Singing About Heaven

Heaven does not get much description in the Bible. Revelation 21 and 22 offer a glimpse of the after life, but also note these chapters are describing the New Jerusalem, not heaven.

Since the Bible does not define what heaven looks like or what life will be like, one would imagine a wide array of descriptive words would be used in our songs about heaven.

But after looking at about a hundred hymns that refer to heaven, three very common themes run through these songs when they describe heaven.

1) Mansions. Many hymns, from hokey ones like I’ve Got a Mansion Over the Hilltop to more churchy hymns like When We All Get to Heaven, mention our own personal mansions to spend eternity frolicking in.

2) Sea, Ocean or Shore. Christians are either going to gather by the crystal sea or we will meet on that beautiful shore.

3) Rivers. There is either a mention of a specific heavenly river or crossing the Jordan.

What is interesting about these descriptions of heaven is that two don’t even exits.

The mansion idea is from John 14 and the KJV rendering that “in my Father’s house are many mansions.” The word for mansion can be as generic s a dwelling place. Probably it is better translated “In my Father’s dwelling place there are many places to dwell.” Heaven is big and there’s room for everyone.

It is ironic that Christians, who routinely mock Muslims for wanting to go to heaven so they get virgins, at the same time promote heaven because we get nice, big houses. How is one fleshly lust worse than another fleshly lust?

The ocean, sea and shore stuff, I’m not at all certain what that is referring to. Revelation 21:1 says there is no sea in the New Jerusalem, which is where we base most of our heaven stuff on. What is this sea or this shore we are meeting on? I will be bummed if you all know where it is and I can’t find it and I miss out.

I get the river stuff, there is a river flowing out of the New Jerusalem and crossing the Jordan to enter to Promised Land are nice descriptors. The other two, not so much.

4 thoughts on “Singing About Heaven”

  1. I think the “mansions” referred to does not mean elaborate houses, but rather positions of great responsibility. This is indicated in the parable of the pounds in Luke 19: “because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.”

    I’m not sure where the idea originates from, but the constellations of stars are said to be divided into “mansions”. These would then be different areas of the universe.

    Since Jesus promised that those who overcame would sit on thrones ruling with Him, and since His kingdom is over the whole universe, it again points to the same idea: the mansions we are given are areas of the universe, over which we are responsible.

    Since those who know what it means to have been in rebellion, and to have tasted freedom, have a witness, testimony and experience that is beyond what the angels have gone through, this qualification fits them for the highest ruling positions (those who have been forgiven much, love much…and love is the essence of God’s kingdom and government).

    “My thoughts are not your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8). God’s thoughts are higher than ours, and so inevitably, our human tendency is to minimize the promises, or “carnalize” them to suit our own fleshly ideas, whereas God has in mind something completely different.

    Jesus came not to rule (in the carnal sense), but to serve. So heaven is a place of very active service, which is indicated in the vision of Revelation 4 where the four living creatures rest not day or night to say “holy, holy, holy is the Lord”. That doesn’t mean they just mindlessly repeat certain words, but that their whole life is given to the service of the Lord, which is simply what holiness is all about. Whereas sin introduced the idea of serving ourselves, those who are in heaven never cease to serve others, according to the Lord’s appointed place and plan.

    Whereas the entrance of sin offered another way which was supposed to bring greater development, these saints have learned the foolishness of departing from God’s will, and so reach their highest development by choosing His will for their lives.

    What makes heaven “heaven”, is this love of following the Lord, and full trust that His way is best. All the symbols, such as the river, tree, streets of gold, etc., carry the same thought: pure, undivided service and devotion to the Creator is the only way to true success and honor.

    It is the lack of this that makes it impossible on this earth to have cities with streets of gold and pearls in the gates, etc. Therefore, the reward of these outward beauties will only be for those who have learned the inward beauty.

  2. Here’s a song that conveys the idea of heavenly life (or perhaps life on the New Earth) a bit more clearly:

    I Long For Home!

    1. I long for home, my Father’s house in heaven,
    Where joys are ever springing new;
    Far from the weary world’s confusing customs,
    To heaven’s rest, so pure and true!
    That land where Jesus is the only Shepherd,
    The gentle lamb will lie down with the leopard,
    Where honest hearts will never be alone,
    I long for home, I long for home!

    I long for home, I long for home,
    I long for home, my Father’s house in heaven!
    I long for home, my Father’s house in heaven,
    I long for home, I long for home!

    2. I long for home, where crystal streams are flowing,
    The tree of life will feed the meek;
    Widespreading plains swell into hills of beauty,
    And mountains rear their lofty peaks.
    Upon those plains, beside the living waters,
    A dwelling place for freedom’s sons and daughters,
    And wand’ring pilgrims nevermore shall roam,
    I long for home, I long for home!

    3. I long for home, where suffering is banished,
    Where tears and death are passed away;
    No sickness mars the health of minds and bodies,
    For there is no iniquity.
    There is a city where the saints assemble,
    Like precious stone, her glorious light resembles,
    For God is there and reigns upon His throne,
    I long for home, I long for home!

    4. I long for home, where I shall see my Father,
    Not through a veil, but face to face,
    And walk and talk with happy, holy beings
    To learn the mysteries of grace.
    Immortal minds will contemplate with wonder,
    As treasures from the universe are gathered,
    And love increase as Love is better known,
    I long for home, I long for home!

  3. The metaphor of crossing the Jordan River to the Promised Land implies a metaphorical “shore” of the metaphorical river.

    As to the “Crystal Sea” there is Revelation 4:6 “And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.”

    This “sea of glass like unto crystal” becomes the “crystal sea” in the songs.

    Revelation 4:6 about the “Sea of glass like unto crystal” does not contradict Revelation 21:1 about “there will be no sea” since in 4:6 the idea is obviously about a floor being called a “Sea” by some figure of speech. The “Crystal Sea” is a great crystal floor underneath the throne of God.

    As to the mansions, one could refer to like Luke 19:17 the parable where Jesus says “because thou hast been faithful in a very little, have thou authority over ten cities.” If its possible that we might be given 10 cities, then mansions aren’t a big stretch.

  4. As to the crystal sea from Rev 4:6, it may be references in the Old Testament also, in Exodus 24:10 “And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.”

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