I know, the title of today’s thought sounds so Scrooge-like. What in the world is wrong with dreaming about doing creative and adventurous things before you die? Like skydiving, or visiting Machu Picchu, or eating fugu?
If I can point out the careful wording of the title…I didn’t say your bucket list IS NOT biblical. I said it isn’t “all that” biblical (and, of course, I’m intentionally being a bit provocative). Why? Not because there’s anything wrong with these activities, or with the idea of adventure or the enjoyment of travel or eating/drinking. But because so very often, our desires betray a less-than-biblical perspective on this life and the life to come.
Here’s one indicator of how we tend to think: we refer to heaven as “the after-life.” Quite literally, that refers to “whatever there is, after life.” Doesn’t that imply that whatever comes after isn’t life? Or is less than life? As in, “After I live [it up?] then I’ll do something else.” And, of course, that tends to fuel an urge to squeeze in as much unique, earthly-fun as possible, before that window closes forever.
There are two problems with any attitude like this: One is treating this life, the here-and-now, as ultimate. The other side of that same coin, is an implicit assumption that ‘heaven’ is less than glorious, less than perfectly satisfying and joy-filled.
Let me ask a diagnostic question: If you have a sense of urgency about your bucket-list – to squeeze in certain experiences before it’s too late – do you fear missing out? Or are these desires/plans just prioritizing ways to delight in God’s creation? If the former, doesn’t that betray a sense that once life ends, “it’s too late”? That you’ve missed out on something that can’t be recovered? That kind of thinking is what I’m pointing to as unbiblical because it focuses too much on “this life” of 80 or so years, and not enough on “full life” which involves eternity.
I love what one author says about this life and the life-to-come (which is a phrase I like because it implies anticipation and hope, continuity-with-surprise!): “This life will prove to be but the clearing of the throat before a song that never stops.” (Nathan Bierma).
One of the subtexts of the book of Ecclesiastes (a sermon series from last summer) is this: If this is all there is, if there’s no heaven or hell, no God, no eternity, then what’s the point? It’s all meaningless. That “if” feeds the attitude, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (Isaiah 22:13). But if there is more… if there is one true God who sees the pervasive effects of sin upon His creation and upon His people… and if this God is at work making all things new through the redeeming blood of His Son, and that same power raised Jesus from the dead… then there’s no missing out of anything glorious in the life-to-come!
“The new heavens and the new earth” – a more biblical term than merely “heaven” – this renewed reality will be material and spiritual, earthly and heavenly. There will be feasting! (see Isaiah 25:6-8; Matthew 25:10; Luke 22:16, 18; Revelation 19:9). God’s purposes are not to condemn the world, but to save the world (John 3:17); not to obliterate what was created, but to make all things new (Rev 21:5).
Will the earth look like it does now, except be free of sin? I think so. I think the Grand Canyon will still be a big crack down the left side of North America. I think Antarctica will still be frozen solid, that Singapore will stay 98 degrees and 90% humidity, and that the New Jerusalem will still be in the land of Israel. I think you’ll be able to experience things that you didn’t get a chance to experience while in this life…but fugu won’t kill you, romaine lettuce will be perfectly safe, and somehow, we’ll enjoy medium-rare porterhouses without any theological dissonance (because the meal will involve death). BUT… will those adventures truly capture our hearts and stimulate our dreams, when we will be in the very presence of the most glorious One himself, Jesus our bridegroom?! Nothing and no one else will delight nearly as much, but with eternity before us, perhaps Jesus will take us on personal tours of places we never got to see. And if so, we’ll get to see Machu Picchu as God intended it to be – free from sin, more glorious than we ever dared to dream!
Grace be with you,
Peter Wang is Senior Pastor of GRC.