Evidently, today is the day for this to make the Facebook/Twitter rounds (go ahead, it’s brief and worth it). I suppose if there is a valid use for church marquees, this is it. Better that placards outside houses of prayer yell at each other than at passers by. (Side note: this pictorial exchange pretty well characterizes my own interactions with devout Presbyterians.)
But what’s the deal with heaven? Do people (or dogs or rocks) actually go there?
As you are well aware (you are, you know, brighter than average), a blog is no place to expound the depths (or heights?) of the doctrine of heaven. It just won’t do. But some cursory thoughts are just the thing for a blog.
For one, the Bible consistently speaks of heaven as the realm of God. You could call it a cosmic place, I suppose, in as much as it is intangible for human beings and the like (most of the time). It is the place where God’s influence is unadulterated and unbounded.
Among the things that we modern Westerners tend to have a difficult time with regarding heaven is its placement in relation to earth. The Jews of Scripture never imagined a heaven far off in space, complete with cloud floors, lyre-strumming and winged babies, and a bearded and white-robed God. For a more biblical perspective, you could imagine heaven as overlapping the physical earth. Where we only see the earth, God and other spiritual beings could see both the earth and the spiritual overlay, with both realities interacting in real time. Heaven, indeed, was close.
What really interests me about this heaven business, though, has to do with our conceptions about a postmortem existence. While it’s true that Paul expected to “be with Christ” following his death (Phi 1:23) and Jesus was thought to be seated alongside God the Father in the heavens (Eph 1:20), Paul also fully expected that to be a way station. Heaven, for Paul, was not an end goal.
Rather, for Paul, “getting to heaven after he died” was merely a stepping stone for a far greater hope. Paul was ultimately waiting for the final re-creation of the earth. He was waiting for the final, bodily resurrection of those who had placed their hope in Jesus, their Messiah (1 Cor 15). He was waiting to get back into action governing the earth alongside the one true king to whom every knee would bow and tongue confess as Lord (1 The 4:13-17; Phi 2:9-11).
Heaven will be a pretty cool thing to go to when we die, but there’s a better thing that comes after that thing.