I am sure you remember all the heaven tourism books that cluttered the shelves of Christian bookstores a few years ago. This was a fad that was never going to last long, which is why authors and publishers were so quick to frantically churn out their own tales of unlikely visits to heaven. There was money to be made and they weren’t going to miss out on their share of it! But like most fads, this one collapsed almost as quickly as it had begun. And good riddance, I say.
I recently found myself thinking about that whole genre and the eight or 10 books that, for a year or two, utterly burned up the Christian sales charts. In contrast to the false depictions of heaven found in these books, I pondered the sheer joy of the real heaven and what I am most looking forward to experiencing in the day I am there. I had been reflecting on how even my best attempts at imagining it must fall so far short. And it occurred to me what none of these books had ever touched: sinlessness. Each of these people had experienced heaven as a sinner. As far as I know, not one had claimed to have their sin removed for the duration of their experience. They had entered heaven as sinners, experienced heaven as sinners, and returned as sinners.
When I was a kid, my family lived just a half block from a railway crossing. Several times a day, and often in the night, a train would rumble along the tracks. For the first two weeks we lived there, we found these trains disturbing and were often woken in the night. But it didn’t take long before we became accustomed to them and stopped noticing all those bangs and groans and squeals. You have probably had a similar experience at some point in your life. Human beings are remarkably adaptable. Sights, sounds, smells, and even sensations that once irritated or alarmed us can eventually become almost unnoticeable. After a time they just fade into the background of our lives.
Sin is the noisy freight train that runs unnoticed through our neighborhoods. It is the stink that irritates us for a time but then becomes normal. It is the rough fabric that’s unbearably itchy for a day or two, until suddenly it’s perfectly comfortable. Sin is an intruder into our world and into our lives. It rumbles, it stinks, it irritates, but then becomes a regular part of our experience. We quickly transition from being unable to imagine life with it to being unable to imagine life without it.
And yet our great hope and confidence as Christians is that there is a sinless future ahead of us. Heaven is the place where there is no trace of sin. In fact, the joys of heaven are dependent on sinlessness. We will enjoy the full, unmediated presence of God because our sin will no longer bar the way. We will enjoy all the pleasures of heaven because sin will not draw us toward lesser pleasures. We will enjoy one another perfectly and eternally because sin will no longer alienate us through offenses great or small. Where there is sin there is no heaven; where there is heaven there is no sin.
A person who lives in the smog of a huge, industrialized city can’t know what it is to breathe clean, fresh air until he gets away to the countryside. A person who lives by a roaring river can’t know what it is to sit in silence until he leaves the river far behind. And we can’t know what it is to live a moment without sinful minds, sinful hearts, and sinful desires until we enter into the world where sin is no more. The heaven tourism books, written by men and women still stained by sin, couldn’t show us the glory of that sinless world.