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Randy Alcorn

Author of  Heaven

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt  |  Interview

CBP: Many people are familiar with you from your previous writings, including The Treasure Principle and your works of fiction like The Ishbane Conspiracy. So how did you come to write a book about Heaven?

Randy: Probably my real interest goes back to 1981 when my mom died. I had the privilege of leading her to the Lord after I came to Christ; I was in high school. We became very close in spiritual things, we prayed together for my unsaved dad and brother. After our first two daughters were born, my mom suddenly got cancer and three or four months later died. I really missed her, and started thinking: you go to Bible college and seminary, and never even have a class on it. We didn’t even talk about it, except that we wanted to go there. But, what is this place? So, I got really interested in it, which a lot of people do when they either face death themselves or lose a loved one.

I started reading books on Heaven, started studying it, and preaching on it periodically. When we wrote our first novel, Deadline, we decided to incorporate some stuff about heaven in the storyline. If you haven’t read that book, it sounds weird – how Heaven is in the sotry – but I do it deliberately to portray how Heaven is a tangible and real place where stuff happens. Again, there’s a very stagnant view of Heaven that people have. It’s a disembodied state, for example.

As time went on, I studied more and more, and started to think about the intermediate state that we go to when we die is very different from the ultimate state which is in the resurrection. So the way we think about Heaven is where grandma goes when she dies; we don’t know much about it except that it precedes the resurrection, so perhaps it is disembodied, although it is expressed in a very tangible way – rich man and Lazarus – everything is very physical in its portrayal, but maybe that’s metaphysical. We know that the resurrection is physical, Jesus said, “touch me,” He ate, etc. That’s what captivated me, was thinking in terms of eternity.

Really this book has been a long time coming, and I would say that it is the most significant book that I have ever written. It takes a lot of stuff I have incorporated in my novels. I have received literally thousands of questions about Heaven, through email and mail, and I was able to take those and say “I want to take these questions and answer them and more.” I have made it as enticing as possible, to pull the reader in so they don’t know they are going to get a lot of theology. But theology is not a bad word, but unfortunately many people are scared of that.

 

CBP: What I noticed right away, and that I appreciated, was that you qualify your statements as to what is known and what you have applied in interpretation. Many books write as though it is all fact, and don’t delineate conjecture from known truth.

Randy: Thanks for noticing that, because I really labored at that point. I thought, what God’s word is clear about I want to emphatically state, but I want to make a clear difference when I move into speculation (“I think…” “It is a reasonable conclusion…”). I wouldn’t even speculate if I didn’t think there was some Biblical basis for it, yet I may really be wrong.

There will be many things that we are surprised about, but the thing that really concerns me about Heaven is the way we take passages of scripture, such as 1 Cor. 2:9 “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.” Yes, but the next verse says “God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.” And they leave that out. Or “secret things belong to the Lord our God” and yes they do. But then it says “but the things revealed belong to us who are children.” So, I asked myself what God has revealed to us. God doesn’t tell us stuff so that we can’t understand it; He tells us so we can understand it. Our understanding won’t be absolute, it won’t be complete, it may be partial, we may misunderstand some things. But He has clearly communicated it’s a place, Jesus said it’s a place, we’re going to be there together forever, it’s in the resurrection.

We have this idea that the spiritual world is good, and the physical realm is evil. The Bible said God created the physical realm and He called it “very good.” And so we need to remember that.

 

CBP: You addressed many of the questions I have had about Heaven, and when talking with my Bible study gals the question of what Heaven is like comes up. Is it all about harps and clouds? I certainly don’t want to go to Hell, but Heaven sounds so boring.

Randy: Right! That’s very common.

 

CBP: I wanted to ask you, though, about the intermediate Heaven. Because Jesus said to the thief hanging on the cross, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise,” is there still an intermediate place where we wait for the bodily resurrection? Or do we go immediately to be with Jesus? How would you describe that?

Randy: Right, the intermediate space now is going to be with Jesus. Paul talks about departing and being with Christ, which is better by far. 2 Cor. 5:6 says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. There did seem to be a place before Christ’s ascension a place called “Abraham’s Bosom.” You get the sense that it’s kind of removed, (why is it called Abraham’s?), and it seems to be out of the presence of God. But until Christ has been risen, perhaps there’s still a little bit of a separation in anticipation, a waiting state, whatever, to enter the direct presence of God. But, we know that we will be with Jesus when we die now.

However, there still is an intermediate state, in that it’s between bodies: the bodies we have on earth and the bodies we’ll have for eternity. We may have a temporary physical form, that’s one of the ‘may haves’ that I say in the book, but it’s portrayed as if there is some physicality to Heaven as it is right now. But it definitely is an intermediate state, and it is the bus station, so to speak, it’s not the final destination.

