The Inadequacy of a Utopia
So here's a question to chew on. How is the Christian's longing for heaven fundamentally different from longing for the world in the movie Avatar, Pandora?
Think about it—everlasting bliss, perfect health, no grief or discord of any kind. You can have anything that your heart desires, because all your desires will be good and pure. You're reunited with all your loved ones, and all is restored to tranquil harmony. It's Eden all over again, but better.
A movie can make this world look inadequate, but heaven makes any movie dwindle to less than nothing. All throughout Avatar, in fact, I kept thinking, If this fertile, dazzling world is the best that our most cutting-edge filmmakers can come up with, how incomparably beautiful and glorious is heaven going to be? If the Bible is true, we can count on it being more alive and real than the most imaginative person's most impossible dreams.
You don't have to believe in Christ to find the above paragraph enticing. Even if you buy into Avatar's New Age paganism, you can still think the heaven I just described sounds like a pretty sweet deal. That's just utopia after death, and everyone wants utopia—Christian and non-Christian alike. That much is clear, especially in light of the responses to the movie. I wonder if you noticed, though, how I left out the most important part of heaven in my description.
What if Jesus was absent from His home? What if His presence was the only thing missing from an otherwise perfect world? Imagine it. Could you be content? Is Christ's presence a footnote or afterthought when you imagine heaven, or is He the only reason that everything else would hold any meaning?
That's what separates the Christian's desire for heaven from the non-Christian's. A Christian might answer, "No, He isn't always most important to me—but I sure want Him to be." Believers know what it means to long for Christ and His presence. To the unsaved, on the other hand, the idea of a God-centered heaven (not a me-centered one) is horrifying. If that's what heaven is all about, it ceases to be attractive. They want no part of it.
John Piper is dead on:
"Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. People who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. If we don't want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel" (God is the Gospel, 47).
It's the glorious truth of the gospel that Christ hung on the cross, bearing the full brunt of God's wrath to forgive us. And yet if we believe that a legal pardon from God is all that the gospel accomplishes, our understanding of the gospel is anemic. Christ's blood was not spilled just to buy a bundle of tickets that would admit us through the pearly gates of a Pandora-like paradise. He died to adopt the people He justified and bring them into a relationship with Himself.
What is heaven about at its core? Jesus told us. In the Garden of Gethsemane, just before He was led to His crucifixion, He knelt and prayed, "Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent" (John 17:1–3, emphasis added).
There's our answer—the chief difference between heaven and all pagan concepts of utopia. The cross existed so that sinners could be brought to know God, delight in Him, and savor His splendor. Christ died to usher us into an eternal, vibrant relationship with the triune God of the Bible. He is the reason why heaven will be glorious and the reason why our lives on earth can be filled with the inexpressible joy spoken of in 1 Peter 1. Without Him, we would have nothing. He's the centerpiece and main attraction of heaven.
What do you think? Have you been looking forward to a Christ-centered heaven lately? Or could you be content at times with a world without Him—a world like Pandora? How can we readjust our thinking?
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