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Wastebaskets in heaven?

Vocation | A practical application of the Lord's Prayer

Issue: "Dead heat," Sept. 22, 2012

Will there be wastebaskets and garbage cans in heaven?

The question is not as frivolous as it sounds. It's rooted in the question about how much of our activity in the here and now might have been eliminated if Adam and Eve had successfully resisted the fall into sin that spoiled everything.

We're all pretty much agreed, I suppose, that oncologists and divorce lawyers will be unemployed once God's people enter their heavenly state. So will funeral directors, and the manufacturers of Roundup, flea collars, and aspirin.

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But a number of vocational callings are not so easily categorized. What are we to say about the architects of beautiful homes and public spaces? Or automotive and aeronautical engineers who will speed us along new interplanetary routes? Or chefs who invite us to celestial banquets with unimaginable menus with no threat to our waistlines? Will all such folks, when they get to heaven, simply crank things up a notch and get on with their God-glorifying work with new gusto? Or will they have to learn a whole new way of doing things?

And how is our behavior now supposed to be different because of those understandings? When we Christians talk about "claiming the culture for Christ," we might well divide our task into two parts. On the one hand, we've got positive assignments of the sort Adam and Eve had on their first job descriptions-things like tending the garden, composing music, and delighting in fellowship with each other and with their Maker. On the other hand, we've got tasks focused primarily on reclamation, repair, and redemption-working to undo or counter the effects of the Fall.

It's a fascinating exercise - and a worthwhile one as well - to take a list of a couple dozen people you know pretty well (like all the officers of your church!) and categorize their callings and vocations. Which of them belong in the first group, primarily busy with assignments they might well have had in the original pre-Fall creation? And which of them, on the other hand, spend most of their time in a healing mode, working hard to undo and set straight the effects of the Fall?

I'm not suggesting for a moment that folks on one side of the line are more spiritual, more holy, or more blessed than those on the other. All of us, to be sure, find ourselves at different times on either side of the divide. But as author Randy Alcorn suggests in his must-read book Heaven (2004), few Christians take seriously enough the continuity that God has established between the Creation we currently inhabit and the New Creation He has planned for us in eternity.

Which takes me back to the wastebaskets and garbage cans. Let me assert, without biblical proof but just for the sake of argument, that we will indeed have such items in eternity. Where else will you discard your peelings when you prepare that perfectly heavenly apple pie? Where will you toss the first draft of an essay or poem you write after you're suddenly struck with an improvement that makes it ever so much better? There wasn't anything intrinsically sinful about a waste can in Eden, and to the extent Heaven will stimulate all our creative juices, we'll need waste cans there as well.

All this very much affects how you approach your day's work in the here and now. As Alcorn stresses in his book, most of us have too dull, boring, and unexciting a view of heaven. When that's the case, we end up as well with too dull, boring, and unexciting a sense of our job description in our present circumstance. But nothing-not even taking out the garbage-is mundane.

Everything we do should be a new expression of God's greatness, a clear expression of His healing redemption, or some combination of both. Finding the motivation to live that way is part of what we're after when we pray: "Your will be done on earth, even as it is in heaven."

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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