October 17, 2000
When writers scan newspapers, we notice things like typographical errors, spelling mistakes, and articles related to words, writing and grammar. A few weeks ago, I noticed one about punctuation. It was brief. It said, “The exclamation mark comes from a vertical version of the Latin word ‘Io’ meaning ‘joy.’ The vertical stroke was the ‘I’ and it was placed above the ‘o’ which eventually became a dot.”
That same week, while preparing to lead a Bible study on ‘heaven,’ I came across this quote: “In heaven, all our questions will straighten up into exclamation marks.” (Vance Havner)
I believe that in the economy and power of God, there are no coincidences. He juxtaposed these two thoughts to reinforce a biblical truth; heaven is a place of great joy. Since Christians also experience deep joy here on earth, I wondered if our joy has anything to do with heaven?
The Bible uses the word heaven in three ways. 1) the visible starry expanse above us, 2) a higher created reality we cannot see but where God is praised and served, and 3) the sphere or space of God’s very being.
Jesus said that the will of God is done perfectly in heaven, yet He came from heaven and brought heavenly blessings to us. Those who trust Him expect a heavenly heritage and look for a heavenly city where we will dwell with God forever, yet Jesus says that those who belong to Him also fellowship with God here on earth.
While we use ‘eternity’ and ‘heaven’ interchangeably, it seems eternity is entered through death and is a ‘leap’ from what we know here. Eternity has no limitations of time and space, and as long as we live here, we cannot know the eternal realm. However, there is a sense in which heaven is available to us right now. We can know the presence of God and even be included in the kingdom of God. Jesus described telling a Jewish leader named Nicodemus that, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
Nicodemus was a religious man yet he was not wise about eternal things. For him, the invisible heavenly realm would remained invisible unless he was made into a new person. But that was not all that needs to happen before people could understand heaven.
Right before His death, Jesus told His disciples that He would go away and prepare a place for them. Some think He meant taking that ‘leap’ of death into eternity so He could prepare heaven while He was gone. Yet Jesus did not remain dead. Instead, He was talking about going to the cross. In dying for our sins, He would prepare a place for us. His death opened up to us the realm of God, preparing that place and making it available to all who believe.
With sin, we cannot enter into the realm of a Holy God. But with our sin forgiven and cleansed, and our lives renewed by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can see and enter into His presence, just as Jesus told Nicodemus. In other words, before that great ‘leap’ of death into eternity, we can experience a taste of heaven right now, and that taste means great joy. An old hymn says, “Heaven came down and glory filled my soul, when at the cross my Savior made me whole; my sins were washed away and my night was turned to day — heaven came down and glory filled my soul.”
The bottom line? Even though we might still have some questions, for those who know Jesus, heaven is already an exclamation mark!