Heaven has been a popular topic of conversation lately. Books and movies have addressed the subject, and we’ve been spending both Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights at Wieuca talking about what a Biblical understanding of what heaven looks like. Are there pearly gates and streets of gold? Clouds and white robes and halos? Will we be able to look down on the events of earth? Where is heaven? Could we spot it through a telescope?
Just last week I wrote about the conflict between faith and science; or as I see it, the conflict between biblicism and scientism. I happen to be one who believes that modern science and faithful adherence to holy scripture need not be in conflict. Belief in heaven, however, is one of the places where the compatibility between a traditional interpretation of scripture and fidelity to scientific principles seems to be most strained.
Suffice it to say, when I think about heaven I come up with more questions than answers. And the more I think about heaven, the more questions I have. I don’t have any problem with that. I don’t need all the answers. I don’t need to know the physics of how heaven works any more than I need to understand the particulars of gravitational pull. All I know is that both keep me grounded.
Like gravity quite literally keeps our feet on the ground, an understanding of what the next world represents provides the foundation on which to stand as we build our lives in this world. The Christian acknowledgement of heaven recognizes at least three basic truths.
1. This world is not as it should be.
2. God loves us and calls us to himself.
3. There’s more to life than physical existence.
From these three, we can find purpose, direction, and meaning for today. Our purpose is to partner with God and fellow Christians to make this world more like heaven. We acknowledge this every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer…”thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
A home with God in heaven gives our lives clear trajectory and direction. We are moving from a temporary existence in a world that is not as it should be toward an eternal existence in a perfect world with a matchless God. In Christ, God calls us home and reserves us for himself. As C.S. Lewis reminds us in The Last Battle, heaven is a call to move farther up and further into the perfect goodness and love of God’s creation.
Understanding that we are more than physical beings gives our lives ultimate meaning. We are spiritual, metaphysical beings that house the indwelling spirit of our creator, allowing us to experience the very real–if often fleeting–presence of God in this world; a spiritual presence that goes beyond what our physical senses can measure and record. What better sense of meaning can we experience than the knowledge that we are conduits through which the creator of the universe continues to be creative and revealed?
A lot of people find strong biblical evidence to pull together detailed pictures of what the next life will be like, and I applaud their efforts. But I think the more important question is not what heaven will be like, but what the reality of heaven means for life right now.
So, I don’t know exactly what heaven will look like. I don’t know how to balance its physical and metaphysical and mystical realities in a way that will satisfy both the biblicist and the scientific skeptic. But I do know this. What we do know of heaven gives deeper meaning to our lives today.
Heaven is an acknowledgment that we were intended for more and better than this fallen world can offer. For now I don’t have to have all the answers, and neither do you as long as together we keep honestly seeking after the one who does.