While scrolling through Facebook I came across a story that made me take pause both because of its tragedy and commentary on the culture at large. It read “Saskatoon Mom With Terminal Cancer Continues To Check Things Off Her Bucket List.” This woman is 30, healthy looking and beautiful with a daughter at her side. Only her living reality is every mom’s worst nightmare. Yet, trying to stay positive and move forward she’s working on a Bucket List.
And she’s succeeding; checking off her list one by one, making her dreams come true. It’s a lovely thing for her to spend her last days making memories with her husband and daughter in all kinds of exciting experiential ways.
It’s becoming more and more common to have a Bucket List even without terminal illness looming. Mainly because most of us have a fundamental understanding that life is precious yet short. Any of us could go at anytime. For this reason we write long lists of aspirations to check off. And even if we don’t have a written catalogue, most of us still have one or a few things in our mind that we’d like to accomplish before that fateful day.
“I want to go to Ireland before I die”, “Hiking the Grand Canyon is on my bucket list”, “If I could just go to Disneyland once, I’d die a happy person.”
Everyone has their “thing”. Because when we die, the perception is that all those wonderful opportunities die with us. And what a sad reality that is.
But is it true?
For the Christian, it is not true. For the reason the Bible calls, heaven. But see, most of us don’t like thinking about heaven. And I think it’s because we believe it’s too abstract and confusing. Sure it will be great, but we don’t know exactly what that means, so we avoid thinking, studying or even imagining it at all. We don’t want to be like the seemingly selfish folks who dream about heaven being an endless game of golf (because I guess that sounds good to some people). Yet we also want to ward off the notion that heaven is just one long worship service that never ends.
So what is it then? What will it be like?
What if it’s both and neither of those two examples? What if after we die, there is much to do and see? What if this life isn’t the only life we will have experiences in? And what if that kind of closeness to God includes worship and excitement mingled together?
How does dwelling on that possibility inform the way we view our desires for our lives this side of heaven? And how does it change our need to create lists of things to do before our day of death?
Revelation 21:1-4 says,
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Scholars disagree on the nature of how the old earth is removed and new earth is made present. But regardless of how that happens, what we see is that earth, our world, is a part of our future after we die. It will indeed be different, much like our bodies will be different. But it will in fact be there. Physical. And better!
Sin will no longer be present, evil’s existence gone, sickness and sadness triumphed over. The lovely that we see here on earth will be made brighter by the absence of all Satan’s corruption. God Himself, will actively live and move among His people; the most jubilant detail of them all!
Picture it! Let your imagination run wild with all of Scripture’s particulars directing your mind’s path. Your allowed. Go ahead!
Ponder the fact that there’s a good chance the New Earth will be familiar to us. After Jesus rose from the dead, some of the disciples didn’t recognize Him at first. Until they did. He was different and yet the same. The new earth in its resurrected form will indeed be new, but will likely be very similar to what we already know.
Randy Alcorn in his Book called Heaven says,
By calling the New Earth Earth, God emphatically tells us it will be earthly, and thus familiar. Otherwise, why call it Earth?… The Greek word for translated “earth” is ge, from which we get “geology”. It is used of land, soil, and the world itself. Walter Bauer defines ge as “the surface of the earth as the habitation of humanity.” Ge connotes physicality, It’s not a figurative, airy, symbolic, or abstract word. It’s tangible, concrete. It speaks of an earthly realm where there are physical human beings, animals, vegetation, and natural resources.
With this physical New Heaven comes so much possibility. What if we’ll still be able to travel the new earth? What if we will indeed be able to play golf (if you actually like golf)? Or visit a resurrected Grande Canyon-esq site? What if?
In all likelihood, this could be the case.
We’ll definitely see sunsets, watch flowers grow, and enjoy the beauty earth reveals to us now. And what we know for certain is that there will be a great city; a functional and familial community, with Christ at the centre. All of this should be enough to invoke excitement for those who love the Lord, shouldn’t it?
It’s just that we don’t often think this way about death? We live as though all there is, is this physical life. We function as though all we have now is all we have at all.
Yet, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Right? Why did Paul say this in Philippians 1:21? He was differentiating between two worlds. To live is Christ means that however long God gives us life on this earth, we must spend it proclaiming the good news of Christ. We live as a vessel of God. We proclaim Jesus, and we live to glorify His name. To die is gain means that when we pass on from this earth into the next, we inherit the reward of Heaven and get full communion with the Jesus we proclaimed.
Bucket Lists are not evil. Don’t misunderstand me. There’s nothing in Scripture condemning them. And people with terminal illness’ are more than free to intentionally and systematically create memories to leave with their families in the form of a Bucket List.
However, I’m thinking through its necessity for the everyday Christian. Because I do believe the very existence of the Bucket List reveals a sign of the times in a way. And it may just uncover a deeper heart of misunderstanding. There’s an element of it that can be, perhaps for some, self-centred or self-seeking.
Yet, this side of heaven (or the next for that matter) isn’t about me. It’s not about me ticking a list of desires as fast as I can as I wait for death to take me away from the joy this world grants. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to spend my life living for someone else. For Christ. To live is Christ.
But that’s not the end. When the Lord decides to end my days on earth, I begin a new life. One that is engulfed in the fulfillment of all I proclaimed about Jesus. One that is absent of all that made life on earth unbearable. One that involves God, adventure, excitement and joy.
The knowledge of that should make the Christian relax a little on the need to fit in all our most urgent aspirations this side of heaven. Because the Christian who dies young doesn’t miss out on anything.
They just enter into an entirely new and holy escapade.