If you close your eyes and picture heaven, what do see? Do you see rivers and trees, or shopping malls and parking lots? Is the air clean and rivers clear, or are they filled with smog and trash? Do you hear leaves rustling in the breeze, or horns honking in traffic jams?
Jesus taught his disciples to pray for God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” The implication is that we should make earth more like heaven. But what does heaven look like? Is it lush and green, or is it blacktopped and eroded?
For the Christian, the question is not moot or academic. We are either in God’s will or we are not. We are either making earth look more heavenly or we are making it more hellish.
At the beginning of this century, if you had asked me what heaven looked like I would have said, “That’s an interesting question” and then backed away from you. I didn’t believe in heaven. I didn’t believe in God.
All that changed when I found a Bible and read it for the first time. It was as if the Lord literally reached into my brain and connected it with my heart and soul. From that point onward, the Bible has been my source of truth. Over the next two years, my entire family came to know and love Jesus. We had no idea where God was leading us. In the coming years, I would quit my job as a doctor, my Jewish wife would become a Christian, my daughter would become a pastor’s wife, and my son would become a missionary doctor serving in Africa.
But now I take the question about what heaven looks like seriously. Does heaven have trees? Are birds allowed near God? Over the past decade and a half, I’ve come across Christians who think that everything on earth eventually will be burned up, so nothing here really matters. They are right—partly. Paul tells us that our old corruptible bodies will be changed into new bodies (1 Corinthians 15:51-55). I believe this. In the same way, we are told that the earth will be renewed (2 Peter 3:13).
Does this mean that nothing in the here-and-now matters? Does this mean that you don’t have to brush your teeth before you go to bed, or that we can bulldoze every forest without repercussions? Not if we want to keep our teeth or have clean water to drink.
God asks us to be faithful in little things. Later, we will be given bigger things. Modern scientists are forever pointing out how small and insignificant the earth is compared to the universe. They say that my life is a small and accidental, too. But Christianity affirms that these little things matter to God. We have the kind of God that groans when a single sparrow falls. The earth and everything on it is the Lord’s! (Psalm 24)
Our bodies are a temple of the Lord, a living, breathing church. Although non-believers are not bound by the same constraints, a Christian’s treatment of their body reflects the respect we have for its ultimate owner—God.
When I became a Christian, I had to grapple with the fact that my body, time, talent, and treasures were notmine to do with as I pleased. They belong to God. He asks me to steward these gifts in order to further the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
At the time I first met Christ, I wasn’t taking very good care of my body. Rather than take responsibility, I used the conveniently self-serving “let it all burn” theology. My Amen to this theology was, “Hello chip and dip!”
Then, while studying a quite different subject, the Lord led me to read a book written by John Wesley in 1747. When Henry the Eighth expelled the Church of Rome from Britain, he closed all the church hospitals. The Church of England came to believe that it had no responsibility to care for sick people. It was concerned with people’s souls—not their physical health. Wesley tackled this situation with his best seller, Primitive Physick. It is a treatise of practical home health care.
Although I can’t recommend Wesley’s medical treatments (his cure for baldness doesn’t work!), Wesley’s theology is spot on. Gluttony and sloth were the underpinnings of my “let it all burn and give me my new body” theology. That was ten years and forty pounds ago. It turns out that I can serve God more effectively when I maintain a healthy body weight and exercise regularly than I could as an out of shape, out of breath man. Like a 12-year-old who leaves their new bike outside and expects their parent to buy them a new one when the old one rusts or is stolen, I’d been treating my body like a spoiled child would—thinking of God as an overly indulgent parent.
Likewise, the underpinnings of a “Just give us a new earth, and let’s blast this one to Hades” theology are equally self-serving, slothful, and gluttonous. When someone says that we can do anything that strikes our fancy and God will mitigate the effects, I want to ask for an explanation of the rest of their theology. New Age theology, not Christianity, believes that there is no ultimate right or wrong, that man is the master and measure of all things, and that we are the center of the universe. Christianity teaches that man reaps what he sows. That is not to say that we should in any way worship the creation—God forbid! The creation, however, is a living and indisputable argument for the existence of God (Romans 1:20). As such, it cannot be dismissed as trivial.
God gave mankind the awesome responsibility of caring for the planet and the power of dominion to do the job. How will we account for the missing elms on Elm Street, the chestnuts on Chestnut Lane, the caribou in Caribou, Maine, or the buffalo in Buffalo, New York? What did we do with the blue pike—once the most abundant fish in the Great Lakes—and the passenger pigeon—the most numerous bird species in North America?
God put Adam and Eve in the garden. We were naked and unashamed. Our instructions were “to dress it and keep it” (Gen 2:15 KJV). All of creation was ours; we only had to refrain from eating from one tree.
You know the story. We have been naked, ashamed, and ripping leaves off trees ever since. We have been at enmity with God and nature.
Christ died on a tree so that we might have access to the Tree of Life—not the mall, not the stadium, not entertainment. Our hope isn’t in our ability to flatten every forest on earth. Our hope is in an empty tomb and the man Mary mistook for a gardener. That was not a mistake. Christ is the new Adam. He does not strip the forest for vanity—or to hide from God—like the old Adam (Romans 8:22-25).
When I close my eyes and picture heaven, I see birds near God’s holy throne (Psalm 84:3), taste water as clear as crystal, and hear all creation praising the Lord (Revelation 4:6-7). The trees shout for joy. God has come to judge the earth,His forest always knew how the verdict would go! (1Chronicles 16:33)
In heaven, God’s throne faces a tree that stretches from one edge of the river of life to the other. The water that feeds The Tree of Life is unpolluted (Revelation 22:1-5). A lamb is there! Its blood was once spread on wooden doorposts to seal out death (Exodus 12:7). Now its blood is spread on a wooden cross that opens the door to our true home (1 Corinthians 5:7). I see a desert blooming! I see acacia, myrtle, and olive trees. I see cypress and pines (Isaiah 41:18-20). I see a city of God—perfect harmony. I hear quiet (Revelation 8:1).
When you close your eyes and think of heaven, what do you see? On earth as it is in heaven.
Matthew Sleeth, MD, is the author of Serving God, Saving the Planet and 24/6. A former chief of staff and emergency room director, Dr. Sleeth left his practice to teach, preach, and write about biblical stewardship. A highly sought after speaker, Dr. Sleeth has spoken at more than 1,000 churches, campuses, and events, including serving as the monthly guest preacher at The Washington National Cathedral. Recognized by Newsweek as one of the nation’s most influential evangelical leaders, Dr. Sleeth is the executive director of Blessed Earth and founder of the Seminary Stewardship Alliance.