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What do you think about heaven?

The Washington Post’s “On Faith” discussion is about heaven. Quite the discussion.

What do you believe about heaven? Whose view below is most like yours? 
From Daisy Khan, a Muslim: “For me, perhaps the most profound beauty of Heaven is its plurality and diversity of people. Heaven is dar al-salaam, the ultimate safe haven. It’s a place for all those who have done good deeds – men and women, adults and children, Muslims and non-Muslims, peoples of all nationalities and cultures – to enjoy together and in harmony.”

John Mark Reynolds, professor at Biola and Eastern Orthodox: “What will I see? God, of course, but God is a very big Person and my eyes, even in Heaven, are very small. In Heaven, I will see God through Jesus, the God-man. He is not just an image of God, an icon, but Very God and looking at Him in His human nature will lead me to as much of God as men can see.”

Julia Neuberger, a rabbi: “Heaven is not where God sits upon a cloud, in my view, but the sense of where God belongs, in our hearts, in our heads, in our world and beyond it. I do not believe in heaven as ‘other’, though it has elements of that. Instead, I believe in the capacity of human beings to create heaven for themselves and others here on earth.”

Ramdas Lamb, a religious syncretist: “Heaven, hell, and the afterlife are totally theoretical and any belief in them is based solely on faith. No one can affirm their existence, as no one can prove their non-existence. Practically speaking, then, any belief in the them is only relevant to the extent that it affects the way we live our lives here and now.”

T.D. Jakes: “I have traveled to and preached on nearly every continent and I’ve seen places that are breathtaking. From the crystal Alps of Switzerland’s noble peaks to the empty caverns, caves and craters of Hawaii, there is nothing to compare. No not even the amazing sound of crackling glaciers in northernmost Alaska or the rumbling of running herds of elephants frolicking in the bush of South Africa. None of these earthly wonders measure up to the mystical majesty of the eternal blissful reunion between the soul and its creator! I believe that Heaven will be the absence of all selfish, evil, hateful, vile and unpleasant things, and it will be everything grand, and glorious bringing satiety to the soul and tranquility to the mind. This glorious place is by invitation only. But all who seek Him and trust him are invited. No one who heeds His call need be rejected.”

Karen Armstrong, former Catholic and now religious pluralist: “I personally think it best not to try to imagine what we call ‘heaven’, because it can only be some kind of projection or wish-fulfillment. We can become so fixated on ‘getting into heaven’ that all our good deeds become purely selfish – as irreligious as paying into a retirement annuity for a comfortable life in the hereafter. Religion is supposed to be about the loss of ego – not fantasies about its eternal survival in optimum conditions.”
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posted March 31, 2010 at 6:28 am

personally I fail to see how existence cuold be any other that what we have now. Take for example gravity. Would htere be gravity in the “next world” or in “heaven”. If there’s no gravity why would beings sit (God on his ‘throne’)? If I dropped a stone on my foot would it hurt? would it bleed? where would the blood go? I know people will make compairsons to the old “angels on a pinhead” analogy, but I think the complaint (about the impracticality of heaven) has real merit.
Heaven for me seems so impractical, and unimaginable that it’s not possible for me to make any statements about it. I also find it exasperating when others try to describe it, for the reasons above.

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Scot McKnight

posted March 31, 2010 at 6:31 am

Phil, in defense, there is a solid strain of thought that sees “heaven” as a very earthly-type of existence. Tom Wright, who is not among those quoted, sees heaven coming down to earth in Rev 20-22 and therefore the “new heavens” is also a “new earth.”

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posted March 31, 2010 at 7:21 am

Scott, yes I am aware of this thinking, it was perhaps presumptuous of me not to note that.. In fact, it’s just about the only kind of escatological hope that makes any kind of sense to me. It also seems to work with a physicalist understanding of the human person, which is where I lean on that subject.
Unfortunately I grew up with the “my spirit floats off to heaven when I die” thing when I was a child, so talk of heaven always conjures up all the associated imagery.

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Jeff Doles

posted March 31, 2010 at 8:43 am

I am with N. T. Wright. New heaven and new earth joined together ~ the kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Resurrected bodies to do on earth what God intended for humankind from the beginning.

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Georges Boujakly

posted March 31, 2010 at 9:04 am

The immensity of the subject (future existence) defies complete description.
With Muslim: Heaven will be multicultural harmony. This already exists in part on earth. THe absence of conflict is appealing.
With Orthodox: Seeing God, very Bib Person, through Christ (Very God) rings true biblically speaking. An eternity of learning God sounds appealing. Experiencing all in Christ, through Christ thrills.
With this Jewish Understanding: Heaven is a present state. Not future.
With T.D. Jakes: Unlimited beauty, bliss, and satiety sounds right.
With Religious Pluralist: Don’t project your desire for fulfillment unto the concept of heaven. You’ll miss the present reality and the good you can do in it.
With N.T. Wright: Since Scot quoted him: My lot is cast here. This position seems to encompass all the others yet is biblically patterned. Heaven will come down and transform the old earth into a new earth. Instantaneously? An eternal process?
What is not clear to me is the relationship between present existence and future existence. What is continuous? Discontinuous? Especially in light of spiritual development in the present realm. Do I pick up where I left off? WIll I be transformed not Christlikeness instantly and grow no more? And much more I wouldn’t know how to articulate.

