When I worked a summer at the hot dog stand in the Farmer’s Market, there was only one Christian song that came on the secular radio station we listened to all day,
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…
Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you, Jesus,
Or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in Your presence
Or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing ‘hallelujah’?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine…
I marveled that this song by MercyMe had so captured the imaginations of even those who presumably didn’t yet believe in Jesus that they played it on their radio station.
It’s a good thing to imagine, to imagine that moment of seeing Jesus. We’re pretty much commanded to imagine it, actually: “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).
So what do you imagine in that moment? How do you feel when you picture yourself there?
I bet I can tell you what you don’t imagine. I bet you don’t imagine that Jesus will never say anything to you for eternity except to quote Bible verses. I bet you don’t picture that every time you walk beside Him in heaven, pour out your heart to Him, ask Him all your questions, and tell Him all your feelings, He will quote a wonderful and relevant Bible verse and then say nothing else. I bet you would be very surprised if He did that.
I certainly never imagined that Jesus would speak to me that way in heaven. But I somehow thought that was all He was ‘allowed’ to do when I was on the earth.
Is that true?
Or is it the very opposite of the truth?
I think it is fair and safe to say that the Bible is the story of God restoring His relationship with humanity. In Genesis 1 and 2, Adam and Eve were created in His image, and they talked together with Him. They walked together and they talked together. God spoke to them and they heard Him. He blessed them and they heard Him. He commissioned them, telling them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it,” (Genesis 1: 28) and they heard His voice. God’s beautiful new human image-bearers had access to ceaseless, unbroken communion and communication with Him, day and night, until the day they heard His voice saying, “Adam, where are you?”
On that terrible day, when they disobeyed God’s voice, the intimacy with God that He had created them for was lost and broken. They were driven out of the garden. And from that point on, the Bible is the story of how God set out and acted to redeem them and restore that lost relationship, so He could dwell with humans again on the earth.
Intimacy and relationship requires communication, two-way communication. I believe that ceaseless, endless, continuous, two-way communication between God and each human image-bearer has always been His goal and the desire of His heart. I believe that spirit-to-spirit communication with each of us, His Spirit with ours, has always been the goal that He set out to restore.
The Bible is the story of how God pursued that goal, of how He has and will restore His creation and His relationship with humanity through, ultimately, the work of His Son. The question is not the sufficiency or inerrancy or infallibility or inspiration or worth of His word–His word is all of those things–but rather the fulfillment of His word. The question is rather, “Where are we now in the story?”
I think all Christians agree that in Heaven, in the age to come, we will all have two-way, personal conversation with Jesus that will not be only through the words of Scripture. We all expect to see Jesus, hug Jesus, kneel before Jesus, walk with Jesus, talk with Jesus, stroll hand in hand with Jesus, ask Jesus questions and receive answers, tell Jesus what is on our hearts and receive a verbal response and see the expression on His face, and etc. etc. etc. And even more importantly, I believe that He is looking forward to doing all of those things with us. So the question is rather, How much of that can we have now, in this age, by the indwelling Holy Spirit?
What if it doesn’t dishonor God’s written word for us to have those kinds of “personal conversations” with Him in this age, when His Spirit dwells inside of each believer, any more than it will in the ages to come? What if, on the contrary, it fulfills His written word when we do that? What if those personal conversations with our Abba Father through His Holy Spirit are the God of the Bible achieving His Biblical goal of restoring fellowship with us?
What if we can do so much more than ‘only imagine’ what it will be like when we walk by His side? What if we can start to enjoy it today?