I once had a family visiting for lunch, and their little girl came into the kitchen and asked what we were having for dessert. I said, “Caramel ice cream.” And she said, “Caramel ice cream? That’s my favorite!” I was impressed that she knew what it was. I gave her a serving, she tasted it, and said, “Wow! I’ve never had my favorite before!”
Her enthusiasm suggests the expectation of the joys of heaven. One of our deepest human difficulties is the fact that we’ve never had our favorite before; we can’t imagine the best thing that will ever happen. Heaven was very clear to Jesus; Hebrews 12:2 says that He endured the cross for the joy set before Him. We need to fall in love with the future.
Christ lives in the future, of course, but He also lives in all time and is present with us at this moment. It is He who is rolling the future toward us, or us toward the future (“For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things,” Rom 11:36). And who He is will be manifested more fully in the future. There, too, we will come into our truest identity: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (I John 3:2).
Thus it makes sense to attend to His words, for they are words from the future, not just words about the future. What He says will happen, will happen. For God, the space between a promise and a prophecy is negligible. If we ask, He will give us wisdom (James 1:5). If we believe in Him, we will not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). We shall be changed (I Cor. 15:51). In due season we shall reap if we faint not (Gal. 6:9). He will not leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength (Isa. 40:31). Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4). He will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body (Phil 3:21).
Why is it often hard to derive comfort or even motivation from these wonderful foretellings? It may be that we can’t grasp them. As C.S. Lewis says in “The Weight of Glory,” “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea.”
Throughout the Bible, revelations of God are mysterious, overwhelming, stunning….perhaps in part because when He appears, His existence in the present is such a thin slice of His wholeness that past and future eternity, dammed back only by our limited consciousness, almost burst through simultaneously.
It might also well be that only our glorified state can see Him “face to face,” so it’s hard to anticipate “our favorite” as eagerly as He deserves to be anticipated. Yet nothing less than full communion satisfies, either, so we ache for oneness with Him. As Puritan Thomas Brooks, in Precious Remedies against the Devices of Satan, says, “The heart of man is a three-sided triangle, which the whole round circle of the world cannot fill, as mathematicians say—but all the corners will complain of emptiness, and hunger for something else.”
Just as He prepared a cross long before we knew or sought it, so He has gone ahead to prepare a place for us. The white stone and the leaves on the tree for the healing of nations and the City coming down to earth don’t make much sense to us now, but for the state of ourselves that steps into eternity, they will be just perfect. The One who boasts, “Behold, I make all things new!” has surprises up His sleeve for you; He knows you will enjoy them because He is remaking you for them. And the great Sabbath we have yet to enter is made for us. The woman of God smiles at this future (Prov. 31:25). For now, faith that pleases God says with excitement that we haven’t had our favorite yet.
As Thomas Brooks would say, “For a close, remember this, that your life is short, your duties many, your assistance great, and your reward sure; therefore faint not, hold on and hold up, in ways of welldoing, and heaven shall make amends for all!”