Editor's note: Heaven

ALMOST THIRTY YEARS AGO, my grandfather died. He was (as I noted in issue 110) a Methodist pastor and the president of a Christian educational institution. He wrote a monthly column for that school’s magazine, even in retirement, and his last column came out the week of his death. The last words he left for his readers were from I John 3:2: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

Those words of Scripture came back to me often as we worked on this issue of Christian History about heaven. We have been hoping to do an issue on heaven for over three years, ever since we released the History of Hell guide in 2011. Many of you who found the Hell guide useful and thought-provoking have been eager to see us talk about heaven in the Christian tradition. We are glad to finally be able to show you just a sampling of the incredibly diverse art, music, stories, descriptions, musings, and theological reflections Christians have come up with over the years as they tried to express beauty that is ultimately inexpressible. 

Many images

For that is, of course, the problem with heaven. None of us have been there. That has not stopped many thinkers, writers, artists, and composers from trying to picture what heaven might be like and who its inhabitants might be. Building on biblical imagery, heaven has been seen as a garden, a city, a home, a community of saints, and even a starry night. And theological debates surrounding heaven (and hell) have echoed through the centuries. Who goes to heaven? How do you get there? How central is the idea of heaven to the Christian faith? Will everyone eventually end up there, or will some remain in hell? (We covered that particular debate extensively in the History of Hell guide.) What will the experience of heaven be like? Will we be able to recognize our friends and loved ones as we did on earth? Is there any kind of intermediate state before we get there? How does heaven relate to Christ’s Second Coming and the setting up of a “new heaven and a new earth”?

Walk with us through this issue as we explore how faithful believers have wrestled with these questions in theology, history, art, music, and personal experiences—confident in the hope of something indescribable, trusting in the promise of something greater than we can imagine, and struggling with human limitations to express what is beyond words. “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” CH

By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #112 in 2014]

Jennifer Woodruff Tait is the managing editor of Christian History
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Issue 112

Christian History Magazine #112 - Heaven

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