This past Sunday for our Leaving Left Behind Behind series we thought through the ‘rapture,’ the (un)biblical notion when the Risen Christ comes again believers will ‘meet him in the air’ and then…go somewhere else.
The problem with the rapture isn’t only that it’s a willful misreading of 1 Thessalonians 4 on which the idea is purportedly based, the problem is with its understanding of the someplace else to which we’ll be raptured.
The bigger problem with the rapture is heaven.
Our everyday notions of heaven do not come close to the hope the bible gives us.
Heaven it should be said straight away is not a place.
Heaven merely names God’s presence in its fullness.
So heaven isn’t a place because God isn’t a place.
When it comes to heaven there’s no ‘there’ there to which we can be raptured.
So the Christian hope is not of heaven as a destination of souls; it’s for the consummated reign of God. The God who made us to desire God and God’s Kingdom ultimately gets what God wants.
The Christian hope is for the creation declared ‘good’ to be renewed (Rev 21). This New Creation is finally what the Garden of Eden could not be: a place where God and God’s creatures dwell together. It’s as if what God wants is for us to join him in the life of the Trinity but there’s not enough room- New Creation is the space required for God’s desire.
The Christian hope then is not for the rescue of the few worthy souls left after Armageddon.
It’s not escape from a swiftly sinking planet.
It’s the fulfillment of God’s original creative intent.
It’s the completion of Cross and Empty Tomb: the reconciliation of all things.
For ‘Heaven’ as in God’s fullness to come once and for all to Earth.
All things; so that, what was done at Eden is forever undone.
Communion with God is restored. Communion with one another is restored. Communion with creation is restored.
For this reason, all the imagery scripture uses to speak of heaven is profoundly communal: a new heaven and earth, a new Jerusalem, a marriage feast, a choir of countless people from every language.
Again, the Risen Jesus is our grammatical rule when speaking of eternal life. Whatever eternal life is it’s like what we find in the Easter Jesus. His bodily self is somehow restored. His life in the goodness of creation is renewed. His communion with the Father is consummated. His broken relationships (with Peter and the disciples) is reconciled.
As John Polkinghorne says, the old creation contained sacraments in it (ie, signs pointing to God). The New Creation is a sacrament. As Paul says, God will be ‘all in all.’
As Robert Jenson says, ‘the End is music.’
Heaven = God’s presence in its fullness
Therefore in the immortