This past year has been tough; a gloomy and persistent reminder that this world is not how it ought to be. Lately, I’ve been reflecting on this observation by the American writer Randy Alcorn, ‘For Christians, this present life is the closest they will come to Hell. For unbelievers, it’s the closest they will come to Heaven’. In the midst of whatever difficulties that we may face, this thought provides that rare commodity: perspective.
Hard as we might try, we cannot avoid the disappointments and difficulties of life. As the Apostle Paul says, ‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning’ (Rom. 8:22). When we don’t live in step with the Creator, we become broken creatures, and our world bears the wounds. However, for those who follow Jesus, we know that there will be an end to this brokenness. Paul continues, ‘but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved… But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently’ (Rom. 8:23-25).
The gospel provides us this promise and comfort: the difficulties of this present life cannot compare to the eternity of bliss that will follow. As Alcorn says, this present life is the closest we’ll come to Hell’. In Heaven, ‘There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away’ (Rev. 21:4). In Heaven we will finally have in full measure the joy, satisfaction, pleasure, and completion that we’ve only ever briefly tasted in our best moments in this life. As Jonathan Edwards says, ‘The happiness of the believer will endure as long as God endures’.
This joy comes because we will finally be with Christ. Heaven is not Heaven without Jesus. Being in the presence of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be truly satisfied. We were created to live in God’s presence. The memory trace has been in us ever since Eden and we’ve been looking for it ever since. As Edwards also says, ‘Why should we labour for anything else, or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end, and true happiness?’
But we should also remember that that this life is the closest unbelievers get to Heaven. The choice that we make to follow or forsake Jesus in this life is an eternal choice. The choice that people make to pursue created things rather than the Creator is a decision that provides mere limited and temporary satisfaction. As Christians who are called to love our neighbours, shouldn’t we commit ourselves to sharing the gospel of Jesus, to warn them of the danger awaiting them, exhorting them saying, ‘Choose life!’?
Yes, it’s been a tough year, however if the gospel is true, then for the Christian these difficulties are temporary. We look forward to what is to come and we resolve to live for our Saviour, in whose presence we will dwell for eternity.