Do your friends know the goodness of the Christian hope? Do you?
Recently I was talking to one of my most biblically informed non-Christian friends about life, the world, human nature and God, when she told me “I don’t want eternal life”.
I was taken aback. If anything, I was expecting to hear “Heaven isn’t real” or “I can’t conceive of eternal life”. Not “I don’t want it”.
It turned out she was imagining that heaven would merely be a prolonged version of this life. She saw her elderly relatives who had lived well but were now tired of their earthly existence and ready for it to end. If eternal life was more of the same—if it was tiring, wearisome and ultimately tedious—she would rather just cease to exist than live eternally.
How many people are like my friend? Not necessarily philosophically opposed to the idea of heaven, but certainly not eager for it—because they have never heard about the sheer goodness of our Christian hope. In ten years of friendship, and in a number of gospel conversations (this friend doesn’t shy away from talking about spiritual things), I had somehow missed sharing this all-important aspect of the Christian faith: eternal life will be amazing.
The Bible provides multiple images of eternal life in order to help us make sense of a reality that is good beyond our imagining—from a beautiful and holy city (Rev 21) to a place of peace among all creation (Isa 11:6, 2:4). But in that conversation with my friend, I settled on describing the great banquet that will take place in heaven. That image came to mind quickly because just a few days before that conversation I’d been at a wedding that had given me a taste of that great banquet and whetted my appetite for eternal life in God’s new creation.
So I told her all about this earthly meal that had given me a taste of what Isaiah describes in the new creation, where “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” (Isa 25:6). At this wedding we enjoyed an abundant feast with the most delicious food and wine in a truly beautiful setting. On top of that, it was a delight to be reunited with old friends and to be seated next to those with whom, although we had never met, there was an immediate connection and understanding because they were fellow sisters in Christ. We could easily share stories of God’s work in our lives and circumstances. Joyful and gospel-centred conversation flowed so naturally.
Of course, the story-telling and enjoyment and pleasure experienced at that wedding will be multiplied more than we can imagine at the perfect wedding banquet to come, where we celebrate in the very presence of our Lord in all his shining brilliance. And this feast in heaven won’t have to end—we will never be too tired or too full to keep on celebrating.
There is so much about eternal life that our creaturely, earthly minds can’t comprehend, and of course we don’t know for sure if the beautiful banquet image that the Bible gives us should be understood literally or metaphorically. But I think there’s good reason to believe that this is more than only a metaphor, because the other crucial facet of the Christian hope is that it is a physical reality. In heaven we will have new, perfect, physical bodies that can be tangibly nourished by the perfect feast that God has in store.
For my non-Christian friend, hearing this seemed like a missing puzzle piece in making sense of eternal life. Never before had she conceived of eternal life as a tangible, physical reality and it seemed to help her make sense of heaven as something that is real and good and desirable.
I had spoken about these things with friends in the Lord at that wonderful wedding, too. We didn’t want that night to end, but we knew that this night only pointed us to a better time to come when we’d enjoy all of these blessings perfectly in the very presence of God.
What I didn’t know then was that the next time I will see one of these friends will be at that ultimate banquet. Just a couple of months after this taster of heaven, this delightful friend and sister in Christ died suddenly and unexpectedly in her husband’s arms. And I can see now that it’s in the darkness of the grief and trauma felt by her family and many friends that this promise of eternal life—and the taster that we shared together—shines most brightly.
Isaiah knew this. After describing the banquet that is to come, and knowing how much our current world is ruined by sin, he adds that in the new world, God “will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces” (Isa 25:8). What sweetness there is in the cold face of death that we will see our friend again at that ultimate banquet Isaiah promises. Together we’ll enjoy never-ending celebration in perfect communion with our great God, who made our eternal satisfaction and enjoyment possible by the death and resurrection of his Son.
When facing the harsh reality of death, there is nothing comforting about believing we will simply cease to exist—far less the certainty of facing eternal judgement. But the truly wonderful news is that eternal life—the eternal banquet—is open to all. So while we wait for this new world and our reunion with those who have gone before us, let’s make sure the invitation is issued far and wide. Let’s not pass over just how good eternal life will be. As my friend who is now in heaven said the Christmas before she died, this gospel message is the sweetest news you will ever hear. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9).
Do your friends know the goodness of Christian hope? Do you?