Heaven on earth

In the spirit of the comments from my last post, I’ve got to weigh in here. First, thank you Daniel for putting the Motley Magpie on my radar screen. Nevertheless, I’ve got a bone to pick with a bit of the content.

In its introductory article Peter Berg writes, “…the Supper is Heaven on earth. The Supper is the parousia of our Lord now – just as it shall be – only then with the scales fallen from our eyes. Therefore, the Supper is the apex of the Mass, for Heaven is the consummation of the believer’s life.” And a bit later, “In the Mass, we achieve the hope of all Christians: We go to heaven.”

He gets the proleptic aspect of the Supper, but he’s not quite right, is he? My issue isn’t with the importance or amazing and mysterious reality of the Supper, but with the reinforcing the incorrect popular notion that “Heaven is the consummation of the believer’s life.” We’ve heard this time and time again. It’s the stuff of longing amid suffering: “When I get to heaven,…” It’s in our hymnody: “I am but a stranger here; / Heaven is my home.” Variations on this theme are spoken at funerals: “Bill’s received his reward,” or “Eunice is celebrating at the marriage feast of the lamb.” But these statements and others which suggest that the soul’s resting with Jesus in heaven after bodily death are the terminus of human existence are flatly wrong.

Here’s why:

Rev. 6.9-11 speaks of the souls of the murdered-on-account-of-the-Word-of-God ones beneath the incense altar in heaven. They cry out, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until you judge and avenge our blood from the inhabitants on the earth?” These souls are in heaven with the Lord, yet this is not the picture of the finality of it all. In v. 11 they were told to “rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” They are certainly with the Lord, and they are certainly at rest from the weariness of this sinful age, but the “marriage feast of the lamb” does not happen yet.

Isaiah 65.17ff begins the talk of “new heavens and a new earth.” Isaiah records the words of YHWH who said, “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” This is new creation talk. This is the restoration of God’s creation to the way he always intended it to be. This is go back to when “God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” But take note that what God pronounced to be “very good” was a set up where human beings inhabited the earth. Isaiah writes more of this in 66.14ff (esp. 66.22). In 11.1ff he writes more of this restored creation.

But Isaiah wasn’t the only one to pick up on this. St. Peter reminds us in 2 Pet. 3.13 that “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

Pick Revelation up again at chapter 21. It’s…wait for it…a new heaven and a new earth. God destroyed the earth, and then he made it again. And in v.3 the “dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” And in Rev. 22 things look an awful lot like a garden, don’t they? A very particular garden…

And of course, who can discount–sing it with me: “I know that my Re-ee-deem-er-er lives.” That’s right, Job 19.25-27. Where’s the Redeemer gonna stand at the last? Say it with me! “UPON THE EARTH!” Job’s going to be standing there also, in his flesh, on earth, seeing God with his own eyes.

Heaven is not the consummation of the believer’s life. The apostles don’t talk like this. You don’t hear St. Peter or St. Paul talking about “when we get to heaven.” Jesus doesn’t either. Rather, they use terminology like “this (present) age” and “the age to come.” They talk about “the end of the age” and “the coming age.” Heaven isn’t the end. There’s more. It’s called bodily resurrection. Christ’s resurrection was first, and we shall follow him in one like his: rising bodily and never again to die.

So since we take Scripture seriously, let us irradicate the “when I get to heaven” talk. Let’s not lazily cave to popular piety. Let’s stand squarely on the Word of God and confess (“same-say”) what God in His Word has given us to confess.

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9 Responses to Heaven on earth

  1. Derek says:

    OSC,

    I’m about 99.8% with you here. Right up to the last paragraph where you say we ought to irradicate Heaven talk altogether. Though the bodily resurrection is our ultimate hope, for practical pastoral care purposes, comforting a believer on their deathbed or a family recently bereaved, affirming that they are with the Lord in Heaven is not something I think that we ought to irradicate. If our care for those people is limited to or dominated by talk of Heaven then yes, there is a problem. But Scripture speaks both ways. We ought not to dismiss Heaven altogether, even if a now/not yet distinction exists even there.

  2. OSC says:

    I’m not saying eliminate heaven talk. I’m saying eliminate “when I get to heaven” talk. I draw a distinction between the two. Heaven is a reality. And Scripture tells us that it’s a future hope for the Christian–just not the final hope. Certainly it is a comfort that the loved one who died in Christ is with Christ. But too often what I see is this Gnostic crap that only affirms the reception of the soul as important. I actually argued this point out at a circuit pastor’s meeting once. My brother pastors were adamantly arguing the “eternity in heaven” line. I pointed to the Biblical witness and still they opted to hold to their non-Scriptural notions–the ones that have seeped into our practical theology and we’ve seemingly welcomed with open minds.

