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Where is heaven, what is it like and how do we get there? Part 2

10 July 2010

Read part one here
Read part three here

God is the key to a workable idea of heaven.
We are not looking for a place in the universe, for some special planet somewhere. We cannot place God in that way. And heaven is the place where God is, because heaven is the place God makes around God wherever God is. It is not that heaven is a place, and then God comes and lives in it. Heaven is not like a hutch, which you build, and then put the rabbit in it. Nor is it like a great house, which God comes along and buys, or takes over as a squatter. No: heaven as place is nowhere and anywhere. It is wherever God is or comes, because God makes heaven around him as he goes and comes.

Heaven is not located somewhere out of this world, out of our reach. It is also not simply future, out of reach while we live in this present. There is much about heaven we do not know – so we can think of coming to know it in the future. There is much about heaven we do not enjoy and are not fit for – so we can hope that we will come to the full joy one day and be fit to enjoy and not spoil the beauty of heaven by our being in it. Heaven is future in significant ways, and so it is hidden from us, as the future always is.

But it is not just future, because it is wherever and whenever God is. God makes and brings and shares heaven wherever God is. And God is not locked in the future alone.

God comes. Into the present. Into our present. And brings heaven. But does pointing us to God like that help us? Is it not answering a question about one mystery – heaven – by pointing us to another mystery – God? There is no doubt a great deal of mystery here, but it is not all obscurity. God comes and shows God. Not that God lets us know everything about God – could we take it in if God did? But God gives us plenty to go on and to hold on to about God.

Talking of God in the Bible way
We talk of God as though it is obvious what ‘God’ means, as though we know just by growing up in our mixed up society or in the repetitions of our religion. But do we? The Bible, this collection of texts we listen to to hear God, is the abiding outcome of God’s speaking to people in various ways over a long time, in Israel and in early Christianity. The Bible’s way of letting us hear and get to know God rests on some strange assumptions.

First, the Bible assumes that we human beings do not know God well enough to be able to talk confidently of God. We do well to keep silence a lot of the time, keep our eyes open, and to practise speaking tentatively as children do.
So, secondly, it assumes that it is essential to our knowing God truly that we always respect the secrets God keeps to God-self – we are on the path of knowing God truly when we are humble about how little we know.
Thirdly, it sees that human beings, in their energetic ignorance and desperate desire for God, tend to make gods for themselves, idols and religions in some form. So the Bible aims to expose our mistakes about God, get us to confess and turn from this tendency to false gods, and be open to God’s showing us true God in God’s own chosen way.
Fourthly, God’s own way of showing God to us is not short and simple and clear cut, but long and bewildering and not yet finished. God chose Abraham and his descendants and set about living and working with them through many generations, wandering towards a promise which is open-ended (it may be that heaven symbolises God’s open-ended promise of life and love). God does not show God in a moment, a twinkling of an eye. We see God by living in and learning from the long history of God with God’s people. Lessons with God take longer than 35 minutes. God works with people by choosing and affirming them, by calling and disciplining them, by renewing and challenging them. All this happens to people as they live with God, and slowly, with many mistakes down dead ends, and detours, come to see
• who the God is who is with them,
• how God is with them,
• how therefore they can be with God.
And coming to see something of all this is to be with God in the heaven God brings wherever he is.

We use the name God very glibly but the story the Bible gives it more substance and mystery.

Read part one of this series here and part three here

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