Life Everlasting

Life Everlasting, Dan C. Barber and Robert A. Peterson (P&R, 2012) At my last book club, my cousin reviewed the book Heaven is for Real. It had already been negatively reviewed several months ago in our group, but she wanted to read it for herself. If you haven’t been living under a rock during this last year, you know this is the story of a four-year-old boy who supposedly hung out in heaven for a while when he had an appendectomy. While my cousin admitted that this is not a book to learn our theology of heaven from (phew!), she did say that it was an encouraging and comforting read to her. She shared that the book had her focusing her thoughts on heaven and she thought, “How can that be a bad thing?” Interestingly, I had just ordered Life Everlasting: The Unfolding Story of Heaven. I loved it that my cousin said she was encouraged to focus her thoughts on heaven. This is one of the themes in my Hebrews Bible study. Right now we are studying the “heavenly hope” the patriarchs had, dying in the faith as they desired a better, heavenly home--a city that God is preparing for them (11:13-16). But if I am going to “hold fast to the confession of [my] hope without wavering,” I want something more authoritative than the experience of a four-year-old boy to teach me what that is. And since God is faithful, he sufficiently gives us what he wants us to know about heaven in his Word. That is what Life Everlasting is about. Heaven really is for real. And I think most of us have plenty of questions about heaven. Will our pets be there? Will we recognize one another? What will my body really look like? How old will I be? What’s this whole business of a new heaven and a new earth? Barber and Peterson address most of these sort of questions in the last chapter of the book. Sure, they are fine to wonder, but they really do belong in the back of the book. It’s like being more concerned about the cake and flowers at your wedding than with the person that you are planning to marry, and your whole new status in the consummated relationship. So what do they talk about for the first 90% of the book? It is broken into five parts, discussing the themes of creation, rest, the kingdom, God’s presence, and God’s glory. Each one of these themes take the reader on a biblical tour through creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. I really appreciated how this was organized. I think it will help the reader to retain more of the biblical truths taught about God’s dwelling place, and how he is preparing us to enjoy everlasting fellowship in his presence. Speaking of God’s presence, this was my favorite part of the book. I found this section both the most convicting and the most encouraging to my own soul. In reflecting on God’s presence in our lives now the authors exhort: The problem is not that God is absent from our lives—how could he be? The problem is that we do not appropriate by faith the reality of his presence. If we really believed that God is with us now, that nothing can damage our salvation, that there is nothing to fear from life around us (Rom. 8:33-39), how would that change the way we act at home…at school…at work…at the gym…or at church? Understanding that God is with us always—even as we anticipate his eternal presence—strengthens us when we are weak and assures us that we can stand firm (Loc. 1989). The chapter gets even better as they ask how this reality affects our view of our own sin, stating, “Our lives are as sacred as the Holy of Holies once was…since the presence of God dwells in each of us” (Loc. 1989). I also liked how the authors discuss God’s presence in us individually, as well as in the community of believers: “But the presence of God within us unites us not only to himself, but also to each other” (Loc. 2001). In this chapter, we see “a picture of the presence of God dwelling with his people” (Loc. 1964) from Revelation 21. While Barber and Peterson had plenty of enriching truths to teach in their two chapters on rest, I found myself wanting them to elaborate a little more. When discussing the reason God rested on the seventh day of creation, they made some good points, but didn’t include the idea of rest being associated with utter satisfaction in his works. I believe this is an important point because our rest is due to God’s utter satisfaction in Christ’s work on our behalf. We rest in Christ’s righteousness. This is why we now rest on the first day of the week—to point to the reality that God has done the work. We receive his graces, and are then sent out with a benediction. Barber and Peterson challenge believers with the amazing truth that we are all headed for eternal glory. They are convinced that as we focus our thoughts on the biblical teaching of heaven, our lives will be transformed by these truths. When we meditate on our everlasting life in God’s dwelling place, our hearts and affections are lifted up in joy. We desire to please the One who has lavished his grace upon us. And we look forward to that day when we will see him face to face. That is a very good thing.