Friday, February 08, 2008

Heaven and Earth

I must confess that when I read the headline "Christians Wrong About Heaven, Says Bishop" my first thought was "Oh, no! Another Episcopal bishop providing fodder for the conservatives to claim that the Episcopal Church has degenerated into some sort of pagan cult." To my surprise, and no doubt to the surprise of many others, it is none other than Bishop N.T. (Tom) Wright, Bishop of Durham, and hardly a card-carrying liberal! His point is that the current popular view of heaven, as a place in the clouds with harps and angels where God takes us if we're good enough, has little basis in the Bible. Instead, Wright notes that:
Our culture is very interested in life after death, but the New Testament is much more interested in what I've called the life after life after death — in the ultimate resurrection into the new heavens and the new Earth. Jesus' resurrection marks the beginning of a restoration that he will complete upon his return. Part of this will be the resurrection of all the dead, who will "awake," be embodied and participate in the renewal.
Wright point out that the sense that our bodies don't matter has more to do with Plato and the Greek view of creation as "shabby and misshapen and full of lies" than it does with the Jewish, and thus more authentically Christian, view in the Bible that "the world of space and time and matter is messed up, but remains basically good, and God will eventually sort it out and put it right again." In other words, the Biblical view of heaven is an antidote to the well-worn criticism that some Christians are so heavenly-minded that they are no earthly good.

Bishop Wright talks about a sort of holding area or holding pattern in which we will be placed until the final resurrection. While that may be Biblical, it also fails to emphasize that at that point we will be outside of normal space and time. In other words, we could be "there" (wherever "there" is) for a thousand years and it might seem like a single day. The Bible does say that God's view of time is not ours.

For me, this article emphasizes a core truth during this Lenten season--that 99% of our lives as Christians have to do with what we do here, now, as people who serve as Christ's hands and feet in the world. If we're simply waiting on God to "do something" we're as useless to both God and the world as if we were sitting on a mountain top waiting for the end of the world. There is a bumper sticker that says "Jesus is coming. Look busy." Perhaps this Lent that could be modified to read "Jesus is coming. Get busy."

No comments: