It was the perfect moment of a perfect sunset hour as our car sped on toward San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge. "Look, the part of that structure at the left of the approach really looks as if it were made of gold! The sunset light giving just that effect must have given the Golden Gate its name. What a fantastic sight! An illusion of gold." Our appreciation of the designing and engineering skill and of the sheer wonder of the effect continued as we drove over the bridge itself.
Then as we gained altitude on the road on the other side and looked back at the city, seemingly hung between sky and bay water, glistening with the light of the setting sun in myriads of windows in tall buildings, it gave the illusion of a golden city as high as it is wide, floating in space. After the evening filming was over, in a nearby town, the drive back brought us to the same spot in moonlight; thousands of twinkling lights caused that city on a hill to give the illusion again of being hung in space among stars and moon, almost a cube, reflected in water, breathtakingly beautiful. Perfection? Dream's end? Paradise found?
And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and skewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like jasper stone, clear as crystal … and the city Beth foursquare, and the length is as large as the breadth: and he measured the city with the reed, twelve thousand furlongs. The length and the breadth and the height of it are equal. And he measured the wall thereof, an hundred and forty and four cubits, according to the measure of a man, that is, of the angel. And the building of the wall of it was of jasper: and the city was pure gold, like unto clear glass. And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of ,precious stones (Rev. 21:10-11, 16-19).
Is this heavenly city a real place? Do you believe our eyes will see it, our hands touch the material it is composed of, our nostrils become filled with the air we can breathe there? What is real?
Jesus says, Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am there ye may be also (John 14: 1-4).
In Hebrews 11:16 the promise of Jesus to prepare a place is confirmed by a strong statement from God the Father: "But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city." God here is telling us that the very real existence of this city, a place we are going to come to know by experience in the future, is one very valid reason why he, God the Creator, can state that he is "not ashamed to be called their God."
But I saw with my own eyes San Francisco as a golden, glistening city of fairy beauty, floating in space. Was what I saw with my own eyes real? Was it not painted with sunlight, moonlight, and imagination? What is more trustworthy, our eyes as we watch a magician, our eyes as we "add and subtract" with our own imagination, or God's clearly stated factual promises? God is trustworthy. God's Word can be depended upon. He is not ashamed of his promises, and we need never fear that we will later be ashamed of believing him.
Drive into San Francisco now. Hear the sirens screaming as the police answer a call, listen to ambulances with their peculiar shrieks, watch fire engines swerving around corners to get to a fire before it is too late. Remember that this is where the "drug thing" had its beginning. As you are remembering the sixties, look at the porno advertisements hanging out in the streets on today's buildings. Smog is not only a matter of polluted air that hurts human lungs; there is intellectual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual smog pouring forth in so many mediums in all the cities of the world.
The golden beauty and twinkling lights of San Francisco do not spell perfection—this is paradise lost. Here are lost dreams, agony, depression, ugliness. Here are all the marks of the spoiled creation, spoiled at the time of "the fall." This golden city has so much that mars or "defiles" it; the golden perfection was only an illusion.
Come back to Revelation 21 now and read the last verse: "And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life." Nothing is going to mar, spoil, or pollute this city in any way. No person who is not perfect will even be there: only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life will be present. And when are the names recorded? A name is recorded at the same moment that Jesus gives "eternal life" and states that a person will never perish, the moment when that person is born again by accepting the substitutionary work of Christ Jesus. Listen:
And God shall wipe all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful (Rev. 21:4-5).
This is reality. Heaven is a place. There is a city we are going to see and walk in. Neither the place, nor the singing instead of sighing, nor the pleasure instead of pain, is an illusion. We await that which is real.
Are you sitting by the bed of someone struggling for breath in a painful, terminal illness? Have you just had a shattering telegram about a plane crash? Do you have fears about the moment of leaving your body? Has a child of yours died? Do you long for beauty and perfection but fear you will never find it? Has your life been a series of disappointments and depressions? Does the spoiled universe cause you to doubt that God can keep his promises and restore all things? Remember with Isaiah what God spoke centuries ago to reassure his children:
For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed: but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee. O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates, and thy gates of carbuncles and all thy borders pleasant stones (Isa. 54:10-12).
This hints at the shining, golden, gleaming beauty God is preparing for his children. Enjoy a distant view of San Francisco by sunset, but thank God while you look at it for his city, which will fulfill all his promises of perfection, with no letdown.
This article originally appeared in the March 12, 1976, issue of Christianity Today magazine. Edith Schaeffer and her husband, Francis, founded L'Abri Fellowship in 1955 in Switzerland. Her books include L'Abri, What Is a Family?, Christianity Is Jewish, and The Art of Life.
Copyright © 2003 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Other stories appearing on our site today include:
Harleys in Heaven | What Christians have thought of the afterlife and what difference it makes now.
The Believer's Final Bliss | The regeneration of man requires that old things must pass away and all things become new. By John Murray (July 7, 1958)
The Glories of Heaven | While heaven will be glorious, the greater glory will consist in our transformation. By Stanley C. Baldwin (May 22, 1964)
The Hope of Heaven | Have Christians forfeited their rightful anticipation of eternity? By L. Nelson Bell (May 24, 1968)
Heaven Can't Wait | I have seen the electrifying results of what can happen when the reality comes alive. By Philip Yancey (Sept. 7, 1984)
Heaven: Not Just an Eternal Day Off | As if anticipating the question, "Will life on the new earth be boring?" the Bible points to much activity there. By Anthony Hoekema (Sept. 20, 1985)
What Will Heaven Be Like? | Thirty-five frequently asked questions about eternity. By Peter Kreeft (from Tough Questions Christians Ask, 1989)
The Eternal Weight of Glory | If only we could have the positives of earthly life without the negatives. By Harry Blamires (May 27, 1991)
Afraid of Heaven | We do not yearn to be near God because we do not find sin utterly repugnant or goodness rapturously attractive. By Kenneth Kantzer (May 27, 1991)
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Hell's Final Enigma | Won't heaven's joy be spoiled by our awareness of unsaved loved ones in hell? (April 24, 2004)
Christian History Corner: How the Early Church Saw Heaven | The first Christians had very specific ideas about who they would meet in the afterlife. (August 9, 2002)
What's a Heaven For? | C. S. Lewis saw belief in heaven not as wishful thinking, but as thoughtful wishing. (Oct. 26, 1998)