When you picture heaven what do you picture?
Go ahead and close your eyes and try to visualize it now...
You may think of Angels floating on clouds playing on harps (because everyone loves harp music). Or you may think of a place where dis-embodied spirits float to and fro, perhaps you envision mansions and streets of gold. But these fanciful images are placed into our collective mind by culture not by scripture.
"Think of all the jokes that begin with someone showing up at the gates of heaven, and st. Peter is there, like a bouncer at a club, deciding who does and who doesn't get to enter. For all of the questions and confusion about just what heaven is and who will be there, the one thing that is the generally agreed-upon notion that heaven is, obviously, somewhere else. And so the questions about heaven often have an otherworldly air to them."-Rob Bell
Where and how you begin the story, and where and how you end the story, shapes and determines the story you’re telling.
One way to look at the big picture of the Bible is to see how scripture follows a story-arc, we call this narrative theology. It traces through the bible building as it tells the story of God and his creation which was broken and he how seeks to restore it. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is one story of the Kingdom of God coming near and it culminates with Heaven and Earth merging into one when God and humanity dwell together in the Resurrection.
But this is not how we tend to tell God's story. We tell a story of brokenness and sin. We talk about how this world is broken and marred by this "original sin." We tell our story of being "born into" this sin. This has become the dominate way to tell the "Christian" story.
There is nothing wrong with telling the story of how sin entered the picture, and how it effected all of creation. Indeed it is important to acknowledge the fact that sin still infects creation to this very day. But, when we begin with sin when the fall is the starting place, and the death of Jesus on the cross is the ending, then our story becomes one of escape instead of restoration.
The story begins in Genesis 1 NOT in Genesis 3. The story begins with a good and loving God creating and stepping back and declaring "it is good." And then this good and loving God then creating us in his image. Our story starts in the Garden, with everything just as God intended it to be, with God walking with the man and woman...
The story does not end in some sort of tribulation period and great climatic battles...
The story ends in Revelation 21
"Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth,'for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.”
If you took out sin from the Bible you’d have a four page pamphlet, kinda like a Gospel tract. But, unlike a tract it would be a story we would want to read. You’d begin with Genesis 1 and 2 and end with Revelation 21 and 22. You begin with a perfect garden and end with a perfect city. Genesis 1 and 2 paints a picture of a participatory lifestyle where God and man co-habitate the same time and space.
Revelation 21 and 22 paints a picture of a participatory lifestyle where man engages with God and they co-habitate the same time and space. There’s no distinction between heaven and earth in Genesis and the fusion of heaven and earth at the end of Revelation leaves no distinction between the two.
All things have been made new, and the story ends here….on earth, the same place it began.
A story that begins with Genesis 3 begins with sin, and if you start with this premise in your story then your goal is the removal of sin. To get rid of the problem. But a story that begins at Genesis 1 the goal is “how do we get back” to shalom and restoration and peace. What is the larger story that you are telling? Is it just how to get rid of sin?
"A proper view of heaven leads not to escape from the world, but to full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in heaven." - Rob BellHeaven is where God is storing Earth’s future, bringing hope not rooted in escape but engagement, not evacuation but reclamation, not in leaving but in staying and overcoming.
Or to put it another way materiality is not the issue, rebellion is the issue.
"When Isaiah predicted that spears would become pruning hooks, that's a reference to cultivating. Pruning and trimming and growing and paying close attention to the plants and weather they're getting enough water and if their roots are deep enough. Soil under the fingernails, grapes being trampled under bare feet, fingers sticky from handling fresh fruit... For there to be new wine someone has to crush the grapes. For their to be no more war someone has to take the sword and get it hot enough in the fire to hammer it into the shape of the plow." - Rob Bell
"By the way when the writer John in the book of Revelation gets a current glimpse of the heavens, one detail he mentions about crowns is that people are taking them off, chapter 4. Apparently, in the unvarnished presence of the divine a lot of things that we consider significant turn out to be, much like wearing a crown, quite absurd." - Rob Bell
Now what do you think heaven will be like?
"On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there." Revelation 21:25 .
What are gates for? Gates are for keeping people in and/or out... Hmmm