…anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Biblical book of Hebrews, c11, v6)
Rewards in heaven. The Bible is clear that there will be rewards in heaven. Since the rewards are in heaven, then it seems clear that the reward is more than making it to heaven itself. So, should we make of these rewards?
Some believe the rewards will be tangible, material things. For example, read the following verse:
In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. (Jesus, The Gospel of John, c14, v2)
Some Christians, using this verse, imagine the rewards in heaven will be a house, sometimes we use the word “mansion” found in some biblical translations. To demonstrate our humility, we say something like, “I don’t care if I live in an outhouse as long as I am in heaven.” We say it as a joke; however, in my conversations with Christians it seems clear that many are expecting some sort of tangible gift from God as a reward.
I think that this is dangerous thinking for at least three reasons. First of all, we can turn God into Santa Clause. ”God knows,” according to this thinking, “who has been naughty or nice.” He will check his list twice and give me a present corresponding to my degree of goodness. Therefore, if I am particularly saintly (usually as defined by the individual) I will find a big mansion waiting for me when I get to heaven.
Second, we turn following Jesus into a competition. Talk of mansions or other tangible rewards invites a response of our competitive nature. While we would never say it outright, we easily imagine ourselves living in a mansion larger or smaller than an other.
Third, recall a Christmas morning as a child. You have been anticipating a particular present for perhaps months. Finally, the morning arrives and you rip open the package to find the very gift for which you have longed. For the next hours, days, or perhaps weeks, it is the center of your life. Yet, eventually you set aside the gift for increasingly longer periods until one day you discover it in the attic, now only a fond reminder of a happy past.
I suspect that a material reward in heaven would be the same. How far along the long corridor of eternal time will I travel before my mansion becomes passé? I know myself to well. It will not take long.
If our rewards are not material in nature, then what are they? What should we expect when we get to heaven? Jesus tells us. He says that eternal life is knowing the true God (Father) and Jesus Himself. The “knowing” spoken of by Jesus is the deepest, most intimate knowing possible between two beings…a mysterious union. It is not “knowing about”; rather, it is the knowing that comes from living life with an other. This level of intimacy does not come from a casual life together; rather, it is the result of a life of intention together through all the good times and the messy times, wanting the best for the other.
If this idea of spending an eternity to get to know God seems foreign to you, you are not alone. In our consumerist Western culture we measure success in terms of material things, including money; perhaps you remember the old bumper sticker, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Also, in our world of social media, our idea of knowing people has become more about “friending” an other than expending the time and energy and commitment it takes to really know the other.
Let me propose something to you with a question. What if our rewards in heaven is based on relationship and not materialism? What if my reward is to finally come face-to-face with the God I love?
Certainly even in this there are “levels” of reward. Imaging running into an acquaintance after some years. It will likely be a nice reunion. Contrast that with two lovers reunited after a similar period of separation. The latter brings a sense of happiness and feeling of fulfillment, a greater “reward” than the former.
I believe it will be similar with God. Once I am able to see His face will it be as an acquaintance or as a lover? Don’t hear me speaking disparagingly of only being acquainted with God. This may be as far as we have progressed in our journey with Him. However, it would be sad if I had the chance for a deeper relationship with God and didn’t want more.
I believe that this is what God wants for us and with us. Our Trinitarian viewpoint provides us with an image of a God of three persons—Father, Son, Spirit—who are eternally outward focused and other centered. God is love, after all. We were created to be in loving union with Him. Our union with Him is a reward for Him, too, as He joins with us, His beloved daughters and sons.
If I’m right and if eternal life is to be in a loving relationship with God, to know Him in the most intimate sense, then why wait? Why not start now so that when you get to heaven you will run into the arms of the one you most love. What better reward could there be?