What greater reward?

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As I’m married to a wonderful Mauritian woman, I attend my fair share of Mauritian get-togethers. If you know anything about Mauritians, you’ll know to expect two things: a lot of food and a lot of singing. Curry, rougaille, lentils, potato dauphinoise, stew, fresh bread, fried noodles—such is the exciting mix of a cuisine that is part French, part African, part Asian, part who-knows-what-else. All I know is that it’s all delicious. 

The second obligatory part of the Mauritian gathering is singing. Whether they are the traditional songs of yesteryear, favourites from the ‘70s or beloved hymns, somehow there is always a guitar with a small choir accompanying it. Recently, one of the old hymns got me thinking. It’s a familiar refrain with a familiar message: “When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory!” It captures the hope of many Christians—of the “prize before us”—that is to say, the reward of heaven. Whether it be a jewel-laden crown, a mansion “just over the hilltop” or streets of solid gold, these are what we hope for. Oh yeah, and Jesus. 

Funnily enough, most of the imagery we associate with heaven comes from our own imaginations. When we do get glimpses of the heavenly realm, as in Ezekiel or Job, they’re often strange and incomprehensible. When Jesus speaks of the “kingdom of heaven”, He bewilders and angers the most devout religious experts of His day. So, what is heaven—and what should we hope for? 

Is heaven just “Florida in the sky”? You know, a retirement home by a golf course with a bar next door that serves never-ending mocktails. Probably not. Probably no alligators, either. It makes sense why this belief arose, though. The experience of millions of Christians throughout history has been that of suffering. It’s comforting to believe eternal reward awaits those who endure hardship. It’s also simply not the end of the story—at least if you read the whole Bible. According to Revelation, while we will spend an entire millennium there, ultimately God will make His home among us (Revelation 21:1–6). All things will be made new and our ultimate home is, well, our current home. Albeit a renewed version of it. 

Perhaps this is why I find many of the songs on this topic disquieting. Too often our solution for present troubles is to long to be raptured into the clouds, away from this mess. How awkward then to face the reality that in the end, we’ll all end up where we started: here, on terra firma. This realisation made many songs and sayings take on a new reality. Take, for instance, CS Lewis’s famous quotation from Mere Christianity: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” 

Most would take this to mean that we were made for the heavenly realm, not our current one. But what if we interpreted this line differently? What if we were to instead say, “I was made for this world, but this world made new”? If I were to sign up as a team member for the “new creation project” that God is currently working on, how might it change the way I live? Instead of hoping to escape this mortal coil, what if I were to see it as something I can help, through the power of Jesus, to renew and redeem, that God’s will may be done here—as in heaven? 

And what if, instead of longing for jewels, gold or a penthouse mansion, our hope is that of Revelation 21:3: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” What greater reward is there, than to be with God Himself?

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