Because of the curse of decay, our world has become trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of decay and renewal – life, death and rebirth. Paul called it a curse of frustration in Romans 8. Here’s the verse again for a reminder:
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
The entire first chapter of Ecclesiastes laments this frustration that the world has been bound over to. Here are some excerpts from it:
Meaningless! Meaningless! Says the teacher.
Everything is meaningless!
Generations come and generations go
But the earth remains forever.
All streams flow into the sea,
Yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
There they return again.
What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1: 2,4,7,9
Marcus Aurelius noted the same:
All things from eternity repeat the same forms and come round in a circle and it makes no difference whether a man gazes at the same things for a hundred years or two hundred, or an infinite time.
You can feel the frustration in the above quotes. Because of the curse of decay, the universe is now locked in a perpetual cycle of decay and renewal – of life, death and rebirth. Even the ancient Mayans recognized that the galaxy itself has its own cycle of over 5,000 years. Mankind has recognized this principle throughout time, and has extrapolated upon it in all the various worldviews of antiquity. The balance between life, death and rebirth, and the cyclical nature of the world is central in most eastern worldviews. The Buddha himself said this:
Every moment you are born, decay, and die.
Because of the curse of decay and futility, this world has been set on a seemingly perpetual cycle of decay and renewal – of life, death and rebirth. Most of the major worldviews of the earth have extrapolated upon this principle and fashioned beliefs about the world, things like reincarnation, which is the soul’s own cycle of life, death and rebirth. Here’s an excerpt from a Hindu monastery:
The belief in karma and reincarnation brings to each Hindu inner peace and self-assurance. The Hindu knows that the maturing of the soul takes many lives, and that if the soul is immature in the present birth, then there is hope, for there will be many opportunities for learning and growing in future lives.
Kauai’s Hindu Monastery
I find it fascinating that the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path is the state of Nirvana, which is nothing more than the escape from rebirth, the soul allowed to end the perpetual cycle. The literal meaning of Nirvana is ‘blowing out’ or ‘quenching.’ This feeling of frustration borne from the curse of decay is prevalent among all the worldviews of antiquity and in the writings of Solomon. What is more frustrating than doing the same thing over and over again, yet never achieving a better result? Eastern religions teach that perhaps with enough time and good deeds, you can escape the endless cycle. But the Bible teaches that this endless cycle of decay and renewal is only a temporary burden on mankind, that:
This world in its present form is passing away.
1 Corinthians 7:31
Romans 8, quoted earlier, says that all of creation is groaning as it awaits its liberation from the bondage to decay and frustration. The Bible recognizes this ultimate state of reality where others do not. This is why Paul told the Christians of his day:
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
The law of decay and the cyclical nature of the world is what Paul meant when he spoke of the basic principles of this world which all the prevailing worldviews of his day drew their truths of reality from. The verse sounds very negative on philosophy, but all Paul is really saying is that the prevailing worldviews and philosophies are deceptive because they try and extrapolate ultimate truths from a temporary condition of the earth, an earth that’s bound in frustration.
Most of the major worldviews in operation today have extrapolated upon the basic principles of the world. This is only logical, and is an admirable pursuit in its own right. But the Bible teaches that the world in its present form isn’t as it was intended to be, nor as it will always continue – that the cycle of decay and renewal is only a temporary burden on mankind.
All of the older worldviews embraced the world in its current form, extrapolating their beliefs from the basic principles they saw around them. But the Bible says that this world is under a curse, that the basic principles of decay and futility are only temporary, that a restless force dwells within the human heart, one that knows its true calling toward a life where the endless cycle is broken, where beauty never fades and meaning ever fills the heart.
This is why heaven is so misunderstood. Most people think that heaven is an ethereal, other-worldly type of place where the souls of man float about for all time doing who knows what. But that is not the Biblical explanation.
The Bible says that at the end of everything, God will create a new heaven and a new earth, one with its original design, free of the curse of frustration and decay, and will come dwell on the earth with mankind. Read this passage from the very end of the Bible:
Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
God’s dwelling place is now among the people and the old order of things has passed away. A very profound declaration. Do you realize that at the end of all things, we will not be spirited away to some ethereal realm, but rather, the God of heaven will come to dwell here with us – in a world without end, a new earth free of death, sorrow, and the curse of frustration and decay.
Many wonder how an eternal place without struggle or pain can be worth living in. Boredom would ultimately reign supreme. There would be nothing left to do or see. The common explanation for why heaven will be worth living in is because God is so big and so inexhaustible, we’ll never get bored of exploring and enjoying the endless facets of His being. While that may be true, this is not nearly a sufficient explanation.