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Georges Boujakly

posted March 31, 2010 at 9:08 am

I wish there was an edit button for me to correct the typos in my entry. Perhaps in heaven there will be.
Big Person not “Bib Person”.
Into Christlikeness not “not Christlikeness.”

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Travis Greene

posted March 31, 2010 at 9:13 am

I’m kind of meh on all of these. They should have asked N.T. Wright. Few people seem to understand any concept of “heaven” other than “bodiless magic in the clouds” or “we can make it on earth right now through sheer force of will”.
It’s also interesting that only the EO guy speaks about Jesus.

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posted March 31, 2010 at 9:17 am

I’m on board with Wright’s “glorified earthiness” view as well, though that’s the same sort of view I learned growing up within the Reformed tradition, shaped by neo-Calvinistic Dutch “worldview” influences.
The Orthodox theologian above is on the same page too, I think – that the “Beatific Vision” of God will be mediated through the deified humanity of Jesus and – I’d add – in a lesser way, through the glorified humanity of one another and through the whole glorified material creation.
As Thomas Aquinas says,
“Since then sight and sense will be specifically the same in the glorified body, as in a non-glorified body, it will be impossible for it to see the Divine essence as an object of direct vision; yet it will see it as an object of indirect vision, because on the one hand the bodily sight will see so great a glory of God in bodies, especially in the glorified bodies and most of all in the body of Christ, and, on the other hand, the intellect will see God so clearly, that God will be perceived in things seen with the eye of the body, even as life is perceived in speech.”

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posted March 31, 2010 at 9:51 am

“You’re so heavenly minded, you’re no earthly good.”
-Johnny Cash-
I’m more and more convinced that Jesus didn’t really bother himself so much with heaven as much as he focused on life after religion and within the unwrapping of His Kingdom. Similar to Rabbi Neuberger I think much of what we understand in heaven is manifest on earth but will be eventually fully revealed in Christ. There is an “after” but that is the full manifestation of Christian life now.

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derek leman

posted March 31, 2010 at 10:10 am

Not only is Wright’s book good, but a simpler one for readers who prefer something simpler is Alcorn’s Heaven. Lewis’s The Great Divorce is the classic and will likely become a top five favorite for anyone who reads it.
I also have a little book on the subject called The World to Come. It is important to see afterlife ultimately in terms of a renewed earth. This is the promise of the Israelite prophets, picked up in the New Testament and presented in similar form in Revelation. What many Christians seem not to know is that the Israelite prophets have far more images than what can be found in Revelation.
My book focuses on information from the Israelite prophets and insists as well that our imaginations need to work alongside the Biblical images. We have an intuitive sense, it is in our desires, of a better world. That desire is not false, but very real and it makes sense that it is implanted by God.
Derek Leman

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Richard Jones

posted March 31, 2010 at 11:16 am

Karen Armstrong made some good points, didn’t she?

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posted March 31, 2010 at 11:17 am

I’m surprised so many answers are non-dualistic. I assumed most of the religious thought of going to heaven elsewhere. My bad. But thinking that it would be possible in the future to go to other galaxies and star(sun) systems with a planet just the proper orbit for organic life. I would like it, if possible. You know, ascend into the clouds and beyond like Jesus. So old, so large, so many evolutionary possibilities. I also always assumed Jesus has other flocks.

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Jeff Doles

posted March 31, 2010 at 11:19 am

I don’t think we are of earthly good UNTIL we are heavenly minded. Jesus taught us to pray, “Kingdom of God, come. Will of God, be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The kingdom of God is not something that can be separated from heaven ~ it is the will of God being done on earth as it is in heaven. Wherever that happens, the kingdom of God is breaking in, the rule and reign of God (which is what the kingdom is) is being revealed. It is when we begin to understand what the will of God being done in heaven is, and we begin coming into agreement with it and believing it that we begin to be of earthly good.

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Dr. Bob Wenz

posted March 31, 2010 at 11:45 am

Whittmore’s Heaven Is a Place On Earth is a fine read that reminds us that our future home in the kingdom is not in he clouds or even what we see in Rev 4-5, but ON EARTH. The new earth where God will dwell with his people and we will be co creators of the new landscape with God.

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posted March 31, 2010 at 11:54 am

I, too, would have looked to talk more about the new earth here. Not up there, but the kingdom fully on earth.

