After a flurry of medical activity leaving my insides chopped up like hamburger, at last I can return to the original, vexing problem I ran across earlier: “It’s a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” as Hebrews 10:31 says. Along the same lines, “Our God is a consuming fire,” as Hebrews 12:29 says. There are a multitude of passages talking about this terrifying encounter with the Almighty God. It seems fairly obvious this would not be a benign, placid encounter, since even without Scriptures describing it, surely meeting the Almighty God face-to-face must be highly disorienting, at the very least. “Disorienting” certainly describes my own subjective peek into the afterlife on the night I was first diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
(Please note: I did not see things with the clarity that follows. However, the scriptures quoted below I think best describe what I did see, since what I did see is very difficult to put into words and very brief.)
On that night I was surrounded by majestic, electrifying creatures, some covered with eyes, others with multiple wings or multiple arms or legs resembling gyroscopes and and other anomalous anatomies described in the Bible. I moved forward toward the Great Somebody enthroned in glory, “who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16). In God’s own words, “No man can see me and live.” (Ex. 33:20) I knew this was the Person where, it says, “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:13) There is no way to impress or even defend yourself against someone who says, “All the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. They are nothing more than dust on the scales. He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand.” (Isaiah 40:15)
Afterwards, I asked myself, “What the hell would I say?” After all, “Who is able to advise the Spirit of the LORD? Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him? Has the LORD ever needed anyone’s advice? Does he need instruction about what is good? Did someone teach him what is right or show him the path of justice?” (Isaiah 40:13-14)
If I continued moving forward to meet the Almighty God (this glimpse ended too quickly), I knew there was nothing to say. Nothing I could say. Except, perhaps, I thought, I could say one thing: “Jesus? Does anyone know where Jesus is? I’m with him!”
LZ stands for “Landing Zone” where helicopters land to drop off or pick up troops. An LZ seemed like a doorway to heaven, a welcome relief at a time of great distress, especially for American soldiers in Viet Nam surrounded by enemy troops. Obviously, the LZ was the greatest target for concentrated enemy fire, hoping to cut off any chance of salvation or escape for beleaguered and outnumbered soldiers.
Sure enough, the Believer’s LZ was repeatedly hijacked, perverted, attacked and replaced throughout history, most notably by Islam. Islam redefined heaven as a self-indulgent Paradise for endless sexual pleasure at the hands of the houri—the 72 perpetual virgins (don’t ask how this works) promised to male “martyrs.” The term “martyr” was also hijacked from Christians and redefined by Islam from its original Greek meaning to “testify” or “witness.” Christians understood and gladly embraced martyrdom as an opportunity to witness about the love of Jesus Christ. The Islamic-hijacked meaning popular today means almost exactly the opposite!
In Islam’s biblically-foreign vision of heaven with 72 virgins-per-male-martyr, “the perpetual virgins will all ‘have appetizing vaginas’, and the penis of the Elected never softens. The erection is eternal,’” according to the Islamic version of Wikipedia. (That state of arousal would be obnoxious after a few million years, in my opinion.) Nevertheless, the Islamic Heavenly LZ holds significant attraction for young men of fighting age.
The much-prized LZ of Eastern religions bear no relationship to a biblical view, so their conception of the Heavenly LZ is the concept of Nirvana in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and their offshoots. Nirvana means literally “blown out, as in an oil lamp,” and “the liberation from repeated rebirth” (reincarnation) according to Wikipedia. These religions view reincarnation as cursed, wretched efforts to escape a single life in order to enter Nirvana, which is the extinction of any personal, self-conscious awareness. (Unfortunately, as Americans hijack Eastern religious beliefs, they often replace Nirvana with some version of the biblical concept of heaven because the idea of complete, personal extinction is about as appealing as atheism itself. Nirvana really is quite similar to the atheistic view of death as extinction.)
The biblical view of heaven was hijacked and improperly redefined by Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses and Islam based on a very poor understanding of the Bible, the Creator and Jesus Christ. These Clone Religions all depict heaven as a place where elitism reigns in one form or another, where the more devout souls receive greater rewards and pleasures. It is a mistake easily made, looking strictly at those passages discussing “rewards” and “crowns”. Overlooked are the multitude of passages like, “the greatest among you must be the servant of all,” and “those that love their life will lose it,” and others. All the condemnations expressed by God against selfishness, self-indulgence, self-aggrandizement, wealth and so on equally condemn the “paradise” or “heaven” described by the Clone Religions. The Clones would have us believe that everything gets reversed in heaven, where we can finally get away with being selfish, powerful, wealthy and self-indulgent! So silly.
The Biblical LZ
One passage captures the proper, biblical relationship between crowns, rewards and our personal, loving relationship with Jesus Christ in a simple, beautiful picture:
The twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” Revelation 4:10-11
These “twenty-four elders” are essentially the 12 tribes of Israel (from the Old Covenant/Old Testament), and the 12 Apostles of the (New Covenant/New Testament). In other words, they represent the span of time where God was establishing a beachhead on earth, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
What happens in heaven after God honors and showers praise on his many children is astonishing—his children turn around and throw their crowns at the feet of Jesus. He is the King, our brother, so we are honoring Him and showering love and praise on Him! At the same time he makes us “fellow heirs and rulers with Christ.” Romans 8:??? It is a two-way glorification. We hold on to none of it. We covet none of it. All our glory was only possible because He first loved us. (1 John 4:1) This is why, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things!” (Philippians 4:8) Such are the components of our Heavenly LZ. “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) It all belongs to Him, not to any one of us. Such descriptions are utterly foreign to the Clone Religions.
“The last will be first, and the first will be last,” God promises and which Jesus often repeated during his ministry on earth. That switch from first to last and last to first occurs not through making poor people rich and rich people poor, but through a complete change of economy. Rather than gold, possessions and money, the new economy in heaven is one in which love is the currency. Jesus Christ will reign on earth for 1000 years in the Millennial Kingdom under “the Perfect Law,” also known as “the Law of Christ,” and the “Labor of Love.” This kind of law sometimes governs the good relationships found in the Body of Christ (sadly, not often enough). In such an economy, wealth is completely redefined as something beautiful and glorious beyond anything gold can offer. In fact the streets of heaven are paved with gold because it is such a plentiful and cheap resource, good for little more than paving streets, like asphalt! (It would look pretty asphalt, however.)
What does it all mean? “The greatest of these is love,” God says. The relationships we build this year and in years to come where we actually care about someone and sacrifice our own well-being for the sake of advancing and helping others are the most invaluable moments of our lives, lasting forever. I can testify this is true, sitting on the precipice of death—the only thing that matters right now are those people I have loved and who (still) love me (despite good reason not to).
It means the investments you and I need to spend our time and energy building are people-investments. Look at it this way:
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called… 1 Timothy 6:10-12
Exactly what our Heavenly LZ looks like will be taken up in the next chapter of my saga, “The Dust of Death.”
- The Case of a Slow, Agonizing Death
- The Beauty of God’s Word