Now, for a lot of people it throws them. “I thought grandma was in the wonderful state.” Well, she is! It’s better by far than living here under the curse, but what is going to be even better than that better place is in the resurrection. Paul says in 1 Cor. 15, “If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most pitiable.” This is the ultimate – the resurrection. I think Satan delights in misleading us about Heaven. He doesn’t want us to understand that this is the realm that we are made for, and that it’s exciting, it’s compelling. Among other things, in evangelism how motivated are you to share Christ with your neighbor so that he, too, can share eternity in this boring place called Heaven that I’m not motivated to go to. Of course not!

I use that passage in Revelation 13 that says he slanders God’s name, His dwelling place, and the people of God. To slander is to misrepresent. He slanders God’s dwelling place, well that’s Heaven! How does he do that? He portrays it as a tedious place -- who wants to go there? Or, he turns it into a place where everybody goes there automatically. Mitch Albom has this book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and God’s not in it! It’s a therapeutic, I-feel-good-about-myself, pop-psychology heaven. In any error there are kernels of truth; will it be true that in Heaven people will go and have conversations about how our life has made a difference? Sure we will, I talk about that, too. You take that as part of a larger Biblical context, but you can’t leave God out of this thing – you won’t get there otherwise.

 

CBP: In your book Heaven, you say that when we get to Heaven our knowledge will be accurate, but not complete. As someone who loves to learn, that’s exciting to me!

Randy: What do we know? It will really be us in Heaven. You die, you go to be with Christ, and you give an account of your life. People wonder if they will remember earthly memories, and I say you can’t recount something you don’t remember. You have to remember. It’s not what used to be us standing before God giving an account, there would be no point of accountability today.

We are new creations in the sense of newness, but not that we never before existed. We did exist before, and became something better. Not even fundamentally different, except that we’re moved to a moral purity, no longer under sin, no more curse, all that. But, we’re restored to what we once were, not as individuals but as Adam and Eve—just as they were once pure and innocent. We’ll be declared righteous under the righteousness of Christ, clothed with the righteousness of Christ, never having to fear sin again.

There’s a chapter in the book that one of the editors asked if it was necessary to include, and that was “Will we ever be able to sin again?”

CBP: I get a lot of questions on that, too.

Randy: Absolutely. Because the idea is that innocence does not mean that you can never sin, but that you are sinless. Adam and Eve and Satan were once sinless, and they fell, what’s going to keep us from falling? Can it happen all over again?

CBP: So how did you answer that?

Randy: Well, first of all we are promised “there will be no more tears, no more crying, no more pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” And He says, “Behold, I make all things new.” When He promises there will be no more death, that is the same as the promise there will be no more sin. Because the wages of sin is death. That’s for sure.

But here’s the difference: Adam and Eve were innocent, but they didn’t have the righteousness of Christ. WE will have the very righteousness of Christ. We are covered by the righteousness of Christ even now, but we’re still sinners with our sin nature. In Heaven, we will no longer have our sin nature. Some may say, “Well that means we won’t have the freedom to choose.” I say is God free? Yes. Can God sin? No. And we’ll be like Him. Christ’s very righteousness will assure us that there will be no future fall.

 

CBP: What do you think about the different views of the end times?

Randy: There is a little section in the book on the millennial issue. I understand the arguments for amillennialism, and they’re really quite strong. I recognize and respect that point of view, though I’m a historic premillennialist. The timing of the rapture and the nature of the millennium have no bearing on this issue of the new earth. And so we can disagree on those areas, but that’s not what this book is about, and shouldn’t affect our concept of the new earth.

The one thing I do caution about is this: the tendency is to take all these great passages that talk about living in a sinless environment on the earth, and make it all millennial. Even when Isaiah 65 says, I create a new heaven and a new earth, and the lion will lie down with the lamb, people say, “Well, that’s the millennium.” It says it’s the new earth! Furthermore in Daniel 7 it says that God’s people will reign with him forever on earth. One thousand years is not forever!

 

CBP: I think the problem is that people don’t look at the Bible firsthand. They’re taught something, then they regurgitate it, like the telephone game.

Randy: There are two kinds of people when it comes to learning new truths in scripture: people who feel liberated and eager to learn, and people who feel very defensive and protective of old positions even though they weren’t based in scripture. The second group of people is much safer in being protected from false doctrine, in the sense that they won’t change positions. But unfortunately, they are also more subject to cling to false doctrine that they already have. They’re not doing what scripture says to do, like the Bereans who studied the word daily to see if these things were true. We all need to be diligent to examine the scripture ourselves, and learn His truth.