18 May 2011

Heaven a hard time with the afterlife?

In March Rob Bell released a book called Love Wins.

The controversy around the book was, well let’s just say a little heated. In the book, we were told, Rob Bell claimed he didn’t believe in Hell (he does). We were also told that he claimed that everyone will be saved (he didn’t quite). We were also told that he had lost it and that it was time that we finally cut him loose. (Thankfully we didn’t).

Everyone was reporting on it. Bloggers wrote post after post about it. (My hand is up here) Famous Christian Pastors tweeted their opinions. Every news channel in the US ran the story at one point or the other. It was even trending on Twitter.

Even I as a big fan of Rob Bell was sick of the sight of him.

A Pastor wrote a book that suggested that maybe God didn’t want to punish us but wanted the entire world to feel his love and embrace it; a book that encouraged us to live life so that we didn’t create Hell for ourselves and others, right now, here, on Earth. A book that gave us hope that God’s love isn’t exhaustive.

And when he did, some people tore him apart. Some Christians tore him apart.

So it can come as no surprise then that when Stephen Hawking came out and declared that there was no Heaven, there were those who came down on him even heavier.

Except… they didn’t.

The Christian blogs are surprisingly quiet on the matter. Apart from a few voices giving their opinion there is not much being said. Which is odd considering Stephen Hawking is denying, that the one thing that all Christians can agree on, isn’t real.

You may not agree with his perspective but at least Rob Bell is hopeful. Hopeful for restoration, for a future where pain of every kind is gone. Stephen Hawking shuts that possibility down when he says there is no Heaven.

Or does he?

What if he has a point? What if he has a point and he doesn’t even realise it?

What if the idea that most of us have of Heaven is wrong? Does the Heaven that many of us believe in, even exist?

In the same interview with the Guardian that Stephen Hawking denied the existence of an afterlife he also stressed the importance of fulfilling our potential on Earth, by making the most of our lives. Which seems to me to be a huge challenge if there is no Heaven. If there is no God, if there is no hope that someday everything will be restored the way God intended, then what is the point?

But how as Christians should we approach the future? How should we view Heaven and how should we approach how we live?

If we see Heaven as a place like Stephen Hawking imagines that we imagine it (I hope you followed that); I don’t know what exactly we have to live for. Is it just so we can evangelise to other people? Does the view of Heaven where we go somewhere else for eternity allow us to live in this life for something more than just ‘winning souls?’ Does that view of Heaven force us, subconsciously to not care about justice or the poor or the weak? Does it leave anything for our physical and emotional wellbeing here and now, rather than just our souls, there and then?

Or is Heaven more? Is eternity not just a place where we go but a place which comes and meets us? A place that comes and meets us, yes sometime in the future but just as importantly today and tomorrow. Is it when God’s perfect Heaven finally comes down and interconnects with our imperfect world; restoring it, not so the things that matter on Earth become obsolete, but become real and full of new life.

If that is the Heaven we live for then that changes everything. It starts now and is fulfilled when Christ rejoins us on Earth.

It means that our job is to bring that about from now in our words, our actions, in how we care for the poor, in how we fight for the people who are being trafficked, in how we help our friend be restored through their addictions, in how we meet and worship together, how we pray and how we love.

What do you think about what Heaven is like? And how does that impact what you think is important for Christians to work for?

What if the whole time that we are waiting for Heaven, Heaven is actually so close we can touch it?


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More