In God is the Gospel John Piper begins with an arresting question.
If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there? (15)
Theologically, of course, we believe that it would be impossible for all those excellencies to exist without Christ. But practically, the question drives us to wonder: Do we long for heaven because we imagine it will fulfill all our earthly desires to the max? Or do we long for heaven because Christ is there?
The physical excellencies of heaven may be easier for many of us to imagine than is union with Christ. Though as C.S. Lewis pointed out, even this we desire far too little, not too much, being like those who are content making mud pies because we cannot conceive of what a vacation at the beach is like. But any of the pleasures that we experience in this life or the next are gifts from God that are intended to draw us to him, not to become ends in themselves. That is idolatry.
Lewis, again, captures the right perspective at the end of The Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”. Aslan informs Lucy and Edmund that they will not be visiting Narnia again. They are understandably distraught. But before he assures them that he is to be found in their world by another name, Lucy expresses the real trouble.
“It isn’t Narnia, you know,” sobbed Lucy. “It’s you. We shan’t meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
May we be Lucy: not taken in by the excellencies of heaven but in wonder of the One in whom, and from whom, and to whom all things exist, indeed, in whom even we live and move and have our being. How could we live, never meeting Him?