Thursday, February 24, 2011

Common Misconceptions About Heaven

(I don't think I have posted this in this blog)

Talk about life after death scares some people and makes most people uncomfortable. We don’t like dealing with the many different ideas that seem so contradictory, even if everyone talking about it is a Christian. Usually, someone’s idea of life after death is related to their idea of what a perfect existence is, or should be. We are all striving for some sort of utopia or perfect state that everyone can live in. In this essay, I can’t promise that there won’t be controversial statements, or things you disagree with. But it is on the internet so you can read it in the privacy of your own computer, and complain about me if you don’t like what I’m saying without me having to hear it!

There is a lot that is assumed about life after death in Scripture, and so not explicitly stated. Because of this, many people have made guesses about heaven, trying to figure out what it’s all about. But in doing this, they have misunderstood what our life after death is really about.

Heaven is a spiritual existence
Most people think that in heaven we will be living without our bodies. This makes sense in some people’s philosophy, since they think that our bodies is what’s wrong with us. The Bible makes it clear, however, that the hope of eternal life is a physical life, being restored to our bodies which are perfected. (I Corinthians 15:36-43; John 5:28-29) Our bodies now are sick and full of mental weaknesses and pains. In the final day, however, our bodies will be restored to us, but without sickness, without suffering, fully healthy, without death.
There is no perfection for us without being both a physical and spiritual being. This is how we were created—both dirt and spirit mixed into a wonderful composition of life. And our eternal life will be no different.

Heaven is where my friends go
Death is frightening and it is painful. It makes us separate from our friends and loved family much too soon. So we often say to ourselves, “We will see them again in heaven. This isn’t a permanent separation, but only temporary.” However, the Bible gives us little assurance or comfort in this. First of all, every person must be judged by God to determine whether they will live in Jesus or live in eternal darkness. And God is the one who judges, not us. If we were perfectly in tune with God’s will, like Jesus is, then we could have a good notion of who would be with God and who would not. But it is interesting that Paul, one of the greatest saints who ever lived, said that he could not judge even himself. (I Corinthians 4:3-4).

Even so, we typically do not have enough information about those we love or knowledge of God’s will to make a determination of someone’s eternal state. Everyone, Scripture says, will be resurrected. But some will be resurrected to reward, and others to condemnation. Who are we to judge, here and now, who will get one destiny and one the other? We can make guesses, but to simply say, “I know they will be with us” is a kind untruth we tell ourselves. We must instead hand all judgment to God, who is the Judge of heaven and earth.

“Heaven” is in heaven
The very name “heaven” for our life with God leads us to a misconception. The idea is that we will live with God in the clouds for all eternity is a common, even stereotyped, idea of the Christian eternal life. However, even the location of our eternal life is misplaced.

It is true that our first existence after death will be without our bodies, in heaven. We see some of these folks in Revelation 6. However, they are begging God for a change in the world. Why is this? Because their place is on the earth, transformed by God. Jesus’ second “coming” means him coming to earth, to establish the kingdom of God here. Eternal life isn’t something we are going to, it is something that is coming to us, to change the existence we currently live in.

Heaven is boring
Many people think that heaven must be boring. We see this in cartoons of heaven—sitting on clouds, with wings, playing harps. This might be some Greek fantasy of bliss, but not the Christian ideal. First of all, Jesus said that on the final day many who are not followers of Jesus would remain in the kingdom of God, if they have assisted persecuted believers on earth (Matthew 25:31-40). So this means that there will be a mix of believers and unbelievers on the earth. Secondly, the resurrected believers Jesus calls to himself will be given positions of authority to rule over the world. (Luke 22:29-30; Luke 19:15-19). This means that there will be no sitting around, bored our of our minds. Instead, the resurrection means that we will be assisting Jesus in establishing peace and justice throughout the world, not as a small part of a democratic society, but as an integral part of a benevolent monarchy. Transformation of the earth is not an instant miracle, it is, rather, an ongoing miracle which we will be a part of.

