Instant hot water is a startling luxury. It’s like having a freshly-baked cookie dispenser in the cupboard.
While staying in a home with a recently-renovated kitchen last year, I shot my wife a confused look when she put on the kettle. It was the third day of our visit, and I’d already seen her use the magic faucet several times.
During those first two days, my wife realized that she enjoyed her tea far less with the instant hot water. She missed the ritual. Using the fancy gizmo, there was much less waiting, much less anticipation. For her, the downtime involved in heating the water was a feature, not a bug. The anticipation increased her enjoyment.
That’s why I will never plan a surprise party for my wife. Such a party would land like a bouquet of wilting flowers. If she walked unexpectedly into a room of friends ready to celebrate, she would certainly smile and have a good time. But she’d also be disappointed. “This would have been so much better if you’d told me!”
Already, Not Yet
The life of a Christian is one of anticipation. We do not ignore the past or the present, but we look to the future with eagerness and hope.
In certain church circles, it is common to hear about the “already, not yet” nature of the kingdom of Jesus. Because of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, he is currently the king. His kingdom has already come, and people are being changed and experiencing his power right now.
However his kingdom has not yet come in fullness. We still see sin and misery around, among, and within us. We see other rulers who oppress and enslave. We groan as we look ahead to the consummation of all things.
Perhaps the not-yet nature of the kingdom offers us a lesson. Perhaps the waiting is meant to build our anticipation and longing for God. Our joy in the world-to-come expands as we lament and grieve during the world-as-is.
Our enjoyment of God also has an already, not yet quality. We can enjoy him now—through private and corporate worship, through his presence by his Spirit, through his word. But what we enjoy now in part we will enjoy later in full.
Not Just an Escape
I have heard heaven described as an escape. We want to go there to get away from here.
Now, I want no part of minimizing suffering. Part of the glory of the new heavens and earth is that there will be no more curse. We learn to long through contrast.
But some of us may need to adjust our heavenly longings. Instead of only thinking about getting away from something bad, we should also anticipate something wonderful. As we contemplate the Lord and his glory, we develop holy affections and long for what is to come for its own sake, not just for the relief it offers.
Unlike my wife, some people love surprises, and I believe their joy will be complete in heaven as well. There will be unexpected happiness in heaven even for the soul most thoroughly prepared.
My daughters love musical theater, and they’ve seen a few touring productions. Beforehand, they listen to the music, study the characters and plot, and watch available video clips. But the production itself is still a wonder; they cannot anticipate everything. The costumes, set, lighting, and crowd reactions are delightfully surprising, and they mix with the anticipated elements to produce hours of happiness.
We have some information about our future life in resurrected bodies—enough to build anticipation. But there will likely be enough that is new and surprising to produce deep, resonant, lasting joy in everyone. We will see clearly then what we glimpse dimly now; we will know fully even as we are fully known.
A Holy Capacity for Joy
The already, not yet nature of the kingdom of God can be frustrating because of all we see around us. So much suffering, so much injustice, so much violence and hunger and rebellion against God.
The waiting, however, might be part of God’s design for our deeper joy. Because heaven will be much better than a greatly anticipated party.
See, there’s no chance of disappointment in heaven. Not only will our surroundings be changed, but we will be changed as well. Our desires will finally match reality, and we will have the capacity to behold and enjoy and love all that we should to the degree that we should. Our hearts will match their creation blueprints.
And that is worth waiting for.
Cover image by laura adai.