I would rather not go to heaven. Now, before anyone floods me with emails praying for my salvation, let me explain myself. If we are to follow the eschatology of the New Testament (which I suggest we should), we must dispense with the notion that the best possible end to things is “going to heaven when I die.” To be clear, I am all for heaven, but I would rather not go there. Although a number of reasons could be put forward, here are three.
(1) The promise of the gospel is literal—bodily resurrection from the dead.
The NT says far more about being raised from the dead than it does about going to heaven to await the second coming of Christ. While there is clear teaching that those who die before Christ’s return are immediately ushered into his presence, the most-anticipated moment of the early church was the redemption of the physical body. Consider the following sampling of verses:
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the son and believes in him might have eternal life, and I will raise him in the last day” (John 6:40).
“But not only this, but also we ourselves having the first fruits of the Spirit, we also ourselves groan in ourselves awaiting eagerly the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Rom 8:23).
“Behold I speak to you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, in the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable and we will be changed” (1 Cor 15:51-52).
When the NT writers speak about the final state of the believer, they have in view the literal-bodily resurrection from the dead. That is because Jesus Christ appeared to them in that exact state as the “first-fruits” from the dead (1 Cor 15:20). Therefore, his final state became the paradigm, hope, and guarantee of their final state.
(2) I do not want to experience the painful moment of physical death.
Anyone who says they are not afraid to die hasn’t thought about it enough. Moreover, their daily habits say they are quite afraid of dying. Despite their pseudo-machismo I would simply ask them—Do you wear a seatbelt? Do you eat? Do you drink? Do you ever go to the doctor? Do you catch your breath? Of course they do. All of these habits are indications that we would rather not experience the painful moment of physical death. I have had the horrible experience of being with people, both Christian and non-Christian, when they die. I do not find it peaceful. I do not find it dignified. I do not find it natural. It is un-peaceful. It is undignified. It is unnatural. That moment of death makes me want to scream, to shout, to revolt, to rage, to curse. I am sick and tired of taking death lying down. That’s because it’s anti-gospel. God promises that in Christ he has overcome the painful sting of death. Let’s see it! I am not a Stoic or a Sadducee. I am a Christian, and that means I am supposed to literally overcome death in the resurrected Christ rather than experience the painful moment of physical death.
(3) If I go to heaven, life will still be hell on earth.
One of the most selfish and sickening phrases in Christendom is “I know where I’m going when I die.” It shouts to everyone else “To hell with you.” The NT writers knew that creation needed to be redeemed. Isaiah and Peter spoke of a new creation where “righteousness dwells” (Isa 65:17; 2 Pet 3:13). The OT prophets and John saw a new heaven and a new earth where tears did not wet the ground (Rev 21:4). If I go to heaven, it means Christ has not come to earth yet. Consequently, believers on earth would still be struggling against sin. Widows would still be weeping over their dead husbands. Abused children would still be feeling the backhand of their fathers and mothers. Dictators and their minions would still be killing, stealing, and raping to advance their own ungodly kingdoms. Trashcans would still be filled with aborted babies. The lion would not be lying down with the lamb. Satan would still be loose, and life would be like hell on earth.
I am pleading with the church to quit singing “When we all get to heaven.” Instead, let’s take up the one-line hymn of the early church “Maranatha”—Come Lord Come (1 Cor 16:22). At the top of our mortal lungs scream, shout, and plead—Maranatha. I would rather not go to heaven. I’d rather have heaven come to me! Come Lord—quickly (Rev 22:20).
A native of Lubbock, TX, Channing Crisler holds a BS in History from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, TX. He received his Master of Divinity in Biblical Languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX, and his Ph.D. in New Testament Studies from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.