That the end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity – Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence’s statement assumes a correct understanding of the doctrine of Heaven. Heaven is not an unrecognisable state or place. Heaven is very much the best of life on Earth continued, purged of the curse, and purged of sin and sorrow.
We know that Heaven is a place (John 14:1-2), and will one day be a place on Earth (Rev 21:1-3, 10). Heaven will be a place for saints in resurrected bodies (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17). What do the saints do in their resurrected bodies?
They rest (Rev 14:13) from battling sin, and evangelising and resisting Satan. They carry out responsibilities, assigned according to faithfulness in their mortal lives (Lk 19:12-19, Rev 22:3), exercising authority on behalf of Christ. They experience the rewards of reigning with Christ, of honour (1 Cor 4:5), and of shared beauty and glory (John 17:22).
This reward and responsibility takes place amidst the family of God, which is the fullness of family love, and the consolation for what was missed in one’s mortal life (Mk 10:28-30). It occurs in a place where there is no sin and no sinners (Rev 21:7-8, 27, 1 Cor 6:9-11), and consequently without any of the effects of sin: the curse, death, sorrow, pain (Rev 21:4-5, 22:1-3). A place without sin is pristine and exists in perpetual newness (Rev 21:5). To put it positively, Heaven is the beauty of holiness (Rev 21:10-11, 18-21).
Why is Heaven the perfection of beauty, and the consummation of love and desire? Heaven is the manifest presence of God himself. God abides with his people (Rev 21:2-3), and they will see the face of God the Son (Rev 22:4). Above all, Heaven will be union with God.
That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. “O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (Joh 17:21-26)
This means that some of the popular hymns about Heaven have missed their target. Heaven is not an eternity of self-gratification and consumption. Heaven is not perpetual laziness and selfish hedonism. Heaven is not where the underdogs finally ‘get their own back’.
Instead, the supreme reward of Heaven is faith turning into sight. The sweetest joy of Heaven is unhindered, unmediated communion with God. The pleasure of Heaven is the unfiltered beauty of God. This is the cry of the psalmists, and only Heaven would make sense of the pursuit begun here:
One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple. (Psa 27:4)
It would be odd to rejoice in gold or silver, or heavenly crowns, or golden streets, or rooms in the New Jerusalem, as if these were ends in themselves. In that case, God would be only the instrumental means of getting to Heaven, which would then be a sweeter and more ultimate delight than God himself.
Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. (Psa 73:25)
The Bride eyes not her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory but on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth but on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory of Immanuel’s land. – Anne R. Cousin
Rather, if God is indeed to be our ultimate dependence, and delight, and if seeing and knowing his beauty in communion is the means to this kind of love, then Heaven could only be the place and circumstances in which this pursuit of God goes on and grows without suffering, sin, or selfishness. Heaven is the place where ultimate love for God is free to grow from one degree of glory to the next. Our need-love and gift-love will never again be idolatrous, but only deepening on the only One who is worthy of ultimate love. We will pursue the one desire forever.
In Heaven, our new natures will be ever before us as redeemed sinners. We will never cease to remember that we are trophies of grace, loved and secured by the Father, accepted and completed by the Son, indwelt by the Spirit. In Heaven, our posture will be modified, for we will no longer have to embrace the cross-like posture of repentance, confessing our sins, consecrating the unsurrendered parts of our lives. Instead, a joyful humility and permanent revulsion at sin will combine with the resurrection-like posture of diligent seeking and loving submission. Our communion with God will no doubt continue to be a progressive cycle, though there will be no need for cleansing. We will keep deepening our conformity to Christ, and growing in our experience of his communications of himself to us. No doubt, there will be forms of private, public and perpetual worship throughout all eternity. We will find though, that these disciplines will never be onerous or difficult, for work will be without frustration or thorns.
What if the Heavenly rewards promised in so many places refer to enlarged or deepened capacities for worship and communion? That is, what if the reward for loving God in this life is a heightened and deepened ability to do so in the next? What if the reward for our stewardship of loving God in this brief sojourn partly determines the measure of our delight in God in the next?
I am confident that every redeemed sinner will be in God’s presence with fullness of joy. I am less confident that every redeemed sinner will have the same capacities for joy. I sense that those who allow God to break them and stretch their love for him during this pilgrimage may be more voluminous vessels than those of their brethren that resisted God’s sanctifying work. All will be joyful on that day; I suspect the quality and profundity of the joy of some will exceed that of others. Jonathan Edwards said, “For all shall be perfectly happy, every one shall be perfectly satisfied. Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others.”
What then? “That the end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity.” We should desire that Heaven would be the logical continuance and perfection of our love for God, not the beginning of it. We should consider that postponing the pursuit of God is an incorrect understanding of the Christian life and of Heaven itself. We should remember that according to our faith, it will be measured unto us, and that the measure in which we seek is the measure in which we will find, both now and in eternity.
That’s the picture on the puzzle box: a universe created by God and for God. A universe of God’s refracted, reflected, and often distorted, beauty, where we were made to behold beauty and beautify. The good news is that beholding beauty and beautifying are the deepest, sweetest joys of all. Our deepest joy, beholding God’s beauty and magnifying it, is God’s deepest and most benevolent desire. If we believe the Gospel, embrace the new nature that the Gospel imparts, enact the new posture that the Gospel teaches, embrace structures that nurture the possibility of exposure to God’s beauty in communion, then Psalm 37:4 will be true of us now and forever:
Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.