There are times when our thoughts naturally turn to heaven. The recent Easter season is one of those times, as we are reminded of the resurrection and our hope of eternal life. We also tend to think about heaven a great deal whenever a loved one passes from this life. We wonder what they are experiencing in their new spiritual home, and we take great comfort in our faith that their soul lives on in the presence of the Lord.
Of course, we actually know very little about heaven. And we aren’t sure if what we do know is literal or metaphorical. Such has been the case every since Jesus said he was going there to prepare a place for us. Concepts of heaven have changed over the centuries, and they often reflect the culture and needs of believers at the time.
The cover story in the April 16, 2012, issue of Time Magazine is “Rethinking Heaven”. I recommend that you read it. Readers are not likely to agree with all that is included there, but the article includes much to learn and ponder. It points out that “In earliest Christianity, the understanding of life after death was, like so much else in the young faith, the product of both classical pagan and Jewish thought and custom.” It goes on to explain that many of today’s concepts of heaven and hell originated in the art and literature of the middle ages. I was also struck by the author’s statement that “In the more prosperous 20th century, heaven became a kind of glorious Disney World … a place where the redeemed were rewarded with the type of riches they had sought in life.” Christian views of heaven have evolved over the years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are any more accurate or meaningful today than they were in the first century.
I remember hearing a phrase when I was growing up in the church: “He is so heavenly minded that he is no earthly good.” I know that this sentiment isn’t necessarily Biblical, but we all know what it means. N. T. Wright, a former Anglican bishop wrote that “Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden dimension of our ordinary life – God’s dimension, if you like.” Whatever we may imagine heaven to be, we need to remember that heaven is where God is now, the earth is where we are now, and the two overlap and interlock according to God’s design and plan.