Can Joy Increase Forever?
Jonathan Edwards knows heaven perhaps even better than hell. Which is saying a lot in view of his reputation as one who knows hell well. I have believed this for some time because of reading his sermons on heaven (for example, "The Portion of the Righteous," "The Pure in Heart Blessed," "Praise, One of the Chief Employments of Heaven"). In addition, reading Edwards' Miscellanies on heaven and reading John Gerstner's book, "Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell" (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980) show how Edwards soared in his meditations on heaven.
But only when I took up Edwards' book, The End for Which God Created the World, did I see the remarkable insight that heaven will be a never-ending, ever-increasing discovery of more and more of God's glory with greater and ever-greater joy in him.
As a child I feared heaven. Never-endingness seemed to me like frozenness. Doesn't 1 Corinthians 13:12 say, "Then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known"? And wouldn't that mean that the moment we get to heaven we will know all we are going to know, and that the rest of eternity will be never-ending sameness? Which strikes the fear of boredom into our hearts.
Edward says no. All this text must mean is that our knowledge will be accurate in heaven and no longer "through a glass darkly." It does not have to mean that we know immediately all that can be known. Rather, he reasons, God is infinite and wills to reveal himself to us for our enjoyment of his fullness forever. Yet we are finite and cannot at any time, or in any finite duration of time, comprehend the limitless, infinite fullness of God's glory. Yet God wills to lavish this fullness on us for our joy (Ephesians 2:7).
Therefore the implication is that our union with God, in the all-satisfying experience of his glory, can never be complete, but must be increasing with intimacy and intensity forever and ever. The perfection of heaven is not static. Nor do we see at once all there is to see—for the finite cannot take in all of the infinite. Our destiny is not to become God. Therefore, there will always be more for a finite creature to know and enjoy of God. The end of increasing pleasure in God will never come.
Here is the way Edwards puts it:
I suppose it will not be denied by any, that God, in glorifying the saints in heaven with eternal felicity, aims to satisfy his infinite grace or benevolence, by the bestowment of a good [which is] infinitely valuable, because eternal: and yet there never will come the moment, when it can be said, that now this infinitely valuable good has been actually bestowed (The End for Which God Created the World, ¶ 285, in God's Passion for His Glory, [Wheaton: Crossway, 1998]).
Moreover, he says, our eternal rising into more and more of God will be a
rising higher and higher through that infinite duration, and . . . not with constantly diminishing (but perhaps an increasing) [velocity] . . . [to an] infinite height; though there never will be any particular time when it can be said already to have come to such a height (¶ 279).
It will take an infinite number of ages for God to be done glorifying the wealth of his grace to us - which is to say he will never be done. And our joy will increase forever and ever. Boredom is absolutely excluded in the presence of an infinitely glorious God.
Reeling and rejoicing,
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