As one who confesses that God sent his son Jesus to save me from the consequences of my sin, and to “prepare a place” for me, and to clothe me in a body that will never die, and to give me access to all that God has for me in his son, is it ok to want to be in heaven for anything other than Jesus? To the point, if a loved one dies in the Lord, is it saintly to desire heaven because you want to be with someone besides/other than/along with Jesus?
This is tricky, mostly because our hearts are naturally deceptive and can masquerade false motives (Jer. 17:9; Heb. 4:12). Which of these expressions feels comfortable to you and which do not?
I want to go to heaven to see ____, and Jesus too.
I want to go to heaven to see ____, other than Jesus.
I want to go to heaven to see _____. Oh yes, Jesus would be nice too.
I want to go to heaven to see _____. Jesus? It doesn’t matter if I see him or not.
I want to go to heaven to see Jesus because it’s better than the alternative.
I want to go to heaven because I love Jesus most of all.
Regardless of religious conviction or persuasion, most people want to go some place when they die, they don’t want to go nowhere. And most people who want to go some place when they die want to go to a place where, at least in their minds, is a place where nearly every desire is fulfilled. Most people don’t want to go to a place that makes the worst experience here, seem like a casual pleasant stroll through the countryside. Most people instinctively want to go to a place where what was lost is restored – and then some. This is natural. This is a witness of not only our humanity, but also of something out there, that if we do not apprehend it as an eternal possession, we feel less than human and unfulfilled.
The longing for heaven was not put in us by crusty theologians who have nothing better to do than to theologize. It was put in us by the one who made us (Ecc. 3:11). To quote C.S. Lewis, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
For me, the only expression above that works for me is the last one. But this is not a cold criticism of those who express a deep desire to see a loved one who has gone on to be with the Lord. This is not pitting a loved one against Jesus to see which is your most favorite. Nor is this an attempt to dismiss and explain away the anguish of being alone by saying, “You won’t want to see your loved one once you see Jesus.” Nonsense. If heaven is anything it is a place where lovers of Christ receive “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7), an innumerable festal gathering of angels along with a massive assembly of all the enrolled of heaven (Heb. 12:22-23). What a Party!
For me, my best expression is this:
I want to go to heaven because I want to see the one who loved me enough to save me from the consequences of my sin – I want to see the most spectacular Person who is truly worthy of all my affection. I can’t tell you who I’ll see first, Jesus, or my loved one, who also died loving Jesus, evidently, for the same reason. But . . . if I should see my loved one first, before Jesus, the most appropriate response would be to run up with arms wide open, embrace, laugh, swing with elation, cry and jump with joyful tears, xoxoxoxox, lol, “like”, and anything else that would express over-the-top pleasure. But then, as my eye would look past and see the unmistakable visage of the crucified, buried, and risen Savior, smiling with approval and delight over my joy, I would immediately drop everything that I was doing, and with all of my being plummet at his feet in humble adoration. I would, no, I will worship him for saving sinners by grace, including me. I will thank him for saving my loved one without any sense of entitlement for my own presence there.
I don’t know who I’ll see first when I get to heaven, but this I know, when I see Jesus, then I will know that I am finally home. Whoever else is there, will be Jesus’ way of saying,
“This is for our mutual delight, for ever and ever – it’s a gift from my Father to us – Enjoy!” (John 17).