In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain introduces us to “Miss Watson,” a Christian spinster who thinks Huck Finn is spending too much time going on adventures, wearing ragged clothes, slouching in his chair, and having entirely too much fun. So she tells him all about the bad place, and why he should try for the good place.
“She went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn't think much of it.”
Some of us have difficulty “wanting the good place.” We’re quite happy living right here, and thinking about heaven seems more like an escape from reality and not a very good place to be. Yet what if looking forward to heaven is more than escapism or wishful thinking, but what we were born to do?
Much of the descriptive language about heaven in the Bible is figurative because it speaks of an experience beyond words. When we read about streets paved with gold, we should think of heaven’s perfection and beauty, for gold does not rust. When we read about music, harps, and singing we should be reminded that heaven will be a place of beauty and joy and, yes, worship. And when we read that we will receive a crown on our heads we should know that heaven will be a place of victory, authority and responsibility.
Jesus describes heaven as “Paradise” to the thief hanging beside him – a Persian word that means “walled garden.” When a Persian king wanted to honor one of his subjects, he would invite him to walk with him in his garden. It was the gift of the king’s friendship. Jesus said, “Today, without delay, you will be with me, alive and well, in the heavenly realm.” Beyond this, Jesus’ own resurrection reminds us that we will not only experience a new spiritual life with him after death; but, at the end of the age, a new super-bodily life that will be like his own.
In Scripture, “heaven” (ouranos) can also mean “air” “sky” or even “atmosphere.” Jesus showed us that the kingdom of heaven is as near and accessible as the air we breathe. Heaven is not confined to outer space or beyond space, or the Twilight Zone, it is as close as the atmosphere surrounding our bodies. Modern "string theory,” a branch of theoretical physics, suggests that there may be as many as eleven dimensions in our universe -- though we can only experience four of them. How difficult, then, is it to believe that there is a transphysical realm, a dimension we cannot now see but that is like a next-door room separated from us by a thin wall and a door. Still, even if such a doorway exists why should we be able to pass through it? Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). We can hope in heaven, because we know the Gatekeeper, and because he knows us.
With all this talk about Heaven, is there a danger that people can be so heavenly minded that they’re no earthly good? Certainly there are Christians who deserve that epitaph, but as C. S. Lewis observed in Mere Christianity, "If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.” Those who trust that in Christ death has been swallowed up in victory have risked everything to relieve the world's suffering: care for plague victims, defend the rights of children, guide slaves to freedom, breach war zones to feed the poor, make disciples of Jesus, and extend his kingdom on earth….
As Christians, our goal can never simply be getting away from earth and into “the good place” we call heaven; but getting more of the goodness of heaven into this place we call earth. Hope to see you soon…