Looking for Heaven on Earth
There is a small town in SW Indiana called New Harmony that has an interesting history. In 1814, George Rapp and a group of Separatists from the German Lutheran Church made the first attempt to establish some sort of a utopian community there. But the very first summer, while building the new town, 120 died of malaria. A little while later, some Shakers wanted to join them but the religious differences were too great for any real union to take place. The new town eventually enjoyed some economic success (the Rapp family appears to have lived especially well), but because of unrest due to new members not being as committed, problems with neighbors and the feeling of isolation, Rapp sold the town to Robert Owen, a Scottish Industrialist in 1824.
Owen hoped to achieve a similar goal but with a different approach. An unbeliever, he thought that science and education were the keys to creating a happy society. But instead, grumbling over unequal credit, overcrowding along with insufficient housing, a lack of produce to adequately feed them all and a lack of unity in general led to Owen eventually leaving and the town being dissolved in 1829. So much for utopia!
An effort to establish a similar community in Dickson County, TN took place in 1894 under the leadership of John Ruskin. But, you guessed it, it also failed. There were conflicts over the ownership of the newspaper, contentions over religious matters and various lawsuits that led to its demise. By 1901, those who had invested in the venture were left with nothing to show for it.
What these folks were looking for is simply not to be found in this world, a world that is terribly broken by sin. This world really is a “low land of sin and sorrow” as we have been known to pray. While we certainly enjoy blessings in Christ now (more on this later), we will not find in this world, the ultimate fulfillment of our longings for harmony and joy. For me, I’m concerned that after singing “this world is not my home” on Sunday, I act surprised on Monday (with much complaining) that it is not. Do we think government (The Declaration of Independence promises us at least the pursuit of happiness does it not?!), science and education are going to make us happy? Do we not instead find war, disease (there are thousands!), accidents, weather tragedies, injustices, sin and selfishness and religious conflicts continuing to be very much a part of this world?
A considerable mistake we make is that we look for happiness instead of lasting joy. Happiness has much to do with what “happens” to us while real joy is based on the assurance of a right relationship with God and the hope that this relationship will last forever. We ought to be looking for God and the eternal life that is found in Him and His Son. (see Acts 17:27 and John 17:3) Finding God and having hope is to find real joy. And no matter how happy we may be now, we are still going to die. Sadly, many will spend their lives trying to find happiness only to die and be miserable (to put it lightly) forever.
I’m convinced that the Lord is not all that interested in our being happy in the first place. What He does expect is faithfulness. And this means being faithful no matter what problems we have to face in this life. We are taught that the Lord expects faithfulness even when the government is ungodly, the boss is harsh and our spouse is less than what they ought to be. (1 Peter 2:11-3:7) What we will find when we are obedient is joy even when life is hard (i.e, unhappy). (see 1 Peter 1:6-8)
We may, in fact, be looking for home (where we came from) and home is where God is. With this realization, our main goal is not to have a better life here but to live for the better life with God to come. Our work is not so much to make this world a better place but to prepare for the better place of heaven. Our work is not to save the world from its troubles now but to save our souls from hell and for heaven later.
Is our citizenship in heaven? (Phil. 3:20) Have we found the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ? (Eph. 1:3) When we can say “yes” to these questions, then we have found a measure of harmony and peace that only Jesus can give. (John 14:27) But the greater part of these is found in the hope of living with God in heaven. It is this hope that saves us (Romans 8:24) and keeps us working in His service. (1 Cor. 15:58)
So go ahead, look for the utopia of heaven, but just don’t expect to find in this world.