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Boyd C. Purchell: Views of heaven

The following is re-printed from Purcell's new book, "Christianity Without Insanity For Optimal Mental/Emotional Physical Health."

There is an old saying, "Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to go today." Perhaps, if Christians had a Biblical view of heaven, they might be interested in bringing heaven to earth. One's conception of God and heaven will determine one's love for God.

"Heaven Can't Wait: Why rethinking the hereafter could make the world a better place" is the title of an article written by Jon Meacham, in "Time Magazine," March 12, 2012. Meacham reported that according to a Gallup poll 85 percent of Americans believe that life does not end with physical death. But there is a movement in Christianity, in America and Europe, to rethink concepts of heaven. A leading New Testament scholar in this endeavor is N.T. Wright, former Anglican bishop of Durham, England. Such scholars have asked two profound questions. "What if Christianity is not about enduring this sinful, fallen world in search of a reward of eternal rest? What if the authors of the New Testament were actually talking about a bodily resurrection in which God brings together the heavens and the earth in a wholly new, wholly redeemed creation?"

I grew up, as the vast majority of Christians have, on the view of earth and heaven expressed in the words of the old Christian hymn, "I'll Fly Away." The lyrics state: "some glad morning when this life is o'er, I'll fly away to my home on God's celestial shore. I'll fly away." Or this hymn: "This world is not my home; I'm just passing through. My treasure is laid up somewhere beyond the blue." The whole orientation is "other worldly" or escapism to leave this sinful, sin-filled world to go to a "better place." How many times have you heard Christians say in regard to the death of a loved one: he or she is in a better place?

Again Meacham quoted Wright who is now the New Testament expert at the University of St. Andrews. "When first century Jews spoke about eternal life, they weren't thinking of going to heaven in the way we normally imagine it <t40>...<t$> Eternal life meant the age to come, the time when God would bring heaven and earth together, the time when God's kingdom would come and his will would be done on earth as in heaven."

This view is in total agreement with the petition in The Lord's Prayer, which Christians around the world pray every Sunday. "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Remember this is the prayer our Lord taught us to pray. Did he teach us to pray thusly for nothing? Are we praying needlessly? Of course, conservative Christians relegate peace on earth to the millennial reign of Christ after his Second Advent. But earth and heaven being one may not have to wait for that event.

Meacham explained: After Jesus failed to inaugurate the new kingdom in the lifetimes of the disciples and early apostles, subsequent generations of Christians -- now two millennia's worth -- were left to speculate about the nature of life after death. And the further believers have moved in time from the New Testament era, the further many Christians have moved from New Testament understandings about heaven. The power of poets and artists, of Dante and Michelangelo, created indelible images: the fiery story of Revelation, though problematic and highly metaphorical, has long been taken too literally.

The view of God transforming the world into heaven on earth has far-reaching implications. It is right up there with saving the environment being as important as saving souls. There is another old saying: some Christians are so heavenly minded, they are no earthly good. Protecting the environment, nuclear disarmament, social justice, world peace, etc., may well resonate with young people who are turned off with the church's present emphasis on soul saving.

Purchell, who served as a Presbyterian minister in Boone County before retiring, writes about intolerance in religion. His first book is "Spiritual Terrorism." His books are available through Amazon.


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