Welcome back to week 2 of Summer Fest! In this series we’re trying to answer some big questions asked by the kids of Grace.
Last week we answered some questions about God. This week, we’re talking about heaven.
Specifically, the big questions that Grace kids have asked are, “Is heaven for sure real?” 7-year-old Avery asked, “What do you think it's like in heaven?” And a number of kids asked, “Will my pet go to heaven?”
So let’s go there and talk about it.
Before I tell you what I think, though. I’m curious to hear from the kids who are in the room. What do you think of when you think of the word heaven?
Well, let’s dive in and talk about what the Bible has to say about heaven.
HEAVEN IS REAL
First of all: Yes. Heaven is real - because according to the authors of the Bible, heaven is the place where God lives. It's his realm. His domain. There's the earth - where humanity lives - and the heavens - where God lives.
So yes, heaven is real because God is real. But I think the real question has more to do with what happens to us after we die. Are we going to go to heaven?
Well, here's where things get a bit interesting.
Because there is this very common idea in our minds that after we die we will become like angels floating around with harps up in the clouds. That our souls will drift away to live forever in some disembodied existence.
But here’s the thing. That idea is not actually anywhere in the Bible.
What the Bible actually talks about is God bringing heaven to earth. His realm and our realm will become one. That’s where things are headed. And that is where we are going to go after we die: A New Creation where heaven and earth are one.
We will be resurrected, like Jesus, to live there forever. And the Bible talks a lot about what that New Creation will be like:
Look! I am creating new heavens and a new earth… And the sound of weeping and crying will be heard in it no more.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together;
the leopard will lie down with the baby goat.
The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion,
and a little child will lead them all.
Can you imagine that? Living in a New Creation where there is no more violence or pain. Where no-one hurts each other. Where heaven and earth are together and God is right here among us. That’s where things are headed.
Oh and don’t worry. We’re not just going to sit around playing harps. We’re going to have plenty to do.
At the very beginning of the Bible we see a little glimpse of what this will be like in the Garden of Eden. Which was also a meeting point between heaven and earth. Where God also walked around.
And here’s what the story says:
Genesis 2:7, 15
Then the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person… The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.
God makes creation and then he gives humanity a job: to join him in his work of being creative - to tend and watch over the garden he made.
And that’s what we’ll do in the New Creation. We’ll be co-creators with God.
We’re going to grow things and care for things and be creative. We’ll make art and music and beautiful things.
We’ll explore. We’ll eat and laugh and play and the creatures of the earth will join in. It's going to be amazing!
Is all of this going to happen for sure? Well, that’s where faith comes in. We just won’t know until we get there.
But I believe that thanks to Jesus, New Creation is exactly where our story is headed.
Alright, let’s get into it. Will my pet go to heaven?
When I was growing up I knew the answer - no. Because we were going to be whisked off to be disembodied souls in heaven after death, our animals couldn't come with us.
But wait. We just talked about the fact that that's not where things are headed!
We’re not flying off to heaven when we die. God is bringing heaven to earth.
God is remaking this creation - a New Creation - and we're going to live right here with him… So the answer to this question may be a bit more complicated than I once believed.
Now, let me be clear: the Bible does not give a direct answer to this question. So we are going to veer a little bit into the territory of Barry's opinion.
And as I always say, I could be wrong.
Plus, on this question, I’m pretty biased, because Olivia and I have a lot of pets. At the moment: one dog, two house rabbits, 7 potbelly pigs, and 12 chickens.
Here’s a recent pic of our piglets Po and Puddles mud bathing.
So, again. I’m biased and I could be wrong. But with that said, let me tell you how I think about this.
There are two big thoughts from Scripture we need to weave together.
First of all, we talked before about Humanity's first job in Eden - tending and watching over God’s garden - and how that job will be restored in New Creation.
In the Bible, a big part of being “caretakers of Creation” involved watching over and caring for the animals. For example, Adam had the job of giving names to all the creatures.
That passage about the wolf lying down with the lamb talks about "a little child" leading them all. There’s an important link between humans and animals in the Bible. This is part of our job. For example,
What are mere mortals that you should think about them,
human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
and crowned them with glory and honor.
You gave them charge of everything you made,
putting all things under their authority—
the flocks and the herds
and all the wild animals,
the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea,
and everything that swims the ocean currents.
God gave us the job of caring for his creatures.
And the love and compassion we show our pets is a part of that.
We're doing what we're meant to do when we care for God’s creatures. Both wild and domestic.
So that's idea 1.
Idea 2 is this: God is building his New Creation in us and through us even now.
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
New Creation isn't just future. In Jesus it's already beginning in us.
We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
See, we’re not just along for the ride. God is making his New Creation through us. Through our faithful actions of doing the things he cares about in the world. When Jesus moves through our lives, New Creation springs up.
It may not seem like our tiny little lives could possibly amount to much in the grand scheme of New Creation, but that’s not how God sees it.
1 Corinthians 15:58
My dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
Somehow, in a way that I can't fully explain, God is using the work we are doing even now - our faithful service to him - to rebuild creation. To return us to Eden. Nothing we do for Jesus is useless. Nothing is wasted.
God is building his New Creation through us.
So let's bring those two ideas together.
If we are called to be caretakers of God's creatures, and if the work we do for God today is a part of the New Creation tomorrow… maybe, just maybe, our gentle, loving, compassionate care for the pets we adore, will be reflected in what’s to come.
Again, I could be wrong.
But I believe that because of Jesus, God is building his New Creation through us even now.
And if a part of our obedience to the work God has called us to do involves loving and caring for a pet, I don’t see why that same pet can’t be there as a part of the world to come.
I could be wrong, but I hope I’m not