consciousness. I started to feel that I would lose any sense of self as I entered the “Oneness”. This image is not at all enticing or uplifting – to say the least. I was also losing any concern of my loved ones going to Hell because I thought they, too, would only be atoms of consciousness. I decided I wouldn’t even know of their fate or recognize them if we were to meet again anyway. This was comforting, lazy, and a nice way to excuse my failure to fulfill the commission.
In the last few years, however, I have become very excited and hopeful about hearing those words, “Well done , my good and faithful servant”. It started when I read C.S. Lewis and, especially, his expositions on Joy, nostalgia, love and longing. I started to realize that we really do belong to this other world of God, that there is a real existence for which we were created and in which we’ll be fully known and accepted. For the first time ever my emotions made sense to me.
To attain wealth Anthony Robbins wrote something along the lines of “don’t waste your efforts imaging making fifty thousands dollars, imagine making millions – only this will excite you and motivate you to achieve any changes”. And that’s how I view true riches now. The kind of Heaven Jesus talks about and promises us, where we lay up our true treasures, really is motivating and worth changing our lives for.
So what’s my question?
We are made in God’s image and among His attributes that we share are intelligence and creativity. How will we be exercising these in Heaven? How will we be employed and what will it mean to be the kind of people who, as Dallas Willard said in The Divine Conspiracy, God can trust to set free in the universe to do our will? Having been found faithful in the small things, what are the great things we will be entrusted with?
Sorry for blathering … especially if your time is limited here.
Hi Daron! Thanks so much for sharing a bit of your journey towards the Better Country. I also had very immature ideas of heaven, even as a pastor, so when I began this study of heaven it was because I had questions that I didn’t have good answers to. I had answers, as you did, but they weren’t good ones, weren’t very scriptural, and definitely didn’t excite me about heaven and eternity. Whether they are New Age concepts or just getting our ideas of eternity from movies, many of us harbor ideas about eternity that are tragically unscriptural. I say tragically because the real place and life God has designed for us is incredible and worth longing for!
To me, one of the most exciting thoughts is that I was made uniquely by God. There is something about me that in terms of gifts, abilities, personality type, and other things that enable me to praise and worship God in a way no one else can. I like what CS Lewis said, “Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you…your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors of the house with many mansions….your place in heaven will be made for you stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.”
Commentator Albert Barnes wrote, “The universe at large will be heaven—the earth and all worlds; and we are left free to suppose that the redeemed will yet occupy any position of the universe, and be permitted to behold the special glories of the divine character that are manifested in each of the worlds He has made.” Again, theologian A.A. Hodges wrote, “Heaven, as the eternal home of the divine Man and of all the redeemed members of the human race, must necessarily be human in all its structure, conditions, and activities. Its joys and its occupations must all be rational, moral, emotional, voluntary, and active. There must be the exercise of all faculties, the gratification of all tastes, the development of all talent capacities, the realization of all ideals. The reason, the intellectual curiosity, the imagination, the aesthetic instincts, the holy affection, the social affinities, the inexhaustible resources of strength and power native to the human soul, must all find in heaven exercise and satisfaction.”
Again Albert Barnes writes, “The universe, so vast and wonderful, seems to have been made to be suited to the eternal contemplation of created minds, and in this universe there is an adaptation for the employment of mind forever and ever.”
So…how will we be employed? We will be “employed” not in the sense that we have to show up to a job that is a grind, but that finally, the very thing that God has made us so perfectly suited to do, that brings us more enjoyment and fulfillment than any other thing, the thing that in today’s vernacular, “I just can’t wait to get up in the morning to do” will be our unique position in the Kingdom. Our employment will be our greatest pleasure.
Pastor Ray Stedman wrote, “We will be busy in the most wondrous possible way. There will be new planets to develop, new principles to discover, new joys to experience. Every moment of eternity will be an adventure of discovery.”
However you point out an important issue: a perfect place without a perfect person would not work. First God has to remake our hearts, minds, and emotions. In the Better Country we will finally be the person God always intended us to be. By that I mean you particularly, Daron. I have no idea the person God truly intended Dan Schaeffer to be because I was born into sin and sin by choice. I have only the faintest hint at the holiness God desired from me when in eternity past He created me in His mind, nor the perfect love and righteousness He planned for me. While heaven has a wonderful allure for me today, an even greater allure is that I will finally be able to act as Christ would act, love as He loves, respond as He would respond, forever. I will no longer be able to sin in thought or deed. That will be heaven all by itself. Imagine no longer fearing interaction with people because you can’t possibly say or do the wrong thing around them.
What will God entrust us to do? The same thing He entrusted us with in the Garden of Eden, to be the stewards of the Better Country He has made for us. The Better Country will not have been made for Him, it will have been made for us and for our enjoyment forever. We are told we will rule and reign with Him. I take this to mean that we will rule and reign over others in this world as they will rule and reign over us, in a real human government type of activity. Yet we must not think this will be an unpleasant thing, for it will be the first perfect government ever! I could go on and on and on, but space demands I stop. I haven’t even touched the tip of the iceberg of your question because the answer takes up a book! Your question is one that excites me if you hadn’t noticed! J I hope this helps a little, Daron.
Thanks so much for all your great questions. The Better Country is so much more than just what we have spoken about here. I pray that you all become more and more excited about this Better Country. God bless!
UPDATE: For the purposes of total objectivity, I’ve asked some friends of mine to help me decide what the two best questions are. I’m waiting on their responses. Stay tuned…
Thank you for taking the time to answer questions here. I really enjoyed reading them, and I will encourage folks to stop by and read what you have to say.
It sounds like your friend Dan is doing a bang-up job ridding contemporary evangelicalism of our Platonic and neo-gnostic ideas of “heaven.” We need to talk more about the ultimate destiny of humanity as living on the renewed earth in resurrected bodies. We need to call it heresy that God’s goal for us is to put us in “Heaven” in some spiritual, non-physical existence. We’ve conflated the intermediate state of “Heaven” with the ultimate hope of Resurrection in the New Heaven and New Earth.
Thanks, Dan, for your book!