Well now we get into some more difficult topics. So far the two blogs I’ve done about Love Wins have been fairly general and not too troublesome. However, from here we get into the ideas of heaven and hell and how do we get from here to there (whichever there it is). So let us start with heaven.
Heaven has always been such a hard thing for me to grasp. It is common to hear people long for it and mention it in church and Christian circles, but honestly its something that doesn’t cross my mind too often. When it does it often just makes my head hurt trying to figure it all out and sorting through all the popular speculation of what heaven will be like. So upon reading Bell’s treatment of heaven it led me to a number of thought/questions some new, some not.
Where is Heaven anyway?
Bell picks up a teaching that I first had exposure to in college. This teaching is that our end location is not heaven, but a recreated earth. This is where Revelation leaves us. We are left with God recreating and presenting a new heaven and new earth and the descent of a city the New Jerusalem. This is what is presented as the final dwelling place of God’s people. This is a much different picture of heaven than the popular belief of the pearly gates, white robes, halos, and flowing hair.
Now while paradise being set on a renewed and restored Earth may answer some questions and maybe even make a bit more sense, it still seems bigger than what I can wrap my head around. What do we do there? Is the fact that it will still be earth mean that there will be many of the same things that we have today? How will it be different from our earth today? What about the time between when we die and the final judgment and recreation? All these questions remain for me, but I do think that having this view should change some of our views on the world.
Perhaps the most significant is that only the “spiritual” matters. This can be conveyed in a number of ways. To looking at various things in the world as not having any value like art, movies, literature and work. It can make us reject the idea of doing justice and the idea of charity because the physical needs of people aren’t nearly as important as the “spiritual” needs. In reality it is a combination of both of these realities; the physical and the spiritual and how they are inseparable. If at the end there is a physical earth and city around us, then it is pretty clear that the physical has some value to God.
Who gets into Heaven (New Creation/You get the point)?
Bell presented an interesting insight which was one that I had applied to myself but had never really thought about broadly. This was the idea that is found in Matthew 7. This idea is where we think we are going doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot. It talks about how people came to Jesus saying that they had done all these religious and spiritual actions, but that Jesus’ response was that he never knew them. These people thought they had it all figured out and that they were a shoo-in to God’s presence, but they were wrong.
What strikes me about this is that we often realize the need for caution in judging a final destination when we think it may be negative, but when it comes to heaven we often judge with more certainty. I understand why this is the case, but perhaps when we are called to not judge others it means in both a positive and negative way, at least in terms of where their final destination is going to be. Now that may be tough for some, but perhaps there is a another question that needs to be tackled to see if this should be hard or not in the first place.
Is Heaven our motivation for belief?
Perhaps under it all though is this question. Is heaven our motivation for belief? If it is well then figuring out who makes the cut and who doesn’t might become much more important. This is really a question I’ve struggled with for some time. Are we simply to present heaven or escape from hell as the reason to have faith in God? Doesn’t that put all the emphasis on the wrong place?
If heaven becomes too much of a focus does it replace God as the object of our faith and hope? Shouldn’t we be willing to follow God even without the promise of heaven or paradise? Personally I think the answer is yes. We are being called into a relationship and interaction with the God who created the universe and who loves us. That should be our motivation for our faith and our motivation for evangelism. Instead of focusing on a place that we have more questions than answers about, perhaps we need to focus on God interacting with us here and now.
In all that I’ve heard about heaven, I don’t remember hearing or thinking of myself the idea of bringing heaven to earth today. Perhaps because we’re too realistic and know that we can’t bring perfection to earth or that we don’t want to be labeled something we aren’t by phrasing it that way. However, Bell explores this idea. He references the Lord’s prayer and the idea that we’re to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. That this should be a way of connected the idea of our present reality to heaven/paradise/new creation.
That’s one thing that most of the talk about heaven has always frustrated me. It seemed so disconnected from our faith now. However, if we’re called to bring aspects of heaven into our lives and the lives of the people around us who are suffering and in need there is much more cohesive connection between this age and the age to come. Sure we can’t latch onto the view that we can do it all ourselves, but our view of heaven should include today and not just sometime in the future or after we die. If our focus is on God and not simply heaven then this should affect how we live today.
So yeah just some thoughts that were spawned from Bell’s chapter on heaven. The whole thing is still a lot bigger than I can nail down, but these were some thoughts from it.