“When we all get to heaven,
What a day of rejoicing that will be!
When we all see Jesus,
We’ll sing and shout the victory.”
Heaven is more popular than usual these days. Perhaps we should thank Todd and Preston Burpo for the hype. It’s amazing that all it takes to make Heaven popular is the account of a little boy…with a little help from Hollywood.
With all the talk on Heaven, a common misperception has come to the forefront – that the eternal destiny for those in Christ is Heaven.
In Surprised by Hope, NT Wright reflects that “I often find that though Christians still use the word resurrection, they treat it as a synonym for ‘life after death’ or ‘going to heaven’ and that, when passed, they often share the confusion of the wider world on the subject” (xii).
Contrary to the hymn referenced above, (shocking, I know that a hymn has bad theology – I thought that only praise songs were guilty) the eternal destiny of those in Christ will not be, in fact, in Heaven. Not hanging on clouds. Not strumming harps. Not as disembodied souls or as
stupid-y cupid-y archers.
As Wayne Grudem explains, “there will be new heavens and a new earth – an entirely renewed creation – and we will live with God there.” (For biblical reference, visit 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21)
The reality is that our eternal destination is a physical one on this planet. As Wright explains, “God’s future inheritance: the incorruptible new world and the new bodies that are to inhabit that world, are already kept safe, waiting for us, not so that we can go into heaven and put them on there but so that they can be brought to birth in this world or rather in the new heavens and new earth, the renewed world…” (152).
We will live with God on a renewed earth.
So what? What’s the problem with this misperception?
One problem is that many Christians have abandon our God-given responsibility (in Genesis 1:28) to steward and cultivate the earth. Because the emphasis is on eternal life in Heaven, the thought that any time, energy, resources, etc. spent on stewarding or cultivating this earth is a waste of time. Instead of concerning ourselves with issues of justice, cultural creation or creation-stewardship, as the reasoning of this misperception goes, we need to spend all our time focused on building bigger and better churches. As a result, we have largely outsourced the responsibility to steward and cultivate God’s creation to those who may not share our belief in a creator God.
A confession is in order – I consistently find myself using the phrase “eternal life in heaven” that while it is contextual to our society, is not correct. Jesus offers us eternal life with him. Here. On the earth.
Another confession is in order – I don’t entirely understand what it means to steward and cultivate. I recycle. I also drive a gas guzzler. My understanding of this responsibility is incomplete.
Not only do we need to do a better job with our semantics – the words we use – by explaining that our eternal life is with Christ on a renewed earth. We must also participate in our responsibility to steward & cultivate – as well as the time spent in evangelism. Christians can’t neglect, ignore or outsource this responsibility to others.
Wright sums it up well: “God’s recreation of his wonderful world, which began with the resurrection of Jesus and continues mysteriously as God’s people live in the risen Christ and in the power of his Spirit, means that (what) we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God’s new world” (208-209).