Do unseen things exist? The answer is obvious once you consider oxygen, gravity, or the WiFi signal you’re using to read this article. But what about invisible realities that can’t be scientifically measured? Well, think of love, or dignity, or justice, or hope.
Now might there be a spiritual world that, though unseen, is entirely real as well? This is precisely what the Bible teaches (2 Cor. 4:18). And one of these realities is heaven.
While it’s impossible to prove the existence of heaven in the same way you’d prove the existence of Chicago, that doesn’t mean the place is fictional. To be sure, belief in heaven finally boils down to faith—not blind or irrational faith, but faith nonetheless. As the author of Hebrews puts it, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).
Christians believe in heaven fundamentally because they believe the Bible that so clearly speaks of heaven. You can bank your life on God’s Word. Admittedly, we often crave something more certain, more verifiable, more impressive than words in a book. Yet Peter tells us Scripture is a revelation “more sure” than even Jesus himself in transfigured glory (2 Pet. 1:19 NASB). That’s a stunning claim. He is saying the Bible itself is one of the most convincing “proofs” God’s ever given.
So, while the Scriptures may not tell us everything we want to know about heaven, they do tell us everything we need to know. Their witness is complete, sufficient, enough.
Heaven Is for Real?
Heaven’s a familiar idea to many of us, but what exactly is it? Most simply, it’s the place where God lives. “Our Father in heaven,” we recite in the Lord’s Prayer. Now, this doesn’t mean God is absent elsewhere; he’s present everywhere. But heaven is the place where his presence uniquely dwells to bless. It’s the place of our treasure (Matt. 19:21), our citizenship (Phil. 3:20), our inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4–5), and our stored-up hope (Col. 1:5).
Perhaps you’ve noticed I keep using the word “place.” That’s because heaven isn’t a mere concept or state of mind; it’s a real location (John 14:2–3; Acts 1:9–11; 7:55–56). When followers of Jesus die, though our bodies remain on earth, our souls immediately enter God’s presence (Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8). This is a temporary situation or “intermediate state” until the day when Jesus returns and our bodies are raised and reunited with our souls forever.
No Chubby Angels
Our ultimate hope as Christians, then, is not evacuation from this earth but the restoration of this earth. One day, heaven’s city will split the skies as redeemed sinners inherit a redeemed world (Rev. 21:1–4; cf. 2 Pet. 3:13; Rom. 8:13). This is why the Scriptures picture our future home in concrete, material terms—“new heavens and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1–4). We won’t be floating around with golden harps and chubby angels, in other words. We’ll be running and working and playing and singing and laughing and resting and reveling in the endless wonders of good and beautiful God.
So it’s fine to talk about eternity in “heaven” so long as we remember the word is just shorthand for the new heavens and new earth—a world of everlasting, ever-increasing joy in the presence of our King.
Longings that Point
According to Ecclesiastes, God has “put eternity into the human heart” (Eccl. 3:11). As persons crafted in his image, we are eternal beings with an innate longing and capacity for eternal life. We were made to live forever.
Humanity’s desire for unending happiness is insatiable and undeniable. Consider the deep restlessness and dissatisfaction we often witness among the world’s most accomplished people. They have everything, yet something is still missing. As actor Jim Carrey once said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
What explains this?
In a lengthy essay titled “On Fairy Stories,” J. R. R. Tolkien ponders the human love for fantasy stories.1 Good moderns like us know the tales aren’t true; why, then, are we so drawn to them? Tolkien suggests they contain features that uniquely resonate with our souls, things like:
- Heroic self-sacrifice
- Stepping outside of time
- Communion with non-human beings
- Good triumphing over evil
- Escape from death
- Love without parting (“happily ever after”)
Fairy tales tap into desires that realistic fiction can’t touch. Though we’re intellectually convinced nothing can fulfill our desires for what’s “too good to be true,” the desires won’t leave us alone. Deep down we have a gnawing suspicion—a hope—that our world isn’t the way it’s supposed to be and isn’t the way it always will be. So by transporting us to places “out there,” fairy tales awaken hardwired longings “in here.” They point an underlying reality we sense deep in our souls is somehow true.
The beauty of Christianity is that the gospel is not just one more wonderful story pointing to the underlying reality; rather, the gospel is the underlying reality to which all the other stories point. When Jesus returns, what always felt elusive and distant and “too good to be true” will come crashing into the present, enveloping our experience and drenching us with joy.
Tolkien’s friend C. S. Lewis perhaps put it best: “If we find in ourselves a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Heaven’s Open Door
“Neither Christ nor heaven can be hyperbolized,” observed Puritan Thomas Brooks. It’s impossible to overestimate the wonder of life with Christ in the world to come. Heaven will be eternal because the dimensions of his grace to be explored will be endless.
Though you or I cannot scientifically “prove” heaven’s existence (or non-existence, of course), it is an entirely plausible belief to hold. The reliable testimony of the Scriptures, as well as the unquenchable longings of our souls, powerfully attest to its reality.
Finally, we must remember the only reason we can go to heaven is because God left heaven to come to us. Two thousand years ago, in the person of Jesus Christ, God lived the life we’ve failed to live, died the death we deserve to die, and rose again so that all who embrace him might enjoy him forever.
If you’re trusting Jesus for salvation, the Judge of the cosmos looks at you—sin and all—and sees his spotless Son.
“Did you ever stop to think,” asked A. W. Tozer, “that God is going to be as pleased to have you with him in heaven as you are to be there?”
He can’t wait. Can you?
1 Tim Keller helpfully applies this essay in a lecture titled “Hope That Transforms,” delivered February 20, 2014 at Redeemer Presbyterian Church as part of their “Questioning Christianity” series. The discussion of Tolkien’s work above is indebted to this lecture.
Editors’ note: A version of this article appeared at ExploreGod.com.