Most have never considered what a world without futility and decay would really be like. It’s a difficult concept to visualize because life as we know it isn’t possible without the law of decay and entropy. But in a world without decay and frustration, boredom would be a word without meaning. The only way to properly conceptualize heaven is to try and recall a time, a day or a night, that was so wonderful that you wished it would last forever. And then imagine that somehow it simply did, in all its intensity and passion and adventure.
Everyone has a time like that that they can recall, a time where they feel complete, as though the moment were perfect, and lacking no good thing. It imparts a feeling of separateness, a mere watcher of the laboring world passing by. It’s interesting that the Hebrew word ‘Shalom’ which is simply translated ‘peace’ is more accurately a state of peace which flows from ‘lacking no good thing.’
What would it be like to lack no good thing? What would it be like to feel joy, freedom, adventure and passion perpetually? What would it be like to feel a deep sense of well-being and joy just at being alive, and to know that this feeling will never fade or spoil as life goes on?
I always loved the story of Robinson Crusoe. A young man, eager to do prosperous business, sets off across the sea and through a series of trying events finds himself trapped on a tropical island with no means of escape. His family and friends think him dead, and after a long while of bleak survival, he finds he has come to love the island he had for years hated. But he knows it isn’t truly his home, and he’s is unwilling to die in a foreign place alone, away from everyone he holds dear. And so, he risks death to make his departure.
Imagine a story like that, but imagine that on his arrival back home, he finds quite coincidentally that all his loved ones have come together from far and wide to enjoy a wedding feast for his dear brother who has just been married. Imagine that he goes there, they still unaware that he is even alive.
The man arrives at night to a lighted home, bustling with celebrants. He lingers outside, listening to the laughter and the voices. Some he almost recognizes, though it feels like a forgotten dream of a time he once laughed and drank in the joy of life with those he had once loved. He lingers there for many minutes, hands shaking, the summer breeze in his face. Everything feels intensely surreal.
He knows he must reveal himself to them and at length he enters the home and finds himself standing before them, before those he loves who have thought him dead and new ones who have only heard stories of him.
Conversation stills. He steps forward slowly and they slowly part to accept him, amid the tears welling up in every eye. He is speechless and they are speechless, all somehow knowing that words of any kind would only cheapen the moment. He’s struck with a barrage of inexplicable feelings. He feels a thrill just at being alive that he’s never before experienced, fully present in each passing moment. There are no thoughts of tomorrow, or any plans the future may hold.
For now, tonight is everything – paramount; foundational; a new beginning. He feels a deep gratitude that his harrowing adventure is over, and that against the odds, life has found him again among those he loves. But he feels also a sentimentality and warm regard for the island he left behind, sad somehow to never see it again, but happy all the same to be parted from it.
He’s surprised by the intensity and diversity of the feelings coursing through his veins and stares off into the distant hills, a deep sense of well-being rising within that life is truly something magical and wondrous. And he finds in that moment, longing and wishing that this night could somehow last forever.
What if that was all heaven was, a night of full beauty and goodness that somehow lasted forever in all its intensity and passion? Have you ever experienced a day or a night lacking no good thing, one so good that it banished the creeping thoughts of tomorrow and the cares to come – one so perfect that thinking about tomorrow would cheapen the beauty and meaning of the moments passing by?
The Bible describes heaven as the wedding feast of the Lamb and the church. What if you arrived in like fashion to the man described above, filled with inexplicable emotions of passion, sentimentality and warm regard, and a deep sense of well-being just at having found yourself here in such a moment. What if even after a thousand years you still felt speechless in the joy of the moment, fighting back the tears at seeing your dear loved ones and marveling again, as if for the very first time, that you are here, and they are here and this night could not get any better.
That is what I believe the Bible says heaven will be, a world without end, the wedding feast of the Lamb, where God has made His dwelling with man and has made His world beautiful, not just for a time, but always. Solomon said that he had seen the burden God had laid on men, that God had taken things meant to be forever beautiful, and subjected them to futility and decay, giving meaning only a short time. But God has set a world without end in our hearts that longs for what man once had, and will have again.
God calls himself Jehovah-Shalom, the God of peace, Who lacks no good thing. His realm is a realm of perpetual goodness without decay. Simply being alive in such a place will elicit the most intense feelings of freedom, awe, and joy you have ever felt. And those feelings will not fade into boredom and general malaise over time.
For now, He has made everything beautiful in its time. Then, things will be beautiful always. They will not fade or spoil. As Jesus said, Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust cannot destroy. There is a deep seated longing in the hearts of all who live, an inexpressible desire for this world without end, where beauty and meaning and passion last forever. It is an inexplicable desire, one which the heart understands but the mind does not. For wisdom is a wisdom of the heart, not of the mind.