Americans believe in heaven — since 1997, the numbers have fluctuated from 72 to 80 percent, according to Gallup polls.
But what is heaven and what does it look like?
“Too often the popular idea of heaven is a place where you’ll have nothing to do but tell a jealous God how good he is over and over for all eternity—and that wouldn’t be much better than hell,” says Charlie Webster, former senior engineer for NASA, Bible scholar and author of Revitalizing Christianity (www.NewCenturyMinistries.com).
“That’s not Jesus’ picture of heaven,” he says.
Heaven will be a place with exciting challenges against a background of caring love from everyone and to everyone.
“But you don’t have to wait ‘til you die to experience some of the most important benefits of heaven,” Webster says. “Anyone can create a real foretaste of heaven wherever they are. And you don’t even have to believe in God to experience part of this—though it certainly works better if you let God help you.”
“Caring about and helping with the needs and pains of others brings real joy,” Webster says.
It’s the same thing Jesus said two millennia ago: When you focus on yourself, you are the only one interested in helping you, he says.
“Even in places of worship, most folks are asking, ‘What can God do for me?’ instead of ‘What could I do to make this world the caring place God wants it to be?’”
Here are three ways Webster says anybody, regardless of creed, can get a taste of heaven here on Earth:
• Forgiveness: When you forgive a hurt or transgression, there’s a great sense of relief—a weight has been lifted. Animosity eats at the bearer. But how to forgive? It takes both faith and sympathy — “faith that if the transgression needs to be punished, it will be, and sympathy because you can’t know what caused someone to anger you,” Webster says. “Take a road-rage scenario—some speeding motorist almost kills you. Your immediate reaction is anger. But do you know the reasons behind his risky driving? Maybe it’s just that he thinks everybody should get out of his way. God will deal with that. But maybe he’s responding to a genuine emergency that you might have handled the same way. If you turn the matter over to God, you can arrive home stress-free. Better yet, offer a prayer for the offender. Whatever the cause, he needs prayer.
• Helping Others: Rather than stressing over time, money and travel logistics for a vacation focused on pampering yourself, Charlie suggests helping others in the form of a mission trip –- an all-around win. Volunteers often see a new part of the world; but more importantly they come home with wonderful new friends and the knowledge that they’ve made the world a better place. And you can usually find a trip that’s already planned and priced at reduced rates. When your mission vacation is over, you’ll truly be recharged and refreshed and you’ll have memories you could never get on a vacation focused on yourself.
• Having a Marriage that Works: By far the best marriages are the ones in which couples have asked themselves “how can I make his/her life better” rather than saying “I want him/her because he/she satisfies my needs.” Such marriages almost never end in divorce, Webster says. “Even couples who never go through a ceremony can experience this. God never demanded a ceremony—he demands the unselfish love that he knows will bring us true joy.”
“In the end heaven is really more about relationships than where you are,” Webster says. “It’s not fluffy clouds, scratchy robes, and awkward wings. The heaven Jesus taught about is an active life in an environment of unselfish caring — the kind of environment that builds strong bonds.”
“If you accept that the after-life taught by Jesus is real, then doing this in your daily life prepares you for an eternity of ever-greater joy. It’s a life of unselfish caring that brings the kind of joy that will make heaven, heaven.”
About Charlie Webster
As an engineer, Charlie Webster headed NASA projects for several years; as a Bible scholar, he has taught biblical studies at the college level. Webster has a son and daughter, and was widowed in 1999. He has been happily remarried since 2000.