St Augustine's Grove Park
September 13th, 1992
And the life of the world to come III
For the sake of those who may have missed one or both of the last two Sundays let me explain that we are looking at the reward of everlasting life which God has promised to those who put their trust in him.
We discovered, perhaps to some people's surprise, that we can find out quite a bit about it. We've seen how necessary it is to have in our minds some plan, some picture, some goal towards which we are working or else we shall never end up with anything worthwhile. Last week I hope we laid to rest the ghost of those people who say "I'm not really interested in the life of the World to Come" by asking them whose life they are thinking about.
Are they really going to stand by the deathbed of their wife, mother, brother or sister and say "well I don't know what's going to happen to you now and frankly I don't care". And we agreed that such an attitude was despicable.
And in reply to this very common negative attitude "I don't know and I don't care about death, I quoted the well-known definition of the Shorter Catechism: "the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever". Last week we thought about glory this week it's the turn of enjoyment.
Every word in English which ends up with the letters M-E-N-T – light, enjoyment, fulfilment, achievement or attainment for instance – implies something which has happened as a result of taking trouble to see that it does happen. Something that has been worked for.
You don't win the High Jump by accident. You don't get a A*-grades in exams by sheer luck. You don't get the pleasure of having climbed a mountain by sitting back in an armchair and wishing your had. This is an important point to stress because many people imagine that eternal life consists in sitting back and letting God do the rest. But there's no real enjoyment or satisfaction in that.
Nor is it particularly helpful to think of everlasting life as God's payment "for services rendered". God has called us to be his sons and heirs, not servants and slaves. The kingdom he has invited us to build with him is a far greater reward than any wages he could possibly pay us.
For once a job has been done and the labourer has been paid that's the end of his involvement in it. He need never be taken on again. But our involvement with God as rulers together with Christ of his eternal kingdom as Priests and Kings is an eternal, everlasting involvement. We are going to enjoy him from ever as a result of our involvement with him.
"Enjoyment" then means "entering into joy as a result of something we have deliberately done."
To understand this trying first of all thinking of a few things which give you real pleasure on earth. Start with the very simplest things like tastes or sounds or smells or feelings or sights.
A glass of your favourite wine; a slice of buttered toast; the sound of a waterfall or the voice of a friend on the phone who has rung you unexpectedly; or the smell of a pine forest or roasting coffee; the feel of stroking a responsive cat or getting into one hot bath; a mountain range or a picture by Rembrandt.
The list will of course be different for each one of us, and since there is no more true saying than that "one man's meat is another man's poison" we must proceed with some caution here.
For what I am suggesting is the each and every experience of enjoyment that we have as individuals is for us, as individuals, a foretaste of what God's kingdom in heaven will be like.
Of course it is a noble and worthy thing to want to share our joys with each other, and it is a joy in itself if you succeed in bringing somebody else to appreciate something they never experienced or understood before. I myself owe an incalculable debt to those who helped me appreciate good art and music.
But what we must not do at this stage is to insist that others share our pleasures or tastes in the precise way and extent that we do. We're all made differently and God himself in no way insists that we should enjoy it all his gifts equally.
The Kingdom of God is an infinite Kingdom and he himself is bounteous of his goodness. He made all our senses and our tastes and will divide the pleasures he gives to those tastes as he divided the manna in the wilderness. "He that gathered little had no lack; and he that gathered much had no waste".
So if someone is allergic to cats then it's not much use inviting him to imagine that heaven will be like stroking one; if a person is suffering from permanent indigestion the last thing he wants to think of heaven being is a slap-up banquet. That's why the descriptions of heaven have so many facets. Pearl's and treasures and music and banquets and buildings are used interchangeably in the Bible. The biggest mistake you when I can make is to suppose that because one or other of them doesn't appeal to us personally then it means that "Heaven is not for us". God is infinitely resourceful, and even if none of the conventional images strikes a chord with us, he's perfectly capable of coming up with others which do.
That is why I suggested we begin with something however humble or mundane that we do enjoy a personally. For I would put it to you that providing that Something is wholesome and good then we can be sure that that "something", or an even more satisfying version of it exists and is readily available in Eternity.
If that idea surprises you, as it does a lot of people when they first come across it, then look at it in this way. If something is good and the capacity to enjoy it exists in human beings, then for God to destroy it or put it permanently beyond our reach would be an act of destructive vandalism on the part of God. It would be like burning every picture that had ever been painted, every book that had ever been written and pulling down every beautiful building that had ever been built.
That is not the act of a generous Creator who has himself "made all things well". And the only possible grounds for his doing so would be if those pleasures had come to be a substitute for him, a barrier to knowing him in the mind of some particular person.
Now I've no doubt that such a thing can happen. People on earth sometimes come to worship things other than God - money, or power or Pleasure. But God's answer to that is not to deprive the rest of us of the goods that he has so generously provided us with. Instead he has warned us that any pleasure indulged intemperately, or in the wrong way will soon cease to do good and anyway will cease to give us, (though not other people's who are enjoying their pleasures sensibly) any satisfaction at all.
Once we've grasped this idea - that good is indelible and indestructible and that whatever we enjoy on earth we shall be able to enjoy in heaven we can go on to the next stage. "Senses" leads on to "imaginations".
For this stage we have to use our imaginations as well as our experience. And as with tastes, the ability to imagine varies a great deal in different people.
What I want to recall are those occasions when you said to yourself "How I wish I could do such and such as well as that". It may be your been looking at a cake iced by someone else; or been listening to someone playing the piano or singing; or watching a show-jumper on television clearing fence after fence on his rounds.
And the very fact that you have said "How I wish I could...." implies that you already have both the will and the imagination and the potential to do that" and what you are lacking is either the opportunity or the ability to learn.
Well I promise you that both opportunity and ability will be readily available for you in the life in the world to come – if you really want them. Just as we said that good tastes and good feelings are all things which God will never destroy but will bring to perfection in heaven, so it is with us as his creatures.
God will take infinite trouble with each one of us to develop into perfection the good which he has planted in us.
And remember, God sees all the good in us as well as all the bad. We are so used to thinking, quite correctly, that we can only have the slightest idea of what our faults are that God sees so well, that we forget that there's another side to the coin. We each have so much "unrealised potential" Bowen both the sense that it's never been properly developed, but even more in the sense that we have never "realised" that it's there at all!
Which brings me to my last point. Heaven for each of us will be an infinite source of joyful discovery, about God, about each other, and about ourselves.
There's a word for this which you may have come across. It's called Serendipity and it means the art of making pleasant and joyful discoveries.
We are strangers and pilgrims on this earth. Yet strangers and pilgrims can still make pleasant discoveries about the land through which they are travelling.
Imagine then the thrill of entering more fully into God's kingdom when we pass the gates of death. For his kingdom is our kingdom prepared for us from the beginning of the world. Through the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over sin and death on the cross we are able to be fellow-heirs with him of that eternal kingdom.
Enjoyments, achievements, fulfilments: that is what God has in store for all of us. The small measures which he allows us to access in this world are genuine foretastes of what will be infinitely available to each and every one of us in the life of the world to come.
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