Here is the NewThere
This week our reading assignment for Dig Deeper was, quite simply enough, chapter 1 and 2. We had pretty much talked about the introductory chapter in our first meeting last week, so my attention was focused on the second chapter: “Here is the New There” or Heaven.
(Spoiler alert–next week we get to talk about Hell.)
Much of the introduction to this chapter discusses our images of Heaven, and during this past week I have been obsessed with how we view Heaven, not in traditional artistic rendering but, much closer to home, in movies and television. I wracked my brain for movie imagery and I suppose I thought I might be able to bring something rather profound to our group. Instead, my Youtube search only yielded:
- “Heaven Can Wait”: A youthful Warren Beatty wandering through the clouds.
- “Defending Your Life”: If you don’t get it right the first time around, you go back and try again.
- “Field of Dreams”: The meaning of life is…..baseball. (“Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.”)
- “Dogma”: Ben Afflect & Matt Damon play two angels, banned from Heaven for excessive smiting, who find a loophole which will allow them to bypass God’s judgment and get them back in the door.
- “What Dreams May Come”: Robin Williams dies and goes to a fantastically beautiful heaven, frolics a bit with his dog and Cuba Gooding, but ultimately makes the choice to go to hell to save his wife.
- “Ghost”: When you die, if you have loose ends to take care of, you get to hang around until you wrap those up. Then, if you are a good person, you get to go toward the light. (If not, you get dragged down to Hell by the scary black shadow-things……but that’s next week’s chapter.)
- Actually, “Sixth Sense,” “The Lovely Bones,” and every episode of TV’s “Ghost Whisperer” are based on the premise that you get to settle your accounts, so to speak, before you “cross over.” And, of course, you still might need someone to tell you to cross over….
As Rob Bell points out in this chapter, our images of heaven usually refer to crossing over to something or somewhere “other.” And what will our existence be like in that other realm? In film, heaven usually can wait, because life on earth–our relationships, our work, our passion–seems so much more real than white robes, harps, and clouds. What Bell describes as heaven in this chapter is not a far away distant place, but heaven on earth–earth restored to the state where things are as God intends them to be and where man is ultimately recreated and existing in Eden’s partnership with God.
This is a future that starts today with everything we do in this life to bring in the kingdom of heaven. Not a life spent watching and waiting for a better world to come but a life in which we “move toward the light” as we grow, experiencing more and more heaven day by day in the here and now. And while we are working for the kingdom, God is at work on our hearts, making us ready for that new citizenship.
As Bell puts it:
“Our eschatology shapes our ethics.
Eschatology is about last things.
Ethics are about how you live.
What you believe about the future shates, informs, and determines how you live now.” (p. 46)
This heaven is not less real but more real, and those moments in life marked by “intensity of experience that transcends time” are just a foretaste of the life in heaven to come.
We may be “watching and waiting”, but we also have work to do here.
As another author has written: “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist in some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good.” (C.P.Estes, 2003)
And I rather like that thought….