A small emergency struck our home last week when my 4-year-old son’s favorite hedgehog stuffed animal went missing.
The hope of finding him was beginning to shrink with every search under the couch and with every sweep under the bed. The outlook made it likely that (once again) my wife would need to search eBay for an exact replacement. (A few hot-water-and-bleach wash cycles wear the replacement down to faded authenticity.) But we had not lost hope. Yet.
It may have been an old stuffed hedgehog made with cheap China fabric and stuffed with beads and fuzz, but its absence made bedtime especially tough for my son. Convincing him that a stuffed bunny was an equal replacement didn’t work. The sooner we found this hedgehog named “Mikko” the better, and that’s why my wife was on the phone last week with every store and restaurant we’d been to in the past 10 days.
Unfortunate employees across Minneapolis were on their knees searching under restaurant booths and rummaging through company lost-and-founds for a much-loved stuffed animal matching the description.
So the other day my wife and son decided to search at home one last time. And that’s when he was found, crammed into a cavern in the back of the van.
Our son made the discovery and his face said it all: a mouth-wide, eyes-bulging, arms upward, frozen expression that could only communicate the joy of a Mikko discovery. Words were unnecessary. As soon as I stepped into the house a few hours later, the story of the search and rescue was freshly rehearsed.
There was more joy in our house over the one found hedgehog than over the dozens of other stuffed animals that were never lost.
The discovery of Mikko reminded me of Jesus. You remember Jesus’ story, the one about the Good Shepherd searching the dark and treacherous corners of the wilderness to find his lost and helpless and vulnerable sheep. Says Jesus,
What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15:4–7)
The joy over the hedgehog reminds me of the joy in heaven.
When Jonathan Edwards studied Luke 15, he made an astonishing discovery: when a sinner repents and reaches out to Jesus in the gospel, or just as accurately, when Jesus reaches down and saves a lost sinner, heaven is filled with new decibels of joy. In other words, “more joy” can be added to heaven. This was further proof for Edwards that heaven is not an inert, static, unchanging place. In fact, heaven can be at once perfect and yet also a dynamic place filled with increasing levels of delight and joy. Think about that for a moment, and banish the boring thought of floating eternally on a cloud with a harp.
If you tapped on his study door and asked him, Edwards could give you a long list of other reasons to suggest that heaven is a progressive state (see Works, 8:706–738). For example, he would say that essential to our present joy is the anticipation of greater and more wonderful joys in the future. If you discovered that you would never, ever experience any greater joy in the future than what you have in the past, your present joy would cease. For eternal joy to survive, it requires anticipation.
We could explore this theme for many posts, but let me get back to heaven and the hedgehog.
Just a few days ago my son was thrilled to discover Mikko. We were all thrilled. But that thrill has since worn off. I fully expect to step in the house today after work to find Mikko sitting neglected in a corner of the living room where he will wait until his active shift begins at bedtime.
Eventually Mikko will get lost again, and again, and again. And then at some point my son will simply outgrow stuffed animals and the hedgehog will become a displaced memorial to a young man’s boyhood.
How different is heaven! The rejoicing in heaven that began when Christ rescued your lost soul is a chorus of rejoicing that continues to sound in heaven right now. It is a heavenly chorus that will never stop or fade away. And why should it? Do the things of heaven die, or rust, or grow old, or boring, or familiar? I don't think so. So Edwards had good reasons to believe that each conversion on earth amplifies the eternal worship in heaven permanently and forever. That is a sweet thought.
There are two rich lessons to take from this heaven-and-the-hedgehog analogy. First, the decibels of joy that filled heaven to celebrate the day of your conversion are still maintained by the angels now. Second, in Christ, you are made the heir of this heaven, where joy and delight increase and expand for all eternity.