Our full Christian hope is connected to our current actions in two directions. We tend to miss or ignore the second. One directional connection we all know: as we make wise decisions as his stewards in this life, the King will give us charge over more in the new creation when he returns (Luke 19:15–17). What about the other direction? Paul uses eschatological logic (“eschatologic,” perhaps?) in the other direction. Our future reality must bounce back to profoundly affect our action now, and specifically in terms of justice—i.e. judging complex situations rightly.
An angry mob seizes an innocent man on the street. They beat him with rocks. They drag him as a lifeless animal and dump him in an unmarked place. They leave him for dead in dust and blood. They walk home, unaccountable.
Many Christians crave heaven as an escape from such unjust realities on earth. Yes, but the Bible presents something better.
Hope within Injustice
The situation above is accurate to experiences of numerous minority Americans. In this instance, it actually describes the apostle Paul’s experience in Lystra, Galatia (Acts 14).
Paul suffered unjustly many times and for various reasons. It always involved his voice for the truth of Jesus, the Lord. But Paul was no stranger to other intertwined factors. Economic greed easily trumped truth and justice (Acts 16:19; cf. 19:23–27). Ethnic prejudice incited mobs (16:20–21). Power, force, and incarceration were abused by government officials and local law enforcement (16:22–24). His rights as a citizen were ignored (16:37).
Yet Paul had hope. But not the kind to which many American evangelicals cling.
A Popular Hope that Falls Short
American evangelicals tend to latch onto a true hope that is nonetheless insufficient. It neither matches God’s full plan nor is fully effective on earth now in the way God has designed.
You may hope to be with Jesus in heaven when you die. Me too. Just imagine seeing the one whom you already know and trust for his self-sacrifice, honor, power, wisdom, and goodness! This is a true hope of Christians. Paul implies such a heavenly life-after-death in 1 Thess. 4:14 and declares it truly desirable (Phil. 1:23 and 2 Cor. 5:8). Bask in Revelation 4–5 a while; heaven sounds breathtaking!
But heaven is not the end, which is why theologians call it “the intermediate state.” There is something more, something better.
According to Scripture, God wants his children and world to be anchored within this painful, groan-filled life. So he gives us a hope for what is more eternal and more fully alive than our beautiful but bodiless and intermediate life-after-death in heaven. In fact, did you know that frustration still exists in heaven?