What Will Heaven Be Like?

By Kevin Huinink  |  December 11th

This question came up recently at a family gathering and fascinatingly erupted into a heated conversation around each person’s expectations and, dare I say, hopes around what heaven would be like. Questions posed included: what were God’s intentions; what qualifies as fallen or a result of sin; what would be wiped away; and ultimately, what would we experience of this world into the next?

As the conversation continued, questions of diversity and complexity arose as they pertained to created order and trajectory of the creation toward restoration as a city, a new Jerusalem (cue the Reformed “Creation, fall, redemption, restoration” narrative). In scripture, God’s response to humankind’s efforts to claim power for themselves is displayed in the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11: “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” This direct challenge to God’s command to spread throughout the earth was met with His confusion of their languages, dispersing them and increasing their diversity.

In the New Testament corollary to this story, when God sends His Spirit down on the disciples at Pentecost, those in town celebrating the harvest did not suddenly understand the proclamation of the gospel in the language of those telling it, but “Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2: 9-11). The language and diversity of the people were not corrected but met in their uniqueness and differences.

We are not all made the same. Scottish theologian John Swinton discusses this further as he explains a theology of disability. When Moses tries to shirk God’s command to go to Pharaoh because of a speech impediment, God does not ‘heal’ Moses but states “Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” (Exodus 4: 11-12) “God is implicated in creating human difference,” Swinton explains. “To be human is a wide range of possibilities, and within that, we have we have all sorts of diversity, and it's only when we listen to the diversity of the human condition that we begin to understand the beauty of being human and the beauty of the gospel.”[1]

Chantal Huinink (yes, we’re related) has relayed something similar to me many times in this vein. Chantal was born with cerebral palsy and has never walked. She uses a motorized wheelchair to get about. When asked if, when she reaches heaven, she will be able to walk, dance or run, she retorts that she’ll likely be riding around heaven in a modified wheelchair, much as God himself is portrayed in Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7:9 as moving on a wheeled throne. As Chantal puts it, “More than the ability to walk, I think I would like a wheelchair equipped with jet packs!”[2]  She points out that she has never been able to walk, and yet this (dis)ability is core to her being. Her life and ministry would not be the same if she were able to walk or complete tasks in the same way as others. (If Chantal’s name is new to you, give her a quick Google Search, and you’ll understand what I mean by life and ministry!)

Where am I leading with this? I wonder about Christian schools and of the diversity represented within. Are our schools representative of a mono-culture, or are they moving toward (bio-)diversity in which we are each supported by one another? Many schools state that they aspire to be increasingly diverse while holding fast to our Christian distinctives.

In their Friday workshop at the 2023 Edvance Annual Gathering titled “Inclusive School Leadership,” Kimberly Maich and Steve Sider shared research pertaining to schools and diversity in ability and disability. Particularly poignant to me was Thomas Hehir et al (2016), A Summary of the Evidence on Inclusive Education: “After reviewing evidence from more than 280 studies conducted in 25 countries, [they] found consistent evidence that inclusive educational settings—in which children with disabilities are educated alongside their non-disabled peers—can have substantial benefits for the cognitive and social development of those children. The research also suggests that inclusion can have important positive benefits for all students, because including a student with a disability requires teachers and school administrators to develop a better understanding of the individual strengths and needs of every student.” (emphasis added) Diversity and inclusion are good for everybody, for our students, and are empirically proven to raise the bar educationally.

Rounding out my discussion on creation, diversity, redemption, restoration, and yes, heaven, I want to conclude with some not-so-subtle questions as we lead in Christian schools:

  • How can and will you diversify your school along a creational and restorative trajectory modelled in scripture in a climate where demand for Christian education is increasing? In what ways will you continue to pursue your mission and be inclusive and diversify…
    • Racially?
    • Denominationally?
    • Socio-Economically?
    • With respect to ability and disability?
    • Other ways?
  • Who is not in your school that needs to be?
  • How will you be blessed as a community when strangers and newcomers belong? Do you dare become a community of interdependence?
  • What can you learn from those who have an excitement for your mission that your longtime supporters take for granted? 

The answers to these questions will not come without work, challenges, or even messiness. Perhaps in the process, however, we will get a taste of what Heaven will be like.

Kevin Huinink is the Edvance Lower Grand Cohort Leader, and Executive Director of Cairn Christian School.

[1] If you are not familiar with John Swinton’s work, see a powerful eight-minute introduction segment at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJFGbU5tnKY

[2] As quoted in Brian Brock, Disability: Living into the Diversity of Christ’s Body (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021)