Will there be dinosaurs on the New Earth? And will we be able to enjoy our cup of coffee in our eternal existence? Until last week I never asked myself those questions.
Last month I held two Zoom presentations for about a hundred members of the Sligo church in Washington, DC, who attend a special Sabbath school class which addresses all kinds of topics (without the use of the ‘quarterly’). Currently, this group does not meet physically, but uses Zoom digital technology. My presentations were based on my latest book I HAVE A FUTURE: CHRIST’S RESURRECTION AND MINE. During the discussion after the second presentation, one of the digital participants (who happened to be a fellow-students at Andrews University over 45 years ago) asked if I knew of the book entitled Heaven by a certain Dr. Randy Alcorn. He thought I would find it interesting, so I ordered it the next day in England via www.bookdepository.com. The book arrived within a week and in the meantime I’ve read parts of it.
The author of the book differs on a number of fundamental points from the Adventist view on death and life hereafter. For example, he defends the idea that man’s immortal soul goes to the ‘first’ heaven immediately after death, and will, after the bodily resurrection has taken place, live eternally in the ‘final’ heaven, which is the new earth. The writer also insists on the concept of an eternal punishment in hell!
However, that was not the reason why my friend from university days recommended this book to me. From my lecture he understood that I wanted to be very careful when sketching too concrete a picture of the new earth. Indeed, I emphasized that Bible writers could only say something about our eternal destiny in images that were part of their time and culture. For example, Isaiah tells us that we will plant vineyards and build our own houses, while John refers to a city with walls and gates like he knew in his days. And if we look at how, over the centuries, artists have portrayed the eternal paradise, we see that they invariably used motifs and images with which they were familiar.
But Randy Alcorn makes it very concrete in his book. He emphasizes that the new earth is identical to our present earth, albeit completely renewed and perfected. But the things we will experience are the same things that we are used to now–except that they are made perfect. Alcorn thinks we must read the Bible very literally. He believes it will be fantastic to live in a city with thick walls, like the Revelation describes. Of course those walls are no longer necessary, but they remind us of God’s power to protect us. Nature will not be fundamentally different from what we presently have on this earth, apart from the fact that, of course, there will be no more natural disasters. Compared to the waterfalls we will have on the new earth, the current Niagara Falls will look abysmally small.
I’m just picking a few things from the hundreds of pages this author spends on his description of our eternal future. One question particularly caught my interest: Shall we drink coffee in heaven? According to Dr. Randy Alcorn, these are the facts: God made the coffee. Coffee grows on the earth that God made for us and that man was told to cultivate. Among the trees that God created was also the coffee bush–one of the trees which God described it as ‘very good’. Moreover, we read in the Bible that all good things must be accepted under thanksgiving. We may assume that our taste buds on the new earth will function even better than they do now and that therefore the coffee will taste infinitely better than it already does in our present life! Similar reasoning leads to the conclusion that our pets will be part of our eternal future. And it gets better and better: there is no reason to think that there will be no books as we know them now! And then, a few pages further on, I find the assurance that there will undoubtedly also be dinosaurs on the new earth. After all, they were once created by God! Because things went wrong on our present earth, all kinds of animals became extinct, but it is reasonable to think that what God originally created will be recreated ‘in full glory’.
Personally I find it amusing to read this kind of things, but to me it is not very appealing. I believe in eternal life. I assume that there is continuity in the sense that we will be the same people. The mortally imperfect person I am now will be resurrected as immortal and perfect and will live in a perfect setting. What this eternal future will be like I cannot know as long as I live in the here and now. Dr. Acorn’s depiction of our eternal destiny is the speculative result of a questionable way of reading the Bible, which in my opinion has little to do with real faith. Real faith says: ‘Lord, I belong to you and trust you. I look forward to see what you have in mind for me.The Bible gives me some basic ideas, but rather than to speculate and fantasize, I want to be surprised.