A refreshing development in evangelical theological studies is the new emphasis on the “new earth.” Refreshing to me in particular because of the “Beam me up, Lord” mentality of my generation, a mindset that concentrated on the Rapture of the Church and the Second Coming of Christ. It was heaven-centered, but focused on an ethereal heaven that we would either be “raptured” into alive or the souls our dead bodies had inhabited would be resurrected into. It was somewhere out there; but where was “there”?

Is our idea of heaven based on Scripture?

Is our idea of heaven based on Scripture? (montage by J Fowler)

As a boy that uncertainty plus the belief I got at church that we would spend eternity singing hymns “somewhere beyond the blue” sure wasn’t something I looked forward to. I enjoyed catching crawdads, frittering away hours in farmer Kelly’s woods, playing “kick the can” with my friends, and just hanging around at home smelling supper and reading Sugar Creek Gang books. That nagging fear of being bored to death with heaven hung on well into adulthood, but I never talked about it. It seemed ungodly and un-Christian.

That’s why the realization I came to a couple decades ago kindled a new hope in my heart—the understanding of the biblical promise that heaven was going to come to earth, and the earth be redeemed by “the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 5) and would be refreshed (Acts 3:19), reunified Ephesians 1:9-10), restored (Acts 3:20), reconciled to God (Colossians 1:20): the joyous “Five Rs” of our future existence on God’s good earth!

This truth was unfolded aptly by my friend Mike Wittmer, associate professor of systematic theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, in his encouraging book Heaven Is a Place On Earth:

Our temporary stay in heaven—what theologians call the intermediate state—is not the primary focus of Scripture. There are only a few verses that allude to it.  Scripture is relatively silent on our intermediate state in heaven because it is not the Christian hope. The Christian hope is not merely that our departed souls will rejoice in heaven, but that, as 1 Corinthians 15 explains, they will reunite with our resurrected bodies. And where do bodies live?  Not in heaven:  That’s more suitable for spiritual beings like angels and human souls. Bodies are meant to live on earth, on this planet. So the Christian hope is not merely that someday we and our loved ones will die and go to be with Jesus. Instead, the Christian hope is that our departure from this world is just the first leg of a journey that is round-trip.  We will not remain forever with God in heaven, for God will bring heaven down to us. As John explains his vision in Revelation 21:1-4, he “saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God” to the earth, accompanied by the thrilling words, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them.”

In short, Christians long for the fulfillment of Emmanuel, the divine name that means “God with us.” We don’t hope merely for the day when we go to live with God, but ultimately for that final day when God comes to live with us.

That’s not a message I heard preached as a kid but really would love to have heard. It was hard to live all those years thinking that my future state was going to be boring—and to feel guilty because of that feeling. Later in his book Mike describes what that future state might look like as foretold in part by the ancient prophet Isaiah. He concludes with this thought:

Because redemption restores rather than obliterates creation, we will find that its completion in our next life will be the fulfillment of our humanity. Nothing will be more satisfying than dwelling with our Father on the earth we call home, enjoying the well-rounded, flourishing lives he intended for us all along. Our next life will look an awful lot like this one, lacking only the suffering that arises from sin.

Now that’s a heaven this old boy can look forward to!

[Source: WonderOfCreation.org – Thank you Dean!]

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