“The only paradise is paradise lost.”
School is finally out, the sun is making an occasional cameo appearance here in Seattle, and many of us are preoccupied with planning the perfect summer.
These plans include fairs, festivals, parades, concerts, parties, cultural celebrations, and desperately needed vacations. What they generally hold in common is the pursuit of joy with fun people, tasty food, good music, cold drinks, and warm weather—relief from the captivity of an office cubicle.
But the question persists: Why are we planning these things? Why do we live for the summer and spend our hard-earned money relentlessly pursuing that perfect place or that perfect day? Perhaps all the festivals and vacations are simply our way of looking for paradise and practicing for heaven.
Paradise Was to Be Ours
In the Bible, we are told that God made creation as a paradise with sunshine, fresh air, clean water, feasting, song, and friendship. God then made our first parents and gave them paradise as a gift to enjoy and share with the generations that would follow.
Tragically, however, our first parents sinned against God, wrongly thinking they could live life on their own terms—in effect, functioning as their own gods. Because of our separation from the living God, death entered paradise, infecting everyone and affecting everything.
According to the Bible, God kicked us out of paradise because of our rebellion, much like we would do to a roommate who declared war on us in our own home. Now instead of enjoying paradise, we seek it out by booking airline flights, gassing up our cars, hiking in the woods, and biking to the beach. Deep down we feel homeless and restless.
Our pernicious problem is that paradise is lost. No matter how close we get to that perfect day or place, we’re continually disappointed because sin is also there and things are not as perfect as we had hoped for: we get sunburned, seasick, or bumped off our flight on the way home from searching for paradise, left to wander through the airport, which is perhaps the best earthly illustration of all for what hell must be like.
This Eternal Summer Vacation
Further into the biblical story, however, we find that the God of paradise compassionately left home and come looking for us. His name is Jesus and we responded to him much as our first parents did.
Curiously, though, just before he breathed his last breath, Jesus told a common thief who was being crucified at his side that he would take him to paradise. Apparently Jesus fashioned himself as the travel guide to paradise, something he also called an eternal rest, much like a never-ending summer vacation.
According to Isaiah the prophet (25:6–9), this eternal summer vacation in paradise is marked by a feast—one so extraordinary as to make even the best summer grilling party look like a microwaveable Hot Pocket. This feast will have wine that doesn’t come out of a box, plenty of carbohydrates, an end to war, an end to death, an end to tears, no election recounts, and no cell phones. The feast would mark the beginning of a perpetual street party with music, dance, and art from people representing all nations of the earth.
The Good Time Won’t Be in Hell
Sadly, though many people are searching for paradise, we Christians have done a terrible job of marketing paradise. Somehow, word has wrongly gotten around that paradise is an utterly boring, fluffy, white cloud akin to the cotton candy that we sit on all day while wearing diapers and strumming harps.
So, it’s no wonder so many people are going to hell and don’t seem to mind. At least hell has some heat and the general impression is that everyone who knows how to have a good time will be there. Enjoy your summer, but remember it's only a shadow of the party to come when Jesus shows up with paradise in tow.