And what will we do in our time off? Well, think about our resurrected bodies for a moment. We will have bodies just like Jesus. And Jesus could transport himself, instantly, from one place to another distant place (Luke 24:31-36; Acts 8:39-40). And, remember, after the resurrection there is no death, we are immortal (I Corinthians 15:26). What are the implications of this? Well, this is speculative, but I’m looking forward to exploring Jupiter. Some others might want to explore the bottom of the ocean. At the very least, we can all get our travel fantasies in. Want to visit the ruins of Thailand?—poof!

Heaven is eternal worship of God
Some people look at certain scenes in the book of Revelation and see that heaven is filled with worship of God. This has led some to speculate that eternal life will be one long worship session. I can see some, especially worship leaders, thinking this would be wonderful, for they would be exercising their gifts all the time. However, for those of us who are less musically inclined or gifted at worship, this doesn’t sound so great.

A careful examination of the scenes of Revelation, we find the heavenly creatures not simply worshipping God, but that is simply the preamble of God establishing justice on earth. And when God does establish justice, he uses his messengers and servants to fulfill His will. This gives us a more well-rounded idea of what eternal life will be like. We will be assisting God to create justice on earth. Yes, there will be worship of God, even as there is now. But eternity is not simply about worshipping God. If God wanted creatures to simply worship Him, He could have created people to be simply worshipping creatures. Rather, God created humanity to be ruling creatures, people who would follow His will to establish His rule over all the earth (Psalm 8). Eternal life is about reigning with God, not simply about honoring God.

Heaven is eternal bliss
For most people, their idea of eternal life is perfection. There is little difference between many Christians’ idea of heaven and a Buddhist Nirvana. It is eternal happiness, with no pain or sorrow, in unity with God, and there is no difficulties or mistakes.

The Scriptural idea of heaven isn’t as blissful as all that. Yes, it says that in the end there will be no tears (Revelation 21:3-4). But this really means that there will be no death or grieving for death, and a government that creates perfect justice. This doesn’t mean that there will be no pain. If we step on a nail, I hope it causes us a little bit of pain so we don’t have a bunch of stuff sticking into us. Mistakes will be made, but hopefully they will be corrected. We will probably be just as apt to make errors in our speech then as now, but we will be more likely to apologize for our mistakes and more likely to be forgiven. There will still be work, still be challenges, still be goals—this is the implication of ruling and the need to rule. But it will be work that suits us, challenges we can meet and goals that will be fulfilled. This isn’t exactly bliss, but it will be a life worth living.

Heaven is after we die
One of the strangest statements Jesus makes is that the future is now here, with us (John 5:25; Matt. 10:7; Luke 17:21). Jesus told the poor disciples that the kingdom IS theirs, not will be. And Jesus was preaching about the immediacy of God’s future. Certainly we can see how this is true in Jesus’ day. Jesus was the king and the presence of the future, so wherever Jesus was, the kingdom existed. But Jesus also said that His Spirit would rest on his people when He left. So, instead of having on representation of the kingdom on earth, Jesus left a hundred. A hundred people who would establish Jesus’ mercy to others, establish pockets of His justice and do miracles as Jesus did (John 14:12-21).

Thus the kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like a mustard seed. It is small at the beginning, having only one or twelve representatives. But over time, that seed of the future will grow and expand. The whole earth will be covered by this future only when Jesus arrives, but the work of mercy and justice and peace must be established now.

The big difference is that if we attempt to create pockets of Jesus’ mercy and justice, we will be persecuted for it, even killed. We have a hard time getting the resources we need for it. We have to convince others to join us in establishing Jesus’ peace. In Jesus’ future, we will have all the resources we need. We will never be harmed for doing what is right. And we will not be overwhelmed by the task. But even so, we can have a taste of that future now. Now is the day of salvation, now is the time to work together to create pockets of heaven, so we will be ready for it when it comes.

1 comment:

  1. Good article,
    please read