What is heaven like? For centuries that question conjured within the Christian imagination images of a glorious “elsewhere” – a place very unlike earth where the souls of the saints dwell in a sort of dreamlike bliss. Such a vision was part and parcel of the larger belief that the very goal of “this life” was to escape it, to be delivered into the paradise of “the next life” (a goal far more in keeping with the philosophy of Plato than the narrative of the Bible!).
By contrast, what the book of Revelation actually describes is not an afterlife in “heaven” (as in clouds and winged babies with harps hovering at the pearly gates), but of God’s renewal of earth! Human souls do not ascend to heaven, rather God makes his home amongst mortals – a renewal of creation described in the metaphor of the New Jerusalem.
God’s intent – indeed the entire project of salvation – is to redeem the world of God’s good creation, and to include within it the product of human creativity as well. That is to say, a truly Christian understanding of heaven is not one in which the world as we know it is judged and destroyed, but rather refined and renewed – a world in which our human creations are brought to their fulfillment and their contribution to the cosmos finally and fully revealed. Such a vision explains why human creativity is so important – why our work matters. We exercise our gifts not only for utilitarian/instrumental purposes (to get us through until tomorrow). Our gifts and talents are the means by which we share in the divine work of creation, expanding the sphere of goodness that will endure forever!
Thus our work is not to withdraw from “the world” so as to be saved from it! We – as Jesus himself clearly demonstrates – are to engage the world at it’s deepest levels that we might share in it’s restoration. In short, we are not hoping for escape from earth, but to make it fully the home God intended from the beginning, the home in which we will dwell with God unto eternity…
This is a sermon that was originally presented at Canvas (a Presbyterian church in Irvine, CA), October 5, 2014. To learn more about Canvas, click here!
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