Recently my sister-in-law Cheryl pointed Lori and me to a message on heaven that had ministered to her. [Cheryl and her husband Jim Eberline served together in effective ministry for four decades, mostly in Latin America, before God suddenly took Jim home while on the mission field.]
Why is it we most often think of heaven in association with death?
Last summer I preached the funeral for Tom Rohm, a dedicated volunteer at Life in Messiah. He became a personal friend over the years as he drove me to and from Chicago’s airports. He shared his life with me, including the horrors he experienced in the Vietnam War and his battle with alcohol earlier in life.
Tom’s physical ailments left him with continuous pain, which he seldom mentioned. His family was a joy to him, and he loved his volunteer work at the county jail and at LIFE. Then cancer struck, and he fought to live. When the latest therapies could preserve him no longer, Tom told his wife Pat to ask me to speak at his funeral. “Wes will know what to say.”
And in truth, I did know what Tom wished me to say – because I’d already shared it with him. I opened the Book of Job and talked about God’s assessment of Job. “. . . There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil.”
Who wouldn’t want that for an epitaph? Especially when written by the Almighty!
And yet Job suffered – mightily. And in his affliction, Job said, “Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him.”
And again, ““Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another.”
Tom had a similar assurance of being in God’s presence when he died. Not because of his volunteer work or other righteous deeds, but because he trusted in Messiah Jesus as his personal Savior.
Picturing Tom in heaven, free from the pains of 73 years of life on earth, brings joy. The thought of our dearly departed enjoying the grandeurs of heaven gives great comfort.
But Sam Storm’s message on heaven to which Lori and I listened gave a different perspective, based largely on Jonathan Edward’s writings.
True, the thought of heaven provides solace for the grieving.
Further, contemplating the inexpressible wonders of what God has prepared for those who love Him is a great motivator for the believer enduring hardship.
Thinking of heaven as home reminds us not only of the temporary nature of this life but gives perspective on priorities. My dad’s office bore the motto, “Only that which is eternal is important.”
What struck me most about Edward’s deep contemplation on heaven was that his thoughts centered on the majesty of God. For endless eons we will be dazzled by the unending unfolding of the glory of the Father of Eternity. Rather than boring sameness (floating on clouds strumming harps, e.g.), our hearts will be unceasingly captivated by the cascading splendors of the Most High.
Jonathan Edward’s prose is rather dense for the modern reader. But how I wish I had a greater portion of what he conceived of heaven as he plumbed the Scriptures. I can only imagine, when in the presence of the Lord on that Day, I will only wish I had understood on earth more of how overwhelmingly awesome He truly is.
“The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.”
 As one example of Edwards on heaven, excerpted from https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/joys-eternal-increase-edwards-on-the-beauty-of-heaven: “To pretend to describe the excellence, the greatness or duration of the happiness of heaven by the most artful composition of words would be to darken and cloud it, to talk of raptures and ecstasies, joy and singing, is but to set forth very low shadows of the reality, and all we can by our best rhetoric is really and truly, vastly below what is but the bare and naked truth, and if St. Paul who had seen them, thought it but in vain to endeavor to utter it, much less shall we pretend to do it, and the Scriptures have gone as high in the descriptions of it as we are able to keep pace with it in our imaginations and conception” (JG, 3:544).
 Hymn lyric from “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” by Helen Howarth Lemmel (1863-1961).