One of my pet peeves is the word “heaven.” I know it shouldn’t be. It is used in one form or another 457 times in the Bible (depending on your version). It is the seventh word in the Bible. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So it is a biblical word!
However, what comes to mind when people say “heaven” is not typically a biblical concept. I asked my AI picture generator many times to create a picture of heaven. Each time was the same. There were a bunch of people on clouds, most often with harps. The places pictured are ethereal, celestial, and, dare I say, “heavenly.” After all, “heavenly” is a synonym for “ethereal.” The definition of ethereal is, in essence, “other-worldly.” But is heaven other-worldly?
The word “heaven” is laden with baggage that needs much clarification in our society. Let’s start with this: we will not be on clouds, playing harps, or singing 24 hours a day in an other-worldly existence. Why do we often think it is? Why is this view of heaven so prevalent and the view I present so rare? The answer is multi-faceted, but most prominently it is influenced by the Western world’s contamination with Gnosticism. You may or may not have heard of this philosophy. Our culture is cursed with a Gnostic taint on just about everything when it comes to the spiritual life. At its core, Gnosticism is a worldview that places supreme importance on the spiritual and devalues the physical. “Devalues” is not strong enough a word. It hates the physical. It can’t wait for a time when there is no more physical or material world. At death, with a translucent cheer, we will escape from this terrible body, not because it is sinful, but because it is physical. Then we will go find our true selves and true purpose in the spiritual world. That is Gnosticism. For some reason, Christianity and the entire Western world have held fast to this notion. But it could not be further from the truth.
Christianity is based on redemption. Redemption of mankind. Redemption of creation. Redemption from sin. This means our belief is one of restoration. When God created the world in six days and set man on his journey, giving him relationships, setting him on the dry ground with gravity to hold him down, giving him food for strength and air to breathe, arms to hold, fingers to work, and an earth to subdue and cultivate, this was all physical. It was all based in a material creation. God had plans. God said it was not just good, but very good. Then five minutes later we screwed it up through our disobedience. God, at this point, did have a holy trinitarian huddle and say, “Well boys, it looks like plan a failed. Let’s go to plan B where none of the original intent applies.” God is not moving to plan B, he is restoring plan A!
Therefore, while there is a mystery in the afterlife from the standpoint of the intermediate state (where we go between death and resurrection), what we have waiting for us in heaven, is a new earth. It is a restored earth. It consists of a reality surprisingly similar to our existence now. All that was corrupted by the fall will be redeemed. Sin will be removed. But we will still have gravity, careers, sleep, exploration, technology, unique personalities, and education. Anything and everything that did not come by way of sin will be present. Jobs did not come by way of the fall. Neither did technology (except for Apple, of course). Swimming, playing basketball for a team, taking a nap, working out, going hiking, building a spaceship to explore the next planet, having intimate relationships, fist bumps, and so many other things will be restored.
In Acts chapter 1:6 the Apostles asked Christ, “Is it at this time you are restoring your kingdom to Israel?” You see, they were Restorationists, not Other-Worldlists. In Acts 3:21 Peter continues his Restorationist belief concerning the future: [Christ] “Whom heaven must receive until the time for the apokatastases (“the restoration of all things).” We are waiting for the Apokatastases as well. I love that word. It carries so much meaning.
Why is this a rant? Because sometimes I think we forget how much we all love and belong in this physical realm. When we make heaven do other-worldly, we do damage to our eschatology. And, very importantly, we make heaven a place that we really—as humans—don’t long to be. While I am fine with the idea that heaven is simply the place where God’s presence resides, remember, our hope is for the day that heaven will be on earth.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
We are waiting on the restoration of Plan A and it is exciting.
So be precise when you speak about heaven, or just say “New Earth.”