Heaven sounds like a place of imaginative fictional fantasy. But maybe the reason we possess within us such imaginative fictional capacity is because of a longing for eternity that God placed in the human heart. Like a bird’s homing instinct, it’s pointing us homeward. There’s a little bird called the bar-tailed godwit but that flies 15,000 miles round trip from Alaska to New Zealand each year. That’s a long flight to a small island — what if they missed? They would be breeding with the penguins. But they don’t miss. Ever! Something wired into them points them to New Zealand.
“[God] has also set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). There is something wired into us that we all long for, something we crave, and yet every human experience leaves us still searching. As U2 sings, “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” All our longings point toward Heaven. And NDErs [Near Death Experiencers] say it’s more real and far more beautiful than we can imagine.
What would possess a veteran commercial airline pilot to make up such a tale? Or even more confounding question: How did hundreds of people — doctors, airline pilots, bank presidents, tenured professors — who didn’t need to make up wild stories to make money (and would lose professional credibility doing so), come to describe an amazingly similar place?
The Scriptures have always described just such a place — more beautiful than you can imagine. If you’ve ever secretly nursed a fear that Heaven might be this ethereal, fuzzy, less-than-real, cloudy place… think again! The language of Scripture and the words NDErs use over and over again emphasize the opposite — this temporal (temporary) life is the fuzzy, less-than-real shadow of the brilliant, beautiful-beyond-your-wildest-dreams, solid life you need to grab onto.
The forty different writers of the Scriptures have revealed a consistent picture of Heaven’s super-reality. God even had Israel build an earthly copy of a heavenly reality. “[Earthly priests] serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in Heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain'” (Hebrews 8:5, italics mine). Randy Alcorn notes, “The versus in Hebrews suggests that God created Earth and the image of Heaven, just as he created mankind in image.”
Alcorn points out that often our thinking is backwards. We think of earth is a real thing, and Heaven as the ethereal, less-than-real shadow. But Scripture tells us, and NDEs attest, that the opposite is true — earthly realities are derived from Heaven’s counterparts. This helps us better imagine Heaven, when we realize that all we love about this earth is merely a shadow of the greater Reality to come — a beautiful place made for us.
Learn more about heaven with John Burke this Friday on LIFE TODAY. This is an excerpt from Imagine Heaven by John Burke. Copyright ©2015 by John Burke. Published by BakerBooks, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.