We Cannot Overestimate Heaven, or Lessons on Happiness from Jonathan Edwards
[First published at www.desiringgod.org on Monday, March 29, 2021]
One of the more destructive threats to the human soul and the purposes for which God created and redeemed us is boredom. We were not made for boredom. Our hearts are hardwired by God for delight and discovery and ever-increasing joy and satisfaction in all that God is for us in Jesus and in all that God has created and does.
This is why boredom is the devil’s delight. It is his playground. He takes pleasure in launching his assault against the souls of those who find nothing to excite and fascinate their hearts and minds. Boredom renders the human soul increasingly vulnerable to Satan’s promise of pleasure and satisfaction in whatever sinful endeavors he believes will most readily entice us.
Therefore, to be consistently satisfied in God — to find the deepest possible joy in knowing him, loving him, beholding his beauty, and trusting his promises — is our greatest defense against “deceitful desires” (Eph. 4:22), those desires that regularly promise to provide us with what our enemy insists can alone bring us happiness. Such desires are deceitful because through them Satan lies to us. He misleads and dupes us into thinking that yielding to them and following his promptings will overcome the boredom that we all so deeply despise and from which we all so desperately long to be free.
This is why the promise of ever-increasing joy in heaven is so precious to the child of God. One of the worst and most unbiblical of all our misguided beliefs about heaven is that it will prove to be an eternity of perpetual boredom, an endless cycle of celestial reruns. After all, once we’ve been there for those “ten thousand years” (as we sing in the hymn “Amazing Grace”), what will be left for us to do, to see, to know?
I’ve often heard people speak almost fearfully of heaven based on the distorted notion that once we’ve encountered and experienced and learned it all, we’ll be compelled to sit idly by and twiddle our redeemed thumbs for lack of activity or anything new to discover.
No one has pushed back against this hideous conception of the eternal state more energetically and persuasively than Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758). It was Edwards who first opened my eyes to the fact that the joy of heaven will be ever-increasing, incessantly expansive, ceaselessly intensified — that the almost unimaginable delight that every believer will experience upon entering the presence of our great, triune God is not a one-time disclosure that brings a singular surge of spiritual satisfaction. Edwards insisted that with each passing moment will come a greater revelation of some heretofore unseen and unexplored aspect of who God is that will serve to kindle the fire of joy and fascination in our hearts.
Edwards appealed to this truth about heaven in making his case that the essence of true religion consists in what he called holy affections. His point is that we learn the quintessential nature of anything by looking closely at its highest and purest expression. To know true religion, therefore, we must look at it in its heavenly expression:
If we can learn anything of the state of heaven from the Scripture, the love and joy that the saints have there, is exceeding great and vigorous; impressing the heart with the strongest and most lively sensation, of inexpressible sweetness, mightily moving, animating, and engaging them, making them like to a flame of fire. And if such love and joy be not affections, then the word affection is of no use in language. Will any say, that the saints in heaven, in beholding the face of their Father, and the glory of their Redeemer, and contemplating his wonderful works, and particularly his laying down his life for them, have their hearts nothing moved and affected, by all which they behold or consider? (Religious Affections, 43)
To have our hearts “moved and affected,” as Edwards says, is the destiny of every redeemed soul. But at no time (assuming there is “time” in the eternal state) will we ever encounter the conclusion or consummation or terminus of the joy that was ours that first moment we set our eyes on Jesus. The “inexpressible sweetness” of beholding the face of our Savior can never be compared to anything we see or encounter on earth. We’ll never reach a point at which we can ever say, “Well, that was nice. But I’ve had enough. Is there nothing else for me now? Must I spend the remainder of eternity bored from the lack of insight or information or fresh discoveries into the nature and activity of God?”
Worshiping an Infinite God
But how do we know that Edwards is correct when he speaks of heaven as the soul-satisfying experience of ever-increasing joy in God? There are numerous texts to which he would appeal, but here I will draw attention to one aspect about God that settles the case. It comes in the form of a question: “Is God infinite?”
Well, of course he is! But what does that have to do with what heaven will be like? My understanding of God’s infinity means, among other things, that he is endless and inexhaustible in terms of the depths of his character and attributes. The notion of divine infinity demands that there be no specific sum total of the facets of God’s nature. And each of his unfathomable and immeasurable character traits is beyond computation. In other words, God is never quantifiable. He cannot be numbered or counted or exhaustively comprehended. If at any time in eternity future one of us could justifiably say, “That’s all there is — I know everything about God that can be known,” one of two conclusions is warranted: either you yourself are God, because you are now omniscient, or the “God” about whom you know all things is, in point of fact, not God after all.
The standard treatments of the divine attributes typically include no more than 25 or 30. After carefully reading them, we may think that we now understand everything about God that can be known. But the apostle Paul is quick to remind us that “the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God” are of such a “depth” that no mind can fully fathom him in his fullness (Rom. 11:33). Likewise, his “judgments” and “ways” are “unsearchable” and “inscrutable,” and no one can plumb the endless depths and vast dimensions of “the mind of the Lord” (Rom. 11:33-34).
There is only one conclusion to draw from this. There will never be so much as a millisecond in heaven when we are not exposed to yet another truth about God, another dimension of his majesty, an additional feature to his splendor and power and glory and strength. We may well run out of English words to describe God, but that is no measure of what is actually and eternally and endlessly true of him.
Know, Love, Delight — Forever
Edwards is helpful in reminding us that with each new discovery of something about the inexhaustible and infinite God there comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes fascination and joy, and with joy comes satisfaction, and with satisfaction comes ceaseless worship and adoration. Just when you think you’ve seen it all and your mind can’t possibly process or contain another thought about God, he will graciously expand your capacity to grasp and rejoice in yet one more truth, followed by yet one more truth, to be followed again and again for the endless ages of our life with him in the new heaven and new earth.
Boredom in heaven? Hardly! Boredom may be one of the intolerable torments of those in hell, but for the children of God — who with each successive moment see yet more beauty and grandeur as revealed in the face of Jesus Christ — heaven will never cease to be an ever-expansive growth in the knowledge and delight of our Lord and Savior.
I’ll close with the words of Edwards himself, who speaks of the saints in heaven in a way that is befitting to the infinity of God. The knowledge of those in heaven, he writes,
will increase to eternity; and if their knowledge, doubtless their holiness. For as they increase in the knowledge of God and of the works of God, the more they will see of his excellency; and the more they see of his excellency . . . the more will they love him; and the more they love God, the more delight and happiness . . . will they have in him. (Miscellanies, 105)