Heaven on Earth: Love Wins Ch. 2
Someone once described heaven to me as a nonstop worship service for all eternity. I enjoy worship in certain contexts and being in the presence of God will be beyond belief, but I didn’t exactly get excited about that description of heaven. Worship to me goes beyond just singing. What is heaven like? Where is heaven and who is going to go there? In chapter two of Love Wins, Rob Bell tackles some of the preconceptions of what we think heaven will be like and gives some answers from the words of Jesus and Paul.
First, Bell explores the popular notion that heaven is somewhere else. To some heaven is sort of Care Bear world in the clouds full of gold streets and big mansions. He then dives into the conversation in Matthew 19 that the rich man has with Jesus about how he can get eternal life. Jesus answers the rich man by telling him to sell his possessions instead of answering him in the evangelical way by telling him to accept him as the Son of God and start a personal relationship with him. He focuses most of the conversation around the Greek word for “age” which is the word aion. Bell argues that the word doesn’t mean forever as we think of forever but more of a time period with a beginning and an end. There is this age that we are in now and then there is an age to come. The rich man is asking about how he can get into the age to come and Jesus explains that he is devoted to things that won’t last into this next age.
Rob Bell explains that at the end of this age God will say “Enough!” and peace will reign on this physical Earth. In the next age all war, greed, injustice and evil will disappear. We will join God is making this place what he intends it to be. Our Earth will return its Garden of Eden design.
So what do we do until then? Bell writes, “How we think about heaven, then, directly affects how we understand what we do with our days and energies now, in this age.” Our efforts to make this place better will endure in the new world, according to Bell. It is almost like we are joining God in making this place new right now. “If you believe that you’re going to leave and evacuate to somewhere else, then why do anything about this world?” says Bell.
In the second part of the chapter, Bell talks about an aspect of heaven that is outside of our present experience of time. Sort of like those times when we are hopelessly in love that we forget about time. Some sort of other dimension. We can experience a piece of the heaven experience now by seeking God.
Bell ends with this statement which sums up the chapter well:
There’s heaven now, somewhere else.
There’s heaven here, sometime else.
And then there’s Jesus’ invitation to heaven here and now, in this moment, in this place.
Personally, my theological beliefs on heaven are pretty close to what Bell describes in this chapter. I don’t know how God is going to do it, but I think he is going to bring this Earth back to its Garden of Eden state of shalom and we get to use our gifts and abilities to reign with Christ in this new world. In the past I have been frustrated by those whose beliefs on heaven are more focused on heaven somewhere else. I felt like they were not concerned with taking up our God given responsibility of caring for this Earth and making it a better place. They were more concerned with the life to come and getting their fire insurance. It didn’t seem like what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
What are your views on heaven? How do your views on heaven change how you live your life now?