Jeff Smith

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Heaven Can Wait

Both a major motion picture and a popular Meatloaf song of the 1970s depicted the irreverent sounding title of this article: Heaven Can Wait.

Yet as much as the Christian yearns for Heaven and to return to God, to escape the cold clutches of this world and association with its dark prince, when the moment of death impends, he becomes reluctant and does everything in his power to suggest that Heaven can wait.

Good King Hezekiah preferred 15 more years on this terrestrial ball to an immediate transport to the land beyond, perhaps because he was ignorant about what lay ahead (2 Kings 20). Today, medical advances have extended the life expectancy of the average American to nearly fourscore years, matching the zenith of Psalm 90:10. Death is feared, loathed and delayed, even on occasions when the only life left is functioning by virtue of a machine.

For the Old Testament worthy, a certain fear of death seems somewhat logical. So much information about the hereafter had not been communicated to them, and most importantly, the notion of full remission of sins was but poetry and prophecy. The mission and resurrection of Christ should bring solace to death, even hope and determination. "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared in the same, that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2:14-15).

Where death had once occupied the place of an extreme, complete and frightening mystery, now it has been moderated. One is careful not to take his faith to the opposite extreme and embrace death to the point of cultic suicide, but death now has more answers and a sun shines where the blight of ignorance had created so much dread.

Death is the ultimate fact of life, for "it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). In this age of Jesus Christ, no one escapes death save for the population of Earth that remains when he returns in the clouds to commence that judgment.

For the member of Christ's redeemed body, the other side of death should represent complete relief, immersion in praise and utter joy (Rev. 6:11, 21:4). It is the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16:22), Paradise (Luke 23:43) and then our Father's house (John 14:2). Because of God's grace and our diligence, we should be able to hold this hope with humble confidence and live joyfully based on that investment in the future. "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the son of God" (1 John 4:13).

Still, even the apostle Paul confessed that the call of working among men on Earth and the comparatively short amount of time he had to do so kindled his desire to remain a while longer. "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labors; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.  For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you" (Phil. 1:21-24). How many of us are personally ready to go when called, but reluctant to pray that the day be hastened out of concern over another? Thankfully, the choice is not left to us, but to God who establishes the origin and fate of every life.

Between the writing of this Philippian letter and his valedictory to Timothy, only a few years intervene. Resignation and satisfaction, however, also filled his ready heart and weary body. "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved his appearing" (2 Tim. 4:6-8).

With all that we can do to ward off death a few more months or years, if Jesus should appear in the clouds today, it will be irrelevant and futile. "To those who eagerly wait for him he will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation" (Heb. 9:28).

Like Paul, we press on throughout this life toward the prize of the upward call (Phil. 3:14). Death grows nearer every day, but not with the same specter of mystery and torment that the unbeliever wrestles.  Instead, death is a door to the next phase of our existence - the better phase where our lowly bodies are transformed into ones conforming to his glorified and eternal image (Phil.3:20-21, 1 Cor. 15:42-45). "For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5:1). We live patiently but hopefully in a corrupted world, yearning to be further clothed with immortality. "Therefore we make it our aim to be well pleasing to him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:9-10).

Can Heaven wait? The choice does not lie within us, but when it can wait no longer, we must be prepared. Just as surely as Heaven is a prepared place for prepared people, so its alternative awaits those who live or die unprepared.

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