God is not in the business of whisking His people away from an awful place (earth) into a faraway castle (heaven) to stay in. That’s a European fairy tale.
If heaven is our ultimate home, why do we need new, resurrected, physical bodies? If God is Creator and Lord of the heavens and the earth, why is our final home merely “Heaven”? Isn’t that, a downgrade, especially after all the hoo-ha about earth in Genesis 1? Wouldn’t it be a regression to see that after Jesus has brought about salvation on the cross, heaven is all we are looking forward to as our final home (after all the majesty and glory described to us about earth)? You mean to say, Jesus died just so we can get to heaven in the afterlife, and just stay there, only?
If life is a train ride that everyone is destined to hop off… then doesn’t that make death just a necessary albeit uncomfortable door to the final destination (presumably, heaven)? If our only concern is for our destination in the afterlife, then doesn’t that make death a lot more acceptable? If death is an acceptable and necessary doorway to heaven or hell, then… why did Jesus come to defeat death and destruction? Why was Jesus said to have triumphed over (sin and) death (1 Cor 15:55-57), if death is no biggie after all?
Maybe you might say these questions of mine apply a certain modern pattern of thinking in the way they are framed.
But even so, how does one reconcile the biblical hope of the new heavens and the new earth together with our wistful longings for heaven as our home (not even the “new heaven” as Scripture tells us)? How do we reconcile how Scripture tells us that Jesus triumphed (a strong word) over sin and death while we minimise the atrocity and devastation that comes with death, by associating it with a door you step out into a new destination? If heaven is our home and death (in the Lord) is the entry point, why do we need Jesus to “come back”?
As we wrestle with a more-than-usual number of deaths in the weeks that has passed, there are a few thoughts I would like to share:
Jesus Christ will make all things new: He will make the new heavens and a new earth
The heavens and the earth are meant to be buddies. Peas in a pod. BFFs. Together-gether. They were made together, and they will be renewed together. Today, the church is praying and working His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Our final, glorious hope, is one that will take place in the marriage of the heavens and the earth. That is the state of zen (so to speak), or equilibrium from the Christian point of view.
And we, a humanity under Christ would live in this new reality of things. On earth, in heaven.
Death is mortifying. It is an atrocity, a violation of God’s order.
Death is shocking and always too soon. Death is an unwanted, permanent interruption of a life that would have been. There is nothing friendly about death. No matter how much we prepare for death, it will leave a vacuum and an emptiness in the world, no matter how small or big.
Mourning is a suitable posture after the death of someone. For life has been cut short. Ambition and promise has been capped, or ceased. No matter how much we prepare for death, we still wonder what he or she would say or do, today. The fact that someone is alive in your heart is, perhaps, indicative of the fact that he or she should have been alive.
When we mourn, we mourn that a God-breathed life, has been snuffed out. We mourn because we know that God creates life in its spiritual, physical, relational and soulful fullness. And somehow it is broken in death.
Heaven (alone) is not our (permanent) home. Christ is.
By home, what is meant is a rooted place that has a permanent feel to it. Unlike a rented, transitionary home, which is what heaven is while we await the new reality – the new heaven and the new earth in which our bodies too will be resurrected. Our home is not heaven, our home is in being with the Lord (2 Cor 5:6-8). Christ is our home. Heaven is a place of waiting for that final reality.
Resurrection, therefore, is an awesome hope. Resurrection, therefore, is part of the redemptive, restorative order.
Resurrection, covers every aspect that God made. Genesis 1 is an incredibly physical narrative. It is full of colour, light, sounds, movement, diversity – a rich ecology of life powered by God’s love. It is an orchestra of creatures and the created all singing and dancing to the song of the Creator-God. Even humanity was created to till the land, to steward it, and to eat from it, to depend on the earth.
If you tell me that resurrection is a spiritual, and not a bodily one – what a downgrade! Can’t God do better than merely switching the train tracks from hell to heaven? If you tell me that our end is to sing in a choir in heaven, instead of caring for the earth as a new humanity with God and all the adventure it brings – what a downgrade! It would appear that the fall has triumphed to make life a whole lot more boring, and changed what living as God’s created is all about!
Our hope does not end in our / humanity’s “salvation”, but in the “salvation” of God’s entire creation.
As God’s co-regents, we share in God’s work on earth. In fact we were given that mandate to rule it with wisdom and love with Him. As God’s image bearers, we have a unique position to have a concern upon God’s creation. And therefore, we do not merely look forward to our salvation as humanity (for to separate humanity from the rest of the earth’s ecology is part of our fallen nature, may I suggest), we look forward to salvation or redemption for the entire creation.
Heck, even creation is longing for that (Rom 8:18-25).
Redemption is not like an action movie where the Hero rescues people from a rigged building (and baddies), and makes a great big leap out to safety just in time before the building explodes behind them (like Arnie in the pic above).
Redemption is about the Hero coming into the building, dismantling the bombs in the building and making the building “new” – livable, habitable and very very awesome.
God is not in the business of whisking His people away from an awful place (earth) into a faraway castle (heaven) to stay in. That’s a European fairy tale. He is in the business of going to His people, putting things right, and dwelling with them (Revelations 21).
Death is the final and permanent breaking of life as God created it. Death is not cool. Death is horrible because it robs a person of life, and it robs others of that person. Jesus came to vanquish death, through the Cross. He came to inaugurate a new creation in Him. But Jesus didn’t come to grab as many as He can and escape to a safe place. He disarmed (like disarming bombs) sin and death. He triumphed over them. He rendered them powerless, through the cross. Through this new life, this new creation, God ushers in His Kingdom. And in the age of come, He will make a new heaven and a new earth, where He will come to dwell with us as Ruler. Our resurrection will be real and complete – body, soul, spirit. If we are called today to love God with all our hearts, soul, mind and (bodily) strength, we will be able to do so, all the more in the age to come.
Hard to believe? This is the Christian hope, possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Blessed Holy Week, and Happy Easter.
Related Bible References:
Heaven is not our Home by N.T. Wright http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/april/13.36.html
Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (Book)