I’ve often pondered what Ben will be like in heaven. I used to think that he would still have Down Syndrome, since it comes knit into his every chromosome. But the longer we deal with not just the delights but also the deficits and struggles that Down Syndrome brings, the more I am convinced that the transformation we undergo in heaven will heal him of even this.
But who, then, will he be?
I met a man a few years ago who, after a lifetime of sin, finally acknowledged that he needed a savior. He died shortly after, leaving behind a legacy of evil and destruction. Is that it? Did he slip into heaven as if nothing had happened? All of the horror he caused shrugged away? His twisted personality sanitized, but intact? How do we reconcile that?
The answer, I think, lies in understanding transformation.
We enter heaven not just cleansed from our sin and healed of our infirmities, but more than that – as the people we were meant to be in the beginning. We finally become who God created us to be.
More than our bodies are changed in resurrection. We rise as people recreated into the image of our Creator. We are not just relieved of the weight of our sin natures, but restored to all of the holiness and joy that we were designed for. And then we get to live that out, forever.
So often we imagine heaven as a place where we are free of our sicknesses and sorrows, but we fail to realize that heaven involves so much more than the loss of all that is bad. It also involves the gain of all that could have, and should have, been. Not just redemption, but restoration. Re-creation.
Should not the new, glorious Jerusalem be populated with new, glorious people? If the very places we inhabit will be utterly transformed from their earthly precursors, how much more shall we?
The moment we surrender ourselves to God in this life, our transformation begins. Like the caterpillar entering its chrysalis, we begin the process of changing in order to inhabit our future home, through the regenerating work of the Spirit now residing in us. We call this process “sanctification”. And like the caterpillar retains its identity and yet emerges completely transformed, so will we.
This is how persecutor and persecuted can dwell together with joy on that day. The old is gone, and the new has come. We will be more than healed – we will be transformed.
What will that look like for the cruel old man? I would imagine he would display a depth of humility and gratitude that would reveal the kindness and love he was born to demonstrate before evil had its way with him.
And for Ben? I imagine I will hear him say “I love you” for the first time. That we will laugh together over some of the quirky things he did. That we will be able to talk about life and love and God. I don’t know exactly. But this I do know – it will be glorious.