    So, if that was your objection, I’d say we probably agree 99.9%. Still, I’m on a mission, with every confirmation class I get, with every child I get to catechize in any context, to get them to replace the “when I get to heaven” talk with “at the resurrection of the dead” or something very like it.

  3. Joe Fremer says:

    I agree with you in some respects, especially as you modified your statement with your last comment. I also agree with Derek. Why must there be a substitution of one for the other? Why not both-and? “Today you will be with me in Paradise” is one kind of comfort; “Ecce omnia facio” is another; both are true and both must be taught.

    The proleptic nature of the Supper is harmed by Berg’s hyperbole. It is a taste, a lick and a promise, but the homecoming feast will be far better.

    Fellowship with God can, and should be, a present experience here before we “get there.” But it is now by faith; later it will be by sight as well.

  4. OSC says:

    On the prolepsis, yes, indeed. I blew right by that. You are quite correct.

    I maintain that there is a legitimate call for a focus shift from the popular notion that “Today you will be with me in Paradise” signifies the criminal’s terminus. There is no hermeneutical evidence to suggest this, yet “heaven” is often where our talk ends. Certainly Luke 23 and Rev. 6 indicate, as I stated, that the souls of the dead in Christ go to be with Christ, and apparently in heaven. We rarely get to “ecce nova omnia facio” in practical terms.

    We confess the resurrection of the dead (3rd Article of the Creed, AC XVII). Yet in practical terms, ask any Christian, any Lutheran, what their hope after death is, and they’ll give you a variation on “I’m going to heaven.” They’re not confessing the best part! Where does this come from? Incomplete or lazy hermeneutics? which leads to incomplete preaching? which is a component of incomplete catechesis? which becomes cyclical and systemic.

    Here’s the other thing. Folks who espouse the ideas that the “soul’s flight to heaven” is the be all, end all of Christian experience tend also to get bogged down in a system of metaphysical timing, such that in death there is no time, and therefore no waiting. Thus the person dies and immediately experiences judgment at the culmination of all things. It’s sophistry without a modicum of support from Scripture.

    So yes, I agree that both must be taught, but honestly, the heaven talk ought to be taught as a stop on the tour–certainly as a comfort to the bereaved, but a temporary comfort. The long-term and enduring comfort is not that the soul rests with Jesus, but in the resurrection of the body and the restoration of the child of God to the way God always intended him/her to be: body and soul, sinless, and in perfect and unfettered relationship with God.

  5. Joe Fremer says:

    LOL I forgot the “nova”! DOH! Ok, let me say it right just one time: Ecce omnia nova facio!

    I have been interested in this subject for some time. This spring I taught an adult class called “Hope From Above,” sort of an inductive-method way to lead the participants to understand the central place of the Christian hope, vs. the usual conception of hope as “hopeful (optimistic) feelings.”

    If you would be interested in my handouts, send me an email, and I’ll mail ’em to you.

  6. Derek says:

    OSC,

    The way you phrased your most recent post takes care of any concerns I had. I honestly thought on my first read-through of the original posting you might be advocating soul-sleep or something along those lines. Heaven is a reality that must be taught but as you said, a stop along the tour. Even there, what most think of as the end of our Christian life, there is still a sense of expectation, affirming the value of the physical and of full humanity including the flesh, in glorified bodies. Knowing you personally I ought to have known better.

    I’m in the midst of this topic in depth right now with Dr. G.

    I tried calling a little earlier tonight. Hopefully we can catch up sometime soon, it’s been far too long.

  7. Joe Fremer says:

    Did you get to the Symposium at St. Louis this year? I didn’t but I listened to three hours of it by podcast on the commute to the pastors’ conference in Flint yesterday. If you have an iPod, you ought to give it a listen. Some good stuff there.

  8. OSC says:

    I’m quite remote from St. Louis, but would love to listen to it. It’s one of the things I miss the most about not being in the Midwest. Where might I pick up the podcast? I have an mp3 player, but it’s not an iPod. Can I still listen? I’m not terribly up on the Mac iUniverse.

  9. OSC says:

    Actually, I found it. Now what I really need is a decent Windows Mobile application to make my Pocket PC do podcasting like an iPod…–>

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