I don’t know anyone who would honestly say that they didn’t want to go to Heaven. Heaven is the one place of true peace and perfection that we all wish to reach. At virtually every funeral I’ve ever attended, the speaker has referred to the deceased as having “gone to a better place”. Our cultural assumption is that if we die and are basically good, then we’ll go to Heaven (aka everyone but Mao Ze Dong, Genghis Kahn, and Hitler).
What’s fascinating about this is that while virtually every seems to think they will enjoy Heaven, I actually don’t know that many would. If we have the lifestyle, desires, and dreams of the average Westerner, Heaven would seem terrible. In his classic book Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, J.C. Ryle explains why.
“Suppose for a moment that you were allowed to enter heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of all the saints would you join yourself, and by whose side would you sit down? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes not your tastes, their character not your character. How could you possibly be happy, if you had not been holy on earth?
Now perhaps you love the company of the light and the careless, the worldly-minded and the covetous, the reveller and the pleasure-seeker, the ungodly and the profane. There will be none such in heaven.
Now perhaps you think the saints of God too strict and particular, and serious. You rather avoid them. You have no delight in their society. There will be no other company in heaven.
Now perhaps you think praying, and Scripture-reading, and hymn singing, dull and melancholy, and stupid work—a thing to be tolerated now and then, but not enjoyed. You reckon the Sabbath a burden and a weariness; you could not possibly spend more than a small part of it in worshipping God. But remember, heaven is a never-ending Sabbath. The inhabitants thereof rest not day or night, saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty’ and singing the praise of the Lamb. How could an unholy man find pleasure in occupation such as this?
Think you that such an one would delight to meet David, and Paul, and John, after a life spent in doing the very things they spoke against? Would he take sweet counsel with them, and find that he and they had much in common?—Think you, above all, that he would rejoice to meet Jesus, the Crucified One, face to face, after cleaving to the sins for which He died, after loving His enemies and despising His friends? Would he stand before Him with confidence, and join in the cry, ‘This is our God; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation’? (Isa. xxv. 9.) Think you not rather that the tongue of an unholy man would cleave to the roof of his mouth with shame, and his only desire would be to be cast out! He would feel a stranger in a land he knew not, a black sheep amidst Christ’s holy flock. The voice of Cherubim and Seraphim, the song of Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven, would be a language he could not understand. The very air would seem an air he could not breathe.
I know not what others may think, but to me it does seem clear that heaven would be a miserable place to an unholy man. It cannot be otherwise. People may say, in a vague way, ‘they hope to go to heaven;’ but they do not consider what they say. There must be a certain ‘meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light.’ Our hearts must be somewhat in tune. To reach the holiday of glory, we must pass through the training school of grace. We must be heavenly-minded, and have heavenly tastes, in the life that now is, or else we shall never find ourselves in heaven, in the life to come.”1
If you are not seeking God as the center, foundation, and grounds of your pleasure, lifestyle, desires, and dreams, then why do you think you will enjoy Heaven? Many of the things we find so much pleasure in here on Earth will not be found in Heaven. There will be no pornography, masturbation, cheating, sexual immorality, crude joking, gossip, gluttony, likes on social media, manipulation, violence, cursing, overspending, laziness, alpha male sexual competition culture, living for ourselves, one-up-manship, party culture, drunkenness, celebrity culture, identity politics, earthly political parties and groups, etc. If we find our deepest satisfactions in those things, Heaven will be miserable for us. If we’re not seeking to pursue Jesus now, why do we think we would ever pursue him later? Hell is not full of repentant people (Luke 16:19-31 makes that clear in the account of the rich man and Lazarus). J.C. Ryle gives us serious reason to pursue Christ. Until we begin to find our true satisfaction in Jesus, Heaven will be miserable.
Don’t be satisfied by cheap thrills and pleasures that fade as soon as they begin. Have your joy be founded in something truly worthy of your affection: the infinite, all-satisfying beauty of Christ. Only then will Heaven be a place we want to be.
- Ryle, J.C. Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2007.