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posted March 31, 2010 at 1:06 pm

While I’m in concordance with the ‘new earth’ understanding of life after life after death ala NT Wright, I personally understand this as our physical resurrection into a renewed physical cosmos rather than seeing us stuck on one planet. I like Paul’s metaphor in 1 Cor 15 where he likens us now as seeds waiting to be reborn into something much more wonderful.

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Josh Mueller

posted March 31, 2010 at 1:18 pm

John Mark Reynold’s response (the whole article, not just the snippet here) was great. Rather than trying to imagine the place and environment he focussed on our life story as a whole and the missing part of it. Coming face to face with the living Word – undistracted, undiluted – is what makes worth it all and makes sense of it all in the end.

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Your Name

posted March 31, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Heaven is where God is. God is Love. This is not your typical cliche…
God is Love. God is eternal, Infinte as well. If God is the source of infinite love, I want you to consider what you will be in the presence of.
Think of how much you love your child. Or how much your grand mother loved you. Or how much you love your sibling, or spouse. Remember your first puppy? And the tail wagging and the admiration and trust they had in you? God provided all of that love for every child, parent, sibling, grandparent and every puppy, of all times, and still has infinity of love left over. How much adoration and attention can you handle?
Standing in the presence of God, I believe you’ll come face to face with how inadequate we are and have been, and how merciful he is. Standing in the presence of that vast cosmos of love, and realizing it actually pays attention to you and loves you too, will be the ultimate humbling experience. What worth do you have that deserves such warmth, light, and purpose?
God isn’t santa claus in my faith. We aren’t promised a life of luxury and our every desire being met. But that is as close to the ultimate gift as my feeble mind can get it’s arms party around… infinte love, and I get a portion of it.
How much is that portion?
Eternity… 0-1-2-3-4>>>>>>>> for ever…
Eternity 0.01, 0.001, 0.0001, etc… You have an eternity between 0 and 1. There is enough for everyone to have an infinity of love to experience.

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posted March 31, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Jeff Doles,
I think you’ll find that Johnny Cash agrees with you. He was addressing the idea of escapism – I don’t need to do good here and now I just need to wait until I get to heaven since Jesus already bought the ticket. In that sense, he (and I) would agree with you. Doing earthly good is being heavenly minded.

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posted March 31, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I lean toward Karen Armstrong’s view.

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Bob Robinson

posted April 1, 2010 at 9:25 am
NT Wright is not the only one who sees heaven as a renewed earth. I think it is in the Bible. 😉
Actually, check out some of what the neo-Calvinists have written, and you see a very picturesque explanation of not only what “heaven” will be like, but also how that telos gives us our purpose in this current time.
My favorite books on the subject:
Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God by Michael Wittmer
Heaven is Not My Home: Learning in the NOW of God’s Creation by Paul Marshall
Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview by Albert Wolters (with a contribution from Michael Goheen)

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posted April 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm

Inasmuch as, for example, Genesis is not about early earth, why should we think anything in the Bible of similar nature is about what is to come? The writers about these things were within their own time and culture frame. If Tom Wright has possible answers to some problems about what is to come that appeal to many, these appealing possible answers should not obscure that they also throw up other problems. There are no answers without severe problematics. So, Wright and others are wrong to suggest matters are as clear as they make out. That the future will be living on something very like present earth doesn’t appeal to me.

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John W Frye

posted April 1, 2010 at 3:26 pm

sumac2uk (22),
You were posting an interesting comment until you typed the last line: “That the future will be living on something very like present earth doesn’t appeal to me.” Whether a concept grounded in biblical exegesis ‘appeals’ to us or not, we have to wrestle with it. I think a category mistake many make in pondering N. T. Wright’s view is that the future is a mere extension of the present. This is NOT true. Wright gives full weight to Jesus saying, “Behold! I am making all things NEW…” So, while there is not the old dualism of heaven as over against the earth, there is a vast regeneration that gives us the heavens and the earth in newness. To probe this newness will take eternity.

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posted April 2, 2010 at 5:19 am

Thanks, John W Frye. I like your saying many make the mistake of thinking Wright is saying the future will be merely an extension of the present. That was partly the basis of my using the term ‘appeal’. I think a future rather like the present does appeal to many who on that account take Wright to be saying it will be like the present. And I was saying that a future life like the present, though obviously we could expect it to be without present pains and distresses, does not appeal to me, giving me impetus to try to think less superficially about these things. But I don’t think Wright does give full weight to all things being made new. He pays lip service to it, but I think all his weighty suggestiveness paints a picture like the present. Why does he do that? Because he sees the Biblical language saying something like that. And it does, literally! My point was that that is as insufficient basis as it is for, for example, painting pictures of early earth from Genesis. And then, whereas we will explore the future life in whatever actuality it has for all eternity, our probings now should not paint clear pictures, such as I think Wright does, of how things will be that because of their appeal invite people to ignore them being full of obvious acute problems.

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