I can only imagine, anticipating heaven

Published 6:26 am Thursday, April 5, 2018

It had been a while since I’d thought of it, but it all came rushing back to me when I saw the movie, “I Can Only Imagine,” the American biographical Christian drama film based on the story behind the MercyMe song of the same name, the most played Christian radio single ever.
I had been driving south on Interstate 65, traveling home from the hospital in Louisville, Ky. My first wife, Katri, had just died a few hours earlier, after a long battle with breast cancer. Facing the ominous unknown, which appeared to be dangling out there like an enormous question mark, and my heart aching for my two children, then ages 12 and 15, rehearsing how I was going to tell them their mother was never coming home again, I was faltering — in and out of tears, my faith shaking.
And then, just before exiting I-65 to take Ky. 150 to Bardstown, I turned on the radio.
“I Can Only Imagine,” was playing. The words were like warm bath water, soothing my soul, re-opening the heavenly vision for me and the certainty of my wife’s place there.
By the time Bart Millard had finished singing the words to the song, my faith was steadied.
The movie, which I saw recently, filled in the gaps for that song. I had no idea the personal struggle the writer, Bart Millard, experienced, the physical and emotional abuse he suffered from the hands of his father. That song was the result of his father’s dramatic turn-around, his coming to Christ: Bart said of his redeemed dad, “If Christ can change that dude then he can change anyone.”
For Millard, the song was his life story. In speaking to Amy Grant, Bart said of the song, “The lyrics took about 10 minutes.” Grant replied, “You didn’t write this song in 10 minutes. It took a lifetime.”
Life’s miseries can make the anticipation of heaven seem sweeter. And of course, Satan doesn’t want us to know how sweet heaven truly is, for if we get only a glimpse of its wonders, so much of what disturbs us this side of eternity wouldn’t matter. That messes with Satan’s game plan for us. As author, Randy Alcorn, has written in his book, Heaven, “Because Satan hates us, he’s determined to rob us of the joy we’d have if we believed what God tells us about the magnificent world to come.”
A student in one of my classes flat lined in the ER, while she was having a heart attack. “I went to heaven,” she told me.
She had my attention.
“You think when you get to heaven, you’re going to ask Jesus all kinds of questions, stuff you’ve wondered about here on earth,” she told us. “Well, you aren’t going to ask him anything. You’re just going to stand there in awe and worship him and bask in his love. His eyes are amazing; I would just get lost in those eyes of his. I could stare into them forever.”
And then she exhorted us: “Satan can torment me, he can persecute me, he can try and make my life miserable here, but he can’t take away my home. I’ve seen it, and I am going there.” That’s a good thing to take note of this week, the first one after celebrating Easter. For if Christ was truly resurrected, then he is alive today, and if he is alive today, he will come again, and if he comes again, as he promised, he will take us to that place. And the certainly of that place, with him, makes all the difference in our lives this side of eternity.
There is much we do not know. On this side, we only have indications, and most of all the revelation of the word, which gives us a sure and certain hope. But we still imagine, as Bart Millard sang, “I can only imagine what it will be like/When I walk/ by your side/I can only imagine what my eyes will see/When your face is before me.” As much as we can imagine, heaven is above and beyond anything we could ever think of in this earthly realm.
And so, we trust him.
And in trusting, we enjoy what’s left of the journey here, anticipating the celebration at the end of the road.
Contact David Whitlock, Ph.D., at Drdavid@davidwhitlock.org or visit his website, davidwhitlock.org.

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