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Heaven

"Aim at Heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in': aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more--food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more." Mere Christianity

I agree with C. S. Lewis, that we don't think enough about heaven anymore. If we thought more about heaven, if more of us had an eternal perspective on life, then we would do more to work for the kingdom of God to come here on earth. Lewis gives the example of the English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade as a case in point, and I think Lewis was right.

In his book, Miracles, C. S. Lewis gives four different definitions of heaven. Heaven can refer to:




  1. The life of God beyond this universe.
  2. Blessed participation in that life by one of God's creatures.
  3. The whole nature in which redeemed humanity can enjoy such participation fully and forever.
  4. The sky, the space in which our earth moves.
Similarly, the Apostle Paul spoke of "the third heaven" in 2 Corinthians 12:2. For Paul there were, more simply, three senses of heaven:
  1. The sky.
  2. What we would call outer space, or what the biblical writers called "the heavens".
  3. The abode of God.
To me it seems clear from the New Testament that the souls of believers in Christ go to heaven, in Paul's third sense, when their bodies die on earth. (See Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8 and Philippians 1:23.) But I agree with N. T. Wright who has said that the overwhelming focus of the New Testament is not on "life after death" but rather "life after life after death". The New Testament writers were more interested in the resurrection of the body which will take place when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. There is considerably less emphasis in the New Testament on heaven as an interim state for the souls of believers awaiting the resurrection of the body. Some of the only pictures of this state are in Jesus' parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16) and in the book of Revelation. But note that the New Jerusalem, at the end of the book of Revelation, is a picture of heaven on earth, the life everlasting which believers will enjoy in resurrected bodies. If God is not ultimately going to do away with this earth, and these bodies, with matter in general, but renew it all, then that gives us reason to work for greater health, greater "shalom" for the whole creation here and now.

C. S. Lewis, in speaking of heaven, does not often distinguish between heaven as an interim state now for the souls of believers, and heaven as the New Jerusalem, the life everlasting in resurrection bodies. But what I love about Lewis are the pictures of heaven, in whatever sense you think of it, which he gives throughout his books. Lewis's picture of heaven at the end of The Last Battle is one of my favorites and The Great Divorce is one of my favorite Lewis books because of the pictures of heaven which it contains. I also identify with what Lewis once said to a friend about heaven being like Oxford set down in the middle of County Down, Northern Ireland; those are two of my favorite places in the whole world. Lewis's pictures of heaven make me want to be there with God, and that is the greatest value of any picture of heaven.

The bottom line is, both heaven as the interim state for the soul of believers in Christ, and heaven as the New Jerusalem will be better than anything we have experienced on earth, better than anything we can imagine.
No eye has seen,

no ear has heard,

no mind has conceived

what God has prepared for those who love him.

(1 Corinthians 2:9; Isaiah 64:4)
And if we even say to Jesus, as the thief on the cross did: "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." then we will be there with him. "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:42-43).
Father, thank you for sending your Son to this earth,

to live for us, die for us, and rise again for us,

so that we and the whole earth might be renewed.

Help me by your Spirit

to spend more time thinking of heaven as your abode

so that I might work

for your kingdom to come

and your will to be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

Amen.

Comments

Lisa Marie said…
If heaven is ultimately our current world renewed by God's power, would you then say that any effort on our part to preserve and protect it simply a temporal endeavor rather than one of eternal significance?
Will Vaus said…
No. The end of Revelation makes clear that the New Jerusalem will come down out of heaven to earth. God created matter. He apparently likes it. And therefore he is not going to do away with it, but rather, renew it. Therefore we should have the same concern for all of creation which God does. We need to tend it and care for it as we were given dominion to do in Genesis. The opposite belief, that heaven will be an escape from this world, is a view which leads to seeing the preservation and protection of this world as futile. If God is ultimately going to renew this world, in fact--the whole universe, then our labor is not in vain, as Paul indicates at the end of 1 Corinthians 15.
Lisa Marie said…
No argument there. I was thinking more along the lines of no matter how well we strive to tend and preserve the earth, it will still be sub-par when compared to the renewal Christ will some day bring about. Similar line of thought as our "best" in behavior and morality is still like filthy rags in light of God's righteousness. There is no comparison. Thus, while we're here, it seems to me that our temporal concern is to do the best we can in our humanness, despite knowing it will never add up to the glory God will bring about in eternity.
Will Vaus said…
It's true that our efforts to be good stewards of creation will never match what God will do when he renews creation at Christ's second coming. However, we must remember that God works through us, as much as he works in addition to our efforts.

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