Stephen K. Moroney is an elder at Parkside Church in Green, Ohio; a theology professor at Malone University; and the author of What You Won’t Find in Heaven: A Surprising Source of Hope (Weaver Books, 2016).
I’m no scientist. I could easily embarrass myself on “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” A tidbit that stuck from my education, however, is the basic make up of atoms. The up quarks, down quarks, and gluons are beyond me, but I know that atoms have negatively charged particles called electrons and positively charged particles called protons (as well as neutrons, with no electrical charge). Negatively charged and positively charged elements are both essential to the atom, which some call the building block of the universe. A similar principle of including both negative and positive elements regarding heaven can generate power in our pastoral ministries.
The Power of Negative Thinking: What Won’t Be in Heaven
When the new heavens and new earth are described in the final two chapters of the Bible, there is a strong emphasis on what won’t be there. We are told that in heaven there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Rev. 21:4). There won’t be any people in heaven who are cowardly, faithless, detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, or liars (Rev. 21:8 and 22:15). Nothing unclean or impure will ever enter heaven, nor will anyone who does what is detestable or false (Rev. 21:27). There won’t be anything accursed in heaven (Rev. 22:3)!
We all live under the curse of sin now, but things will be blissfully different in heaven. A big part of that bliss is due to what is not in heaven. Every person in our congregations grapples with health issues, whether they have to do with weight, illness, or other things that trouble them physically. But there will be no more of those struggles for God’s people in heaven when we’ve been clothed with our perfect resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15:42-44). No more colonoscopies or cancer, heart disease or hospice in heaven! Or consider the daily emotional issues our people face, whether it’s anxiety, depression, a work problem, or run-of-the-mill marital or family tensions. Every single one of us has headaches and heartaches now, but no more in heaven!
Deep down inside, humans long to be safe and secure. That’s why we look to prisons, police, and pepper spray to protect us. It’s why we have locks on our windows, our doors, and our computer accounts. The good news is that in heaven, under the rule of the Messiah, God’s people will live securely (Mic. 5:4). In heaven there will be no more school shootings, stealing, or other forms of suffering. There also won’t be any more struggles in the economic, political, or environmental arenas. Terrorism, tear gas, and tsunamis are part of the old order of things that will pass away (Rev. 21:4). A fully-charged pastoral ministry, in the pulpit and at the hospital bed, will include a healthy focus on what won’t be in heaven, which can give our people life-giving hope right now.
The Power of Positive Thinking: Who Will Be in Heaven
But just as negatively charged electrons are only part of the atom, a focus on what won’t be there is just part of heaven. The hope of heaven also includes a healthy focus on who will be there: God’s angels, God’s people, and God himself! Angels appear more frequently in Revelation (77 times) than in any other book of the Bible, the next highest being 24 times in the Gospel of Luke. God’s holy angels will join God’s holy people in worshipping God in heaven (Rev. 7:11-12).
In heaven, God’s people will enjoy harmonious relationships marked by righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17), really loving our heavenly neighbors as ourselves. All of them, all the time. That’s heaven! And our love for God will be purified in heaven, so we’ll truly love God with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength (Mark 12:30). Not 50% or 90%, but 100%. In addition, we’ll see God’s face (Rev. 22:4), indicating incredibly close communion we’ll enjoy with the Lord, something God’s people have long hoped for (Psalm 11:7).
Like negatively charged electrons, we can minister to our people by focusing on what is not in heaven (Rev. 21:4, 21:8, 21:27, 22:3, 22:15). And like positively charged protons, we can also minister to our people by directing their gaze to the presence of God himself in heaven, where we will see his face (1 Cor. 13:12, Rev. 22:4). The attraction between electrons and protons accounts for the incredible electromagnetic charge in atoms, just as a biblical focus on what won’t be in heaven and who will be there can bring incredible power to our pastoral ministries.