Posted by: gmscan | July 28, 2010

Heaven

So Dinesh D’Souza makes the case that life after death is plausible and consistent with current scientific thinking. What then? What does that mean for us?

Now we return to the Bible for guidance. This past Christmas, Nancy gave me a book (you know me and books) by Randy Alcorn, called simply “Heaven.” He begins by describing how most Christians view Heaven, when they think of it at all. He says they (we) generally think of it as one endless church service where we do nothing but sing hymns for all eternity. YIKES! No wonder people avoid the subject. Even many of the great theologians of history like John Calvin, Reinhold Niebuhr, and others barely mention Heaven, according to Alcorn. He says even in his years at Bible college and seminary there was little discussion of Heaven.

He says this is a tragedy because the Bible gives us a robust idea about what to expect, even though much if it is beyond our comprehension. But even what is hard to imagine, he says, “God has revealed to us by his Spirit” if we pay attention.

Alcorn goes on to describe in great detail (492 pages) what the Bible says Heaven will be like. It is hard to summarize it in a short blog post, but in a nutshell he says there is a “present earth” and a “present Heaven.”  The present earth you are familiar with, but the present Heaven is where God and the angels dwell along with those who have died in Christ. Other than occasional glimpses, the present Heaven is invisible to us, but like D’Souza, Alcorn notes that current scientific thinking on things like “string theory” support this possibility.

Alcorn’s essential point, however, is that the present Heaven is temporary. The eternal Heaven will be here on earth in the form of a New Earth and a New Heaven, which are merged after the return of Christ. He cites Revelations 21:1-3, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth…. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying. ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.’”

He absolutely rejects the idea that Heaven and the New Earth are immaterial places. He says the New Earth is much like the current earth but vastly better. It has been purified from sin, so everything that is good about the current earth is even better, but without any of the bad. He says we will be resurrected with physical bodies and physical, as well as spiritual, joys. Christ was resurrected with a physical body and so will we be. In fact, being human means having both a body and a spirit. There will be cities and countryside. There will be rivers and lakes and mountains. We will eat, we will run, we will engage in conversation with fascinating people, we will learn. And we will be in direct communication with God, who will live among us. He supports all of this with scripture.

Importantly, he says the early church was misled by the influence of Plato, who believed in a sharp distinction between the Spiritual, which was holy and good, and the material/physical realms, which were course and evil. He calls this Christoplatonism, and says it “has had a devastating effect on our ability to understand what Scripture says about Heaven….” And this thinking is still with us today.

He says the idea that physical earth and human bodies will disappear suggests that God made a mistake when he created them, and next he will have a do-over. No, he says, God made no mistake. Earth is wonderful, as are human bodies. They were corrupted only by Man’s willfulness and pride. The New Earth and our resurrected bodies will be what they were meant to be in the first place.

In fact, he argues that the present earth is just a shadow of what Heaven is and earth will become. In this, he echoes C.S. Lewis and his notion of a Shadow Land. Even Alcorn’s description of the New Earth is similar to Lewis’ description of a new and improved  Narnia in “The Last Battle.”

Alcorn says that we may not know it, but that is what we long for, that is what will fulfill us at last. It is our home, and we have been away from it for far too long.

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Responses

  1. When the gates swing open and the great light of heaven—what the Bible calls an unapproachable light—comes pouring out, it will be blinding. Yet, somehow, I’ll be able to see perfectly. As a Christian with training in physics, I can’t wait to experience this phenomenon. And, beyond light, there is the Glory of God, which is light to be sure but also something more—I suspect light combined with love. It will be devastatingly beautiful. I’ll never recover.

  2. Back in England, in the early ’70’s, when my faith was coming alive, and all around me large numbers of people without faith were beginning to discover the God who speaks through Jesus, there was a doctor in Northern Ireland who was also a remarkable songwriter. In one of his modern hymns he wrote,
    “The promised land God give’s us
    Is right here at our feet.
    So let us build the city
    ‘Til heaven is complete
    The ground on which your standing
    Only you can mold
    Unique in every touch you make
    Yet blending with the whole.

    I have never forgotten those words, and much of what I have tried to accomplish ver the past 40 years is based on the belief that the Kingdom of God is both now and not yet! Heaven would appear to be similar. We need more of a “both and” understanding rather than an “either or.”

    Even while seeking to shape this world, we look for the coming of the one (Jesus) who will make all things new.


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