Heaven in Our Troubles
Generic comfort is great for generic troubles. But who experiences generic trouble? We experience trouble in the specifics—the anxiety of a specific work environment, the pain of a specific diagnosis, the discouragement that comes from specific comments made by specific people.
When we’re in trouble, we look for specific solutions to our specific troubles. We find ourselves typing detailed descriptions into a search engine, asking friends if they know anyone who has faced these particular difficulties, or searching Scripture for precise words that come closest to capturing what troubles us.
Oftentimes, heaven is the last concept we think of when looking for comfort. Heaven feels so generic. We associate it with clouds, gold, and angel wings, not the gritty reality of workplace dynamics, medical diagnoses, or interpersonal strife. Heaven doesn’t seem pertinent to this world’s troubles.
But that’s not how heaven comes at us in Scripture. Scripture doesn’t describe heaven generically, but specifically, with details meant to grip our hearts in times of trouble. The Holy Spirit applies his comfort by assuring us that the guaranteed values of heaven are superior to the passing values we feel the loss of in this life. In this way, times of trouble become times of formation, from citizens of a passing world to citizens of a lasting one.
Scripture describes the specific values that make heaven, well, heaven.
When men wrote of heaven in Scripture, they clearly thought of it as a real place, with dimensionality and vividness that superseded this world (2 Cor. 12:3–4; Rev. 4:1–11). These descriptions weren’t not literary hyperbole. They were anchored in specific values being conveyed. Examples abound.
Heaven fulfills the value of togetherness. Paul describes heaven as the command center for Jesus’ return, where he will call out to all those who have died in faith, and they will be raised together (1 Thess. 4:13–18). No more separation due to death, only the awestruck joy of permanent reunion.
Heaven completes the value of incorruptibility. Paul also describes the wonder of a resurrected body—what is decaying and breaking down presently will be incorruptible and at full potential in heaven (1 Cor. 15:35–56). No more morning pain and nausea, only strength and energy to reach the full potential of a day.
Heaven fulfills the value of safety. Paul also describes the heavenly kingdom as the place where the Lord will rescue him from every evil deed and place him safely in his presence (2 Tim. 4:18). No more flashes of panic in response to some new threat, only a mind at rest.
Most of all, heaven completes the undisrupted delight of being with God. In the most extended description of heaven that closes the last two chapters of revealed Scripture, John describes a place where God moves in close to offer personal comfort to every single child of his, wiping away their tears, their crying, their mourning, and their pain. He is with them, and everything is okay. And not just okay, but set right (Rev. 21:1–4).
These are just highlights of the specific values represented in the Bible’s descriptions of heaven. These specifics counter our specific sorrows in this life and carry us through in hope for what is guaranteed to us in Christ.
God allows his children to suffer troubles in this life so they feel the difference between the greater and the lesser longings of their hearts.
Suffering makes us feel the failure of the lesser longings that tend to occupy our hearts. When troubles come, we are awoken from the illusion of their permanence. We lose jobs, we get bad diagnoses, our reputations don’t recover in some people’s estimation. These shattered illusions send us looking for what will truly last. Trouble makes us seek those heavenly values.
But let me point out something important about the relationship between those lesser earthly longings and the greater heavenly ones. They’re both similar and dissimilar; they both compare and contrast.
Let me demonstrate from Scripture. The writer of Hebrews mentions heaven in the context of the Lord’s discipline. We endure suffering in this life in part because it makes us “share his holiness” (Heb 12:10). This holiness is something he works in us, not something we bring to him. So we approach not the angry blaze of Mount Sinai, but rather the happy welcome of Mount Zion. And there, in that heavenly city of the living God, we find a whole cast of characters we didn’t even know we longed to be with: innumerable angels decked out for celebration, a vast assembly of those born into Christ, the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of a New Covenant sitting next to God the Judge of all (12:22–24).
This passage highlights both the dissimilarity and the similarity between temporal longings and heavenly ones. The dissimilarity feels more pronounced: God disciplines us through the “painful rather than pleasant” (12:11) experience of taking away various earthly benefits at various times. In this way, he teaches us to value earthly things less and to value sharing his holiness more.
But why would we value sharing God’s holiness over earthly benefits like job security or a clear diagnosis or a restored reputation? Because sharing God’s holiness gains us entry into a heavenly assembly beyond our imagination.
And this is where the similarity shines, if we have eyes to see it. We are guaranteed entry into an elite, everlasting assembly—a security profoundly deeper than any job could provide. We are put right in every way—bodily and spiritually—a health profoundly deeper than a clear result on a test measuring only one certain disease. We are given a lasting name among the righteous, which is profoundly deeper than a restored reputation in some loosely-defined social circle.
All of this is provided for us in the sacrifice and mediation of Jesus—specific promises for specific troubles that ail us. So if you want your heart to be strengthened with the hope of heaven, go specific. Don’t stay generic. Look to the particular promises associated with your destiny in Christ Jesus. That’s how Scripture grips our hearts and pulls our desires heavenward.