If you can’t see something, does it still exist? The answer’s pretty obvious once you think about oxygen, gravity, or the wind outside. But what about invisible realities that cannot be scientifically measured? Well, there’s love, dignity, justice, and hope, for starters.
Then could there be a spiritual world that, though unseen, is entirely real as well? This is precisely what the Bible teaches1 about heaven.2
Not Blind Faith
While it’s impossible to prove the existence of heaven in the same way you’d prove the existence of your hometown, that doesn’t automatically mean the place is fictional.3 To be sure, belief in heaven boils down to faith—not blind or unreasonable faith, but faith nonetheless. One biblical author defines faith like this: “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”4
Christians believe in heaven because they believe the Bible, which clearly speaks of heaven. Admittedly, we often crave something more certain, more verifiable than words in a book. Yet the Apostle Peter tells us Scripture is a revelation “more fully confirmed” than even Jesus himself in transfigured glory.5
That’s a stunning claim. Peter is saying the Bible itself is one of the most convincing “proofs” God has ever given us. And indeed, though the Scriptures don’t tell us everything we may want to know about heaven, they do tell us everything we need to know.
What Is Heaven?
Heaven is a familiar idea to many of us, but what exactly does the Bible say heaven is? Most simply, heaven is where God lives.
This doesn’t mean God is absent elsewhere; in fact, Scripture makes it clear that he’s present everywhere.6 But heaven is the place where his presence uniquely dwells.7 It’s the place of our treasure,8 our citizenship,9 our inheritance,10 and our hope.11
Perhaps you’ve noticed I keep using the word “place.” That’s because most Christians believe heaven isn’t a mere concept or state of mind; it’s a real location.12 In the Christian tradition, when followers of Jesus die, though their bodies remain on earth, their souls immediately enter into God’s presence.13
This is a temporary situation or “intermediate state” until the day when Jesus returns and their bodies are physically raised and reunited with their souls forever.14 And when their bodies are raised, these new bodies will be imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual.15 Gone will be any imperfections.
You see, the ultimate hope of Christians is not evacuation from this earth but the restoration of this earth—a redeemed world.16 Scriptures paint the picture of heaven in concrete, material terms: “new heavens and a new earth.”17
In other words, Christians don’t believe we’ll be floating in the clouds with golden harps and angel wings. We’ll be running and playing and working and resting and singing and laughing and reveling in the endless wonders of a good and beautiful God.
So it’s fine to talk about eternity in “heaven” as long as we remember the word is just shorthand for the new heavens and new earth—a world of everlasting, ever-increasing joy in the presence of God.
The Bible tells us it will be wonderful beyond all comprehension.18 Indeed, “‘[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain.”19
The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes states that God has “put eternity into the human heart.”20 As people crafted in God’s image, we are eternal beings with an innate longing and capacity for eternal life.21 We were made to live forever.
Humanity’s desire for unending happiness is insatiable and undeniable. I think we’d all agree that we tend to want few things more than our own happiness. Consider for a moment the pervasive restlessness and dissatisfaction we often feel—and witness even among the world’s most accomplished people. They seemingly have everything, but something is still missing. How do we explain this?
In an essay titled “On Fairy Stories,” J. R. R. Tolkien ponders the human love for fantasy stories.22 Even when we know the tales aren’t true, we’re still drawn to them. Why?
Tolkien points out that fairy tales contain certain elements that uniquely resonate with our souls: heroic self-sacrifice, stepping outside of time, escape from death, communion with non-human beings, good triumphing over evil, and love without parting (the classic “happily ever after” ending). Such stories tap into desires that real life and realistic fiction can’t touch.
Though we know nothing in this world can fulfill our desire for what’s “too good to be true,” nevertheless, such longings won’t leave us alone. Deep down we have a gnawing hope that this world isn’t the way it’s supposed to be—and isn’t the way it always will be. By transporting us to worlds outside of us, fairy tales awaken hardwired longings inside of us. They point to an underlying reality we innately sense deep in our souls.
For followers of Jesus, the beauty is that the gospel isn’t just one more wonderful story pointing to this underlying reality; rather, the gospel is the underlying reality to which all the other stories point. When Jesus returns, what always felt elusive, distant, and too good to be true will become our reality, enveloping our experiences and drenching us with joy.
As the Puritan Thomas Brooks remarked, “Neither Christ nor heaven can be hyperbolized.”23 It’s impossible to overestimate the wonder of life with God.
Heaven’s Open Door
Though neither you nor I can scientifically prove heaven’s existence—or nonexistence, of course—it’s an entirely plausible belief to hold. The reliable testimony of the Scriptures as well as the unquenchable longings of our souls powerfully point to its reality.
Finally, Christian tradition makes it clear that we must remember that the only reason we can go to heaven is because God left heaven to come to us. In the person of Jesus Christ, God lived the life we fail to live, died the death we deserve to die, and was resurrected. He did this so that all who believe in him and repent may be freed of the consequences of their sins and be able to enjoy life with him forever.
“Did you ever stop to think,” theologian A. W. Tozer once asked, “that God is going to be as pleased to have you with him in heaven as you are to be there?”24
God can’t wait. Can you?
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, 2 Corinthians 4:16–18.
- The Bible gives no indication that heaven (or the spiritual world in general) is the kind of reality that can ever be discoverable from a scientific standpoint—unlike waves and gases.
- The term “proof” means “demonstrated beyond doubt” or “necessarily true.” Proof is always limited to rational or empirical demonstration. In the middle ages, the Latin term corresponding to our word “proof” simply meant “demonstration.” So, a demonstration that any claim was plausible or rational was sufficient to be called a proof. By the seventeenth century, however, the term came to mean “proof demonstrated beyond any doubt.” It gathered to it the sense of necessity as opposed to possibility or even probability. To say something is probably or most likely true, in the modern sense, already indicates the claim does not rise to the level of proof. It would, by necessity, be impossible to prove a belief in something unseen, un-measurable, and undetectable—at least by empirical means. The threshold for a rational proof would have to demonstrate that there exists no other possible explanation other than the claim being made. In any case, any appeal to an authority—such as the Bible or even eyewitness testimony—would not qualify as a proof in the modern sense of the word.
- The Holy Bible, Hebrews 11:1.
- The Holy Bible, English Standard Version © 2001, 2 Peter 1:19. In consideration of the context of this verse, some scholars prefer to translate 2 Peter 1:19 as “the prophetic word is made more sure” so as not to diminish the validity or importance of the Transfiguration experience. These scholars view the Transfiguration as a demonstration of the promise given in the Old Testament. Thus the Transfiguration experience corroborated the prophetic promises, supporting the reliability of the biblical text. Strong support exists for both interpretations.
- See, for example, The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, Psalm 139:7–12; Jeremiah 23:23–24; 2 Chronicles 16:9.
- Recommended resources on the topic of heaven include Randy Alcorn, Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2004); Randy Alcorn and Charles H. Spurgeon, We Shall See God: Charles Spurgeon’s Classic Devotional Thoughts on Heaven (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2011); and Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest (Vancouver, BC: Regent, 2004).
- The Holy Bible, Matthew 16:19–21, 19:21.
- Ibid., Philippians 3:20.
- Ibid., 1 Peter 1:4–5.
- Ibid., Colossians 1:5.
- See, for example, The Holy Bible, John 14:2–3; Acts 1:9–11, 7:55–56.
- Paul spoke of his desire to “depart and be with Christ” (Philippians 1:23) and explained that when a believer is “away from the body” he or she is “at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
- Michael Bird writes, “The immediate postmortem experience of heaven . . . is a glorious interlude, not the final destination. That is because heaven is a transitional mode of existence until the resurrection and the new creation. . . . [Heaven] is a place of both longing for the future state (Revelation 6:10–11) and a place of worship (7:13–17). The heavenly state is like being wrapped in a blanket of joy, free from the sadness of this age, but still anticipating through worship the full blessings yet to come.” Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 328.
- The Holy Bible, 1 Corinthians 15:42–44.
- Ibid., Revelation 21:1–4 and 2 Peter 3:13. Romans 8:23 reads, “Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.”
- Ibid., Isaiah 65:17, 66:22; 2 Peter 2:13; Revelation 21:1–4.
- Ibid., 1 Corinthians 2:9.
- Ibid., Revelation 21:4.
- Ibid., Ecclesiastes 3:11.
- Ibid., Genesis 1:27.
- J. R. R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories,” in The Tolkien Reader (New York, NY: Del Ray, 1986). Tim Keller helpfully applies this essay in a lecture titled “Hope That Transforms,” delivered February 20, 2014 at Redeemer Presbyterian Church as part of their “Questioning Christianity” series.
- Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1968; originally published in 1652), 77.
- A. W. Tozer and David Fessenden, The Attributes of God, Volume 1: A Journey into the Father’s Heart (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2003), 57.
- Photo Credit: Nemanja Glumac / Stocksy.com.