Of all theological topics, heaven ranks toward the bottom for me. I know, it should be a happy discussion point, what with all the robes and harps and the “milk and honey bar” (a phrase coined by KLR). We get to see grandma and fido and escape things like mosquitos and misery. What’s to dislike?
But my experience of heaven-talk always boils down to what I believe to be a fruitless discussion: who’s in and who’s out. And while I believe it to be true that folk do exist who neither want to nor will join us at the pearly gates, a large majority of us (according to Time
, 85% of Americans) believe there is such a place and that they’re likely heading in that direction. I’m not going to put judgment to that statistic, just remark that it’s interesting.
By random stroke of luck (fate, God’s hand & will, whatever your camp) I picked up N.T. Wright’s How God Became King
this weekend, and what a fitting timeline. My experience with Wright has been limited – articles in seminary, for sure, because my favorite NT professor (short for New Testament, not an actual course sequence on the author) studied under him at Durham. I also touched on his heaven book
out of curiosity but stopped after 2 chapters. The man’s depth sometimes requires a shovel in order to follow along, at least in purely eschatological matters.
But my current read draws attention toward the heaven question inadvertently. And here’s a few quotes I’ve loved:
The great second- and third-century Christian teachers insisted, against such new teaching, that God’s rescue of the created order itself, rather than the rescue of saved souls from the created order, was central. That was part of the essential Jewish faith, rooted in the jewish scriptures, that the early Christians firmly maintained (p. 17).
The ancient Jews were creational monotheists. For them, God’s great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay (p. 44).
Wright’s backstory to this theology is meaty and he depends on his other works in order to get to the depths. But what he’s basically saying is that the gospels clearly communicate that Jesus served as the driving force, allowing heaven and earth to collide and intermix and even coexist. My mind has made it one of those Venn diagrams where heaven is circle A and earth is circle B and the spot where the 2 overlap is the Kingdom of God. Jesus brought this together through his life and fused it open through his death and resurrection.
The life of the Christian, then, is to live there
. As David Crowder puts it: (bonus points if you can catch the LARGE number of references in this post) give us roots and give us wings
Does this dispel the afterlife? In no way. Wright contends there is a bodily resurrection, and in my mind that happens when those 2 circles overlap. When the Kingdom Jesus ushered in rules in every corner of the world. When grace and mercy trump selfishness and pride. Everywhere. That’s when Jesus comes back in a celebratory parade of saints who have already left us. (That parade part isn’t biblical. I just like to tell an imaginative story. But why not a parade? But it’s at least a feast – that’s Biblical. Like a really great wedding where you see all your college roommates.)
For me, this brings a new depth and excitement about Easter. As another (non-Crowder) song rephrases the scripture: sin has lost its power / death has lost its sting / from the grave you’ve risen / victoriously! The keys have been handed over. Where we were once powerless and slaves (to bring in some Pauline language) to another nature, we’ve been given a new stature, to live rightly. To live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. We may be on earth, but heaven has come to join, and even rule. Forever. And ever. In our hearts and in our homes.
Jesus beat death. He beat sin – in fact, taking it all down to the grave with him. And while the serpent might rear its ugly head, the resurrection means it won’t win.
Easter isn’t just a hope for “someday.” Resurrection isn’t just for when we die. Resurrection, by definition, is about living. Why wait until it’s nearly over to start?