Episode 33: Where is heaven?
This episode is something of a concept study – what or where is heaven? From the musings of a small boy on a football pitch, through Genesis to Revelation with a couple of stops in between, Laurence and Paul explore what “heaven” meant to the Biblical writers. The ideas that emerge seem much less about a physical location and much more about the presence of God and a relationship that ordinary people (on earth) can have with him through Jesus.
The discussion starts with Paul reminiscing about his childhood musings on where heaven might be, which were, to be honest, pretty inconclusive and seemed much less interesting than football at the time. But they do reflect what is probably a common question – is heaven an actual place? What does it mean for God to dwell there?
Heaven is the sky…and more
Paul starts the exploration of this theme right at the beginning in Genesis 1 where “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. In this context heaven is simply talking about the sky, that is, what humans see when they look up.
But this is quickly linked to where God dwells in passages like Isaiah 40:22 and Psalm 11:4. It’s easy to see why people might think of the sky as where God is – looking up at the clouds or the stars leaves you with a sense of wonder and that there is so much out there that is out of sight for humans. But this Israelite concept of a God that transcends and oversees all of the natural world was distinctly different from the way the polytheistic peoples around them thought of their gods. Their gods were part of the natural order – a god of the sea or of the crops whereas Israel’s God was the God of the whole show, existing above and over it all.
Enthroned in heaven
Paul then highlights that Psalm 11:4 adds some really important concepts into the mix as it speaks of God in heaven being enthroned and in his temple. Those ideas lead to a chain of thoughts starting with the Garden of Eden, which portrays God and man at unity dwelling in rest together in God’s creation as a temple. The human decision to break that relationship and go in a different direction represents the separation that continues between God and man, between heaven and earth.
Laurence suggests that this is not a complete break and by looking at the temple of Solomon they see that the garden paradise is represented there as a place where heaven and earth can still come together. However, when they take these concepts into the New Testament it gets really interesting. Jesus, in what is known as the Lord’s prayer, appeals for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. Then working through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians they see that Jesus, as a representative of humanity is exalted to heavenly places – but so are the members of the Jesus community in Ephesus! So heaven is not so much about a location but about the relationship that people can have with God through Jesus. The Jesus-community at Ephesus is even described by Paul (the Apostle that is) as a holy temple and a dwelling place for God!
With that bombshell, Paul and Laurence close in Revelation (where else) where heaven and earth are fully united as the ultimate fulfillment of the plan of God in the re-appearance of Jesus.