During my childhood, it was commonplace to lose sleep over an irrational fear of heaven.
Yes, heaven. As a child, I feared heaven more than I feared Hell. Of course, this was an irrational fear, but I had not yet been taught the Bible or discipled in areas of theology. Perhaps you wonder what would cause a child to fear Heaven over Hell?
There was an episode of The Twilight Zone that depicted a bank robber and his descent to Hell. However, he didn’t initially realize that he was in Hell. When he gets there, he realizes gleefully that every venture he undertook succeeded. Every bet in the casino pays off, and his every desire is fulfilled. Eventually, he tells his guide that he wants to go to “the other place,” meaning Hell. However, with a sinister laugh the guide tells the robber that he is in Hell.
That was my childhood conception of heaven. You see, while there were things that I enjoyed doing, and places I enjoyed visiting, my little heart was astute enough to know that all things that brought joy eventually lost their luster. The gleam of a new possession soon wore off, and every trip to Disneyland devolved to a hot, sticky mess. Try as I might to bottle joy, it always escaped, often times sooner than expected. The horror of the same old thing was abated for a while, but I could only evade it for a few hours, even with the best roller coasters.
I thought that heaven was going to be an eternal dinner party where the guests stayed too long. After all, where else would they go? I, too, suppose I prefer eternal boredom over eternal torture.
When I was around 12, in the midst of wrestling with my fear of heaven, I had a well-meaning Sunday school teacher ask other students and me to draw their idea of heaven for an assignment. Being a native Californian and a lover of golf, I drew the 18th hole at Pebble Beach. I remember watching Tiger Woods dominate the field at Pebble Beach, and the picturesque 18th hole situated at the edge of the Pacific married by love for golf with my love for the beach. However, an eternity playing the 18th at Pebble would not satisfy if, like The Twilight Zone suggested, it would grow to be a mundane exercise over millions of years.
As I grew in knowledge of my faith, I learned that the saints pine for heaven not out of desiring earthly joy, but due to a longing of the presence of God. Even the beauty of creation is calling to something beyond. Creation does not declare its own glory, but it testifies to the glory of God. However, even this revelation was no comfort. After all, I am capable of growing tired of people as I spend more time with them. How would this be any different? Would the first 10,000 years of enjoying God grow into an apathetic torpor? May it never be!
22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I can still hear my grandmother singing this verse in her soft falsetto while she did chores around the house. One day, the repetition of, “new every morning…new every morning” finally penetrated my consciousness and confronted my fear of heaven. New every morning? Even when thousands of years have “passed” in the eternal state?
What does God’s incomprehensibility have anything do with my irrational fear of heaven? Recently, I came across this arresting statement by Augustine, “We are speaking of God. Is it any wonder if you do not comprehend? For if you comprehend, it is not God you comprehend.” Like my grandmother’s singing of Lamentations so many years ago, the truth of God’s incomprehensibility burrowed and lodged itself into my thoughts as a remedy for my fear. God is incomprehensible and dwells in unapproachable light. Nobody has seen him, but his light still beckons us.
God’s incomprehensibility is ignored, relegated to sections of various systematic theologies but rarely a cornerstone of our theological contemplation. Incomprehensibility means that we will dwell with Him endlessly and never grow weary of His perfections. The grandest peak or enthralling ocean view will seem like a pauper next to a prince in comparison to the smallest sin-free glimpse of God. What’s more, due to His incomprehensibility, that beatific vision is merely the smallest morsel of endless delight. It is almost too much to consider. All of the books that men have written about the nature of God do not even begin to capture the immensity of His beauty. Indeed, the greatest theologian and the child in the faith will stand on level ground with never-ending pleasure further up and further in.
May it never be that our consideration of dwelling in God’s presence fill us with dread. God is the same, yesterday, today and forever, which means that Christians will dwell in a world of incomprehensible pleasure. Indeed, His mercies will be new every morning.