heaven: out of this world?

Heaven is an intriguing topic. Many people imagine what the afterlife will involve with a hopeful expectation that life in this world - oftentimes filled with sorrow and suffering - is not all there is. There has to be more. Human experience in some form will continue. We often call this hope “heaven.” But what shapes our vision of heaven?

Pop-culture for sure (Gary Larson’s Far Side comics come to mind).

And let’s not forget the influence of Platonism, or Dante’s Paradiso, or even the recent story of a little boy’s journey to the heaven.

Personally, my childhood naïveté helped shape my view of heaven, where all the talk of praise and worship actually made me a little hesitant about this whole heaven place. I mean really, I thought, who wants to go to an eternal church service in the sky!?! - quite uninspiring for an active young boy.

In all these examples, heaven is literally out of this world - a spiritual reality “out there” so to speak.

The Bible talks about heaven, no doubt. In it we see phrases like “new heavens and a new earth” and “Kingdom of God/Heaven” along with the apocalyptic visions of certain OT prophets and the daunting book of Revelation. But all too often we import our cultural assumptions to these biblical references of heaven. We can forget that while Gary Larson may have been a comic genius, biblical scholar he was not.

For Christians, accepting these assumptions can be problematic. If heaven is “out there,” distinct from any concrete form of experience here on earth, we can develop the idea that life is only about putting in our time until “real” life begins (i.e. heaven). We long to “fly away” to the “sweet by and by.” And while we wait we withdraw from engaging the world around us. It is only temporary after all.

With such an understanding both within and outside of Christian circles, it’s no surprise technology has become a source of fulfillment in and of itself (as opposed to a tool for engaging life in this world). It’s an escape. And at its worst, such escaping to cyber-reality - be it pornography, games, Facebook, or even blogging (yes, me!) - can consume us, where in our own minds we are only ourselves if we’re online. Our only taste of heaven in this world is to escape it. Which only makes sense if we accept the cultural assumptions of heaven in the first place.

But as a Christian, I need to ask, is this really the biblical vision of heaven? Is God’s “good” creation - “heavens and earth” - really describing two realities, one of which we’ll finally escape from?

I’m not so sure...

Next, I’ll explore the biblical phrase, “new heavens and a new earth.”

This series is adapted from a sermon I preached at Killarney Park MB Church, Vancouver BC.


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