As we begin this study guide, we are going to think about some of the commonly held ideas about heaven that stop us clearly seeing what the Bible says about heaven and earth. In particular we will explore how a dualistic view, that puts the spiritual and material worlds in opposition to each other, is very different from the biblical understanding of reality.
Why don’t we want to go to heaven? Perhaps because the images of heaven we have seen have not been exciting? Is it a place where our bodyless souls go, floating around on clouds? We are told in church that in heaven there would be endless worship, and this seems like it will be an endless church service – there are so many things here on earth that we find enjoyable that this idea is not engaging! God has created so many wonderful and beautiful things to be physically felt and experienced and these require an actual body! If we are just a soul, would we not miss these things? What’s to look forward to?
When we think about heaven and earth, we have a dualistic view of them. Dualism is splitting things into different parts which are often seen as opposites and in conflict with one another.
Heaven = perfect spiritual place, world of the soul
Earth = fallen material realm, world of the body.
Within this view the aim is to escape the evil of this material world to the joys of the spiritual heaven. To be in this spiritual realm we need to disengage from our bodily desires and our attachments to the things of the material earth. Neo-Platonists who lived in first few centuries after Christ taught about a division between spirit and matter. They thought that to be spiritual you had to leave the earthy world and ascend to the pure heavenly realm of spirit. This teaching is different to what the bible says but it had a subtle yet profound effect on the early church hence an influence on the church even today. This, in turn, has led to a skewed view and teaching on certain things within the church.
In the Bible, heaven and earth are not opposites in conflict with each other. The purpose of being a Christian is not to merely escape earth for a spiritual heaven. Rather, the bible is the story of how God is bringing heaven and earth together in ‘one joyful reality’. It’s a message of how the earth will one day be redeemed. Jesus is not a ticket to heaven but the one who brings heaven and earth together in a new creation.
In Chapter One we discuss some of these things – see questions below for personal contemplation or a group discussion.
Many of our images of heaven come from religious art in churches and cathedrals. Look at this fresco within the dome of the Cathedral in Florence, painted between 1572-79.
Another source for our images of heaven is popular culture. Watch this video clip from Ice Age 2: The Meltdown in which Scrat goes to heaven.
On p6. I discuss how our ideas about heaven are often distorted by a dualistic view which splits reality into opposing material and spiritual realms in conflict with one another. This has affected the church through the ages right down to the present day.
In Acts 7:48-50, Stephen quotes the prophet Isaiah when he tells his listeners;
“…the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:
‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?’”
I finish Chapter One by arguing that the emphasis of the Bible is not on heaven as a place within the universe but as the dimension of reality where God’s will is done. Thus, heaven and earth are not two separate places in opposition to each other. Rather, heaven can fill the normal everyday things of our earthly lives wherever God’s will is done.
Pray for one another that God might open your eyes to see where something of heaven, the dimension where God’s will is done, is already present in your everyday earthly lives and give thanks for those things/moments/people.