Heaven, Education, and Eternal Learning
A poet, fearful of death, asked about how a person could live without “knowing for sure what dawn, what death, what doom, awaited consciousness beyond the tomb?” He created in his poem what he called the IPH, the Institute of Preparation for the Hereafter. Yet, how can one prepare for the hereafter if one doesn’t even know what happens to a person in it?
Fortunately, the Bible gives us great insight into the subject of heaven, the new earth, and the learning and living we will do throughout eternity. As we have seen all quarter, the IPH is here and now, in this life, and all our education—regardless of the field of study—should be preparing us for that “hereafter.”
After all, any school can pass on a lot of good information, a lot of good practical and helpful knowledge. But what good does it do if a person were to gain all that knowledge yet lose eternal life? This week we’re going to look at what inspiration tells about the ultimate graduate school, a school that goes on forever and where we will be learning and growing throughout all eternity. In this school of the hereafter, we’ll learn things that, in this present world, we can’t even begin to imagine.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 26.
In the 1600s, a French writer named Blaise Pascal was ruminating on the state of humanity. For him, one point was very clear: no matter how long a human being lived (and back then they didn’t live all that long), and no matter how good that person’s life was (and life wasn’t all that great back then either), sooner or later that person was going to die. Moreover, whatever came after death was going to be longer, infinitely longer, than the short span of life here that preceded death. Thus, for Pascal, the most logical thing a person could or should find out is what fate awaits the dead, and he was astonished to see people get all worked up over things such as “loss of office, or for some imaginary insult to his honor,” yet they paid no heed to the question of what happened after they were to die.
Pascal had a point. And that’s no doubt why the Bible spends a great deal of time talking about the promise awaiting those who have found salvation in Jesus, the promise of what will await them in the future.
Eternal life makes so much sense in light of the cross; in light of the cross, nothing else makes sense but eternal life. That the Creator of the universe, the One who “made the worlds” (Heb. 1:2), the One in whom “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28), that He, God, should incarnate in human flesh and in that flesh die . . . for what? That we ultimately rot, like roadkill?
That’s why the New Testament comes laced with promises of eternal life, for only the eternal guarantees restitution. A million years, even a billion years, might not possess enough good moments to make up for the bad. Eternity alone can balance all things out, and then some, because the infinite is more than the finite, and always infinitely so. Pascal was right: our time here is so limited in contrast to what is coming. How silly not to be ready for the eternity that awaits us.
“And God shall wipe away 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” (Rev. 21:4). What does this tell us about just how different from this world our new existence will be, an existence in which death, sorrow, and pain are gone?
A Christian was talking to a friend about the hope of the gospel, the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The person responded negatively to the whole idea. “Eternal life?” he said with a shudder. “What a horrible thought! Our seventy to eighty years here are bad enough. Who’d want to stretch this out forever? That would be hell.” This person would have a point, except that he didn’t understand that the promise of eternal life isn’t a mere continuation of this life here. Please—who would want that? Instead, as the text above says, the old things are passed away, and all things have become new.
2 Pet. 3:10–13
“Heaven is a school; its field of study, the universe; its teacher, the Infinite One. A branch of this school was established in Eden; and, the plan of redemption accomplished, education will again be taken up in the Eden school.”—Ellen G. White, Education, p. 301. If you are like most people, you have a lot of questions—questions about sin, suffering, sickness, death, about why this happened, why that happened, why the other things happened.
We have questions about the natural world, too, and all its mysteries. For all the incredible progress science has made in helping us understand more about the world and the universe as a whole, so much is still beyond our grasp.
From the simplest life-forms to the sky over our heads, from the motion of subatomic particles to the whirling galaxies that are scattered across the cosmos, we are confronted with a reality that is so much bigger and deeper than our minds can now grasp, especially with the little bit of time we have here and now to study these things for ourselves. On the other hand, when you have an eternity to study, then no doubt a lot of mysteries will be resolved for us.
1 Cor. 13:12
1 Cor. 4:5
We are promised that we will be given an understanding of things that, for now, remain hidden to us. What a wonderful hope, too, that once we do see and understand things that now seem so difficult, we will have nothing but praise for God! The key for us now is to hold on to our faith, trust in God’s promises, live up to the light that we have, and endure unto the end. And the good news is that we “can do all things through Christ who strengthens” us (Phil. 4:13, NKJV).
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17,18).
However real the promises offered us in Jesus, however many good reasons we have to believe in them, the fact remains that the Bible gives us just hints, glimpses, of what awaits us. One thing that we can be sure of, however, is that it’s going to be great, because just think how great life would be in an existence without the ravages of sin!
All our pain, all our suffering, all the things that we struggle with here come from sin and the consequences of sin. Christ came to undo all that, and He will restore the earth to what God originally had intended it to be before sin entered. In fact, it will be better, because amid all these glories we will forever be able to behold the scars on Jesus’ hands and feet, the cost of our redemption.
“There, when the veil that darkens our vision shall be removed, and our eyes shall behold that world of beauty of which we now catch glimpses through the microscope; when we look on the glories of the heavens, now scanned afar through the telescope; when, the blight of sin removed, the whole earth shall appear in ‘the beauty of the Lord our God,’ what a field will be open to our study! There the student of science may read the records of creation and discern no reminders of the law of evil. He may listen to the music of nature’s voices and detect no note of wailing or undertone of sorrow. In all created things he may trace one handwriting—in the vast universe behold ‘God’s name writ large,’ and not in earth or sea or sky one sign of ill remaining.”—Ellen G. White, Education, p. 303.
As we have seen this whole quarter, one central aspect of Christ’s ministry here on earth was that of a teacher. From the beginning of His ministry, whether through acts or deeds, Jesus was constantly teaching His followers truths about Himself, about the Father, about salvation, and about the hope that awaits us (see Matt. 5:2, Mark 4:2, Luke 19:47, John 6:59).
Indeed, all you have to do is skim through a Gospel, any Gospel, and all through it you will find Jesus teaching. And though, even now, through His Word, the Lord continues to teach us, in the new world this teaching will continue, as well. But imagine how different it will be in an existence unencumbered by sin and all the limitations it places on us.
“And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends” (Zech. 13:6).
“The years of eternity, as they roll, will bring richer and still more glorious revelations of God and of Christ. As knowledge is progressive, so will love, reverence, and happiness increase. The more men learn of God, the greater will be their admiration of His character. As Jesus opens before them the riches of redemption and the amazing achievements in the great controversy with Satan, the hearts of the ransomed thrill with more fervent devotion, and with more rapturous joy they sweep the harps of gold; and ten thousand times ten thousand and thousands of thousands of voices unite to swell the mighty chorus of praise. . . .
“The great controversy is ended. Sin and sinners are no more. The entire universe is clean. One pulse of harmony and gladness beats through the vast creation. From Him who created all, flow life and light and gladness, throughout the realms of illimitable space. From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 678.
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “The School of the Hereafter,” pp. 301–309, in Education; “The Controversy Ended,” pp. 662–678, in The Great Controversy.
“The lion, we should much dread and fear here, will then lie down with the lamb, and everything in the New Earth will be peace and harmony. The trees of the New Earth will be straight and lofty, without deformity. . . .
“Let all that is beautiful in our earthly home remind us of the crystal river and green fields, the waving trees and the living fountains, the shining city and the white-robed singers, of our heavenly home—that world of beauty which no artist can picture and no mortal tongue describe. Let your imagination picture the home of the saved, and remember that it will be more glorious than your brightest imagination can portray.”—Ellen G. White, Heaven, pp. 133, 134.
“A fear of making the future inheritance seem too material has led many to spiritualize away the very truths which lead us to look upon it as our home. Christ assured His disciples that He went to prepare mansions for them in the Father’s house. Those who accept the teachings of God’s word will not be wholly ignorant concerning the heavenly abode. . . . Human language is inadequate to describe the reward of the righteous. It will be known only to those who behold it. No finite mind can comprehend the glory of the Paradise of God.”—Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pp. 674, 675.