Lately, I've been hearing people talk a lot about Christianity in terms of dying and going to heaven. It's especially prevalent from the evangelical pulpit. You hear things like, "When we go to heaven..." or "In heaven..." -- phrases that are usually followed by some great human conflict resolved.
But I'm struggling with this paradigm. I fail to see it expressed in Scripture.
Sure, there are hints. Paul talks about longing to go and be with Christ (Phil. 1:23-24), and Peter refers to his body as an "earthly tent" that will soon be put away (2 Pet. 1:13-14).
But the overall worldview of a New Testament believer seems to be focused on seeing the kingdom of God come to earth now through the church and on Jesus' imminent return to earth.
Yes, there is talk of heaven in the New Testament as the place where God and the angels are, where the will of God is executed perfectly. But there is little talk of Christians going there for eternity. That doesn't seem to be the point. (I think you could make a point for someone going there temporarily, but that's another discussion.)
Christianity (despite what you may have heard in church or from the nice old lady down the street) isn't about getting into heaven; it's about "getting heaven into us," as my friend Clint likes to say.
Regardless of what you may think about the "end times" or where you go when you die, an honest read of the Bible would reveal that there is this cosmic finale, a grand ending to this story being told, that results in heaven coming to earth.
It's a marriage ceremony of sorts -- at least, that's the image depicted in the final book of the Bible -- with Bride and Groom finally becoming one.
There is no longer any separation of the spiritual from the carnal, the temporal from the eternal. (That's classical dualism, by the way, not early Christianity.)
What we as the church can expect -- what we can pray for with hope and conviction -- is for heaven to invade earth now, to see glimpses of that coming reality in our current world.
That's the end game -- that has always been the end game -- the whole earth full of the glory of God. (Ps. 72:19; Is. 6:3; Hab. 2:14)
And that has practical implications for our current lives -- for the choices we make everyday. We have a responsibility to fulfill in this interim period, as the creation is groaning for its full and final redemption. In fact, I believe God is calling us to partner with him in these next steps.
I came across this fascinating quote by Tim Gaydos the other day, and it struck me as both profound and compelling:
"In Revelation, we don't see individuals being taken out of the world into heaven, but heaven coming down to renew the world and wash it of evil, disease, poverty, injustice and death."
What do you think, Church? Are you challenged, as I am, to live in such a way that heaven coming to earth is a present reality? What does that mean for you personally, as well as for your community?