A view of heaven and earth
When I was a kid, I remember envisioning heaven as I sang hymns and praise songs at church. I remember it being a very bright, light-flooded expanse of space with gold floors, in which a huge group of people were gathered around a traditional throne with God in its seat. I don’t really remember having any sense of where Jesus or the Holy Spirit were in the midst of all of it, but I do remember feeling a rush of warmth and security as I sang love songs to a God who had rescued me from my own inadequacies as well as loved me in the midst of them.
I grew up thinking that heaven was some far-off distant space from which God watched the world, working in different ways performing miracles for people over here, answering prayers for people over there, and generally interacting with the world but keeping himself separate because he is holy, distinctly different from this world. From this view, I remember having notions of the world as dirty, soon to be done away with and replaced with something better when Jesus finally returned.
In my studies of N.T. Wright, I have found much better understanding of how heaven and earth relate, and how God’s work in the world is redemptive, reconciliatory and rescuing. Rather than two separate geographical places, heaven and earth are two sides of the same coin of reality. One of them, earth, is painfully present to us every moment, while in the other we catch glimpses of as it breaks forth in God’s work in the world. When the Bible talks about Jesus ascending to heaven, it is not some other place that he waits for God’s cue to finally come back. It is another sphere of present reality, in which Jesus is Lord and King of the universe. He is very real, very present and yet not entirely detectable to our daily experience as we muddle through our own emotions and moods.
In the work of Jesus’ death and resurrection 2,000 years ago, God began his renewing work in the world. He is not going to one day do away with the world like a piece of garbage that he has used for a time, but in the end has no further use. God loves his creation and world, and he is working constantly to bring renewal and hope through the work of his people. In that sense, we join God and Jesus in bringing heaven and earth together, working for the kingdom on earth as in heaven.
These ideas make me think of different children’s books that I have read that explore these notions of alternate dimensions and worlds that people have access to through magical entrances such as a wardrobe, a rabbit hole or some other rather ordinary piece of modern furniture. I think that those authors were on to something in their explorations, though I think they all fall short.
So what can we take from all of this? Creation is good, a gift from God and a place that continues to reflect his beautiful work in the world. It is not something we can use and abuse for our own ends and then hope that God will bail us out when we have destroyed every good part. In the same way, we work together as bearers of God’s image in the world, reflecting his work of reconciliation, renewal and rescue. We honor and take care of creation, bringing new life to it as God has brought new life to us. We live in such a way as to bring heaven and earth together into a single, seamless reality that only comes fully into fruition when Jesus appears again. Heaven is not a place that we go to when we die so that we can escape God’s world. We live and die in expectation of the resurrection and renewal of not only ourselves, but the entire universe.
Randall Koehler is farmer, mechanic and youth minister at Metamora (Ill.) Mennonite Church. He writes at randallkoehler.wordpress.com, where this post first appeared.
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