“But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Cor 2:9).
The Bible is a remarkable book. And this is one of the most remarkable passages in that most remarkable of books.
Paul mentions the three basic modes of natural knowledge: sensory perception (the eye), testimony (the ear), and intuition (the heart).
So this is exhaustive. There’s what we learn by direct observation. Personal experience: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (Jn 20:25).
Beyond that is what we also learn by testimony: the collective experience of others: “I will utter dark sayings from of old; things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation” (Ps 78:3-4).
These two modes of knowledge concern what is—or was. The real of the actual: past and present. My present observation. My memory of what I’ve seen and done. As well as the collective recollection of our forebears, who recorded their observations for posterity.
Then there’s our imaginative faculty, which concerns what might have been. The real of the possible or conceivable.
Yet Paul says that heaven surpasses all of these. Surpasses what we can extrapolate from personal experience. Surpasses what we can extrapolate from collective experience. Surpasses the past and present alike.
And, most remarkably of all, heaven surpasses what we can even imagine. Now that should give us pause. That’s an amazing claim. No more amazing claim was ever made.
After all, we can imagine quite a lot. God has blessed us with a vivid imagination. Think of painters like Dali, Da Vinci, Botticelli, and Hieronymus Bosch—to name a few.
Think of writers like Dante, C. S. Lewis, Cordwainer-Smith, and Ray Bradbury—to name a few. Or think of filmmakers like George Lucas.
For that matter, think of yourselves. You and I may have no artistic ability, yet every man, woman, and child is a genius when they dream.
All your dreams about strange places, places you’ve never been. And yet you dream about them in such vivid detail.
Yet Paul says that heaven even surpasses what we can extrapolate from flights of sheer imagination.
What is more, Paul speaks from firsthand experience: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter” (2 Cor 12:2-4).
The glories of heaven await every believer. And it’s worth the wait—beyond all hope, beyond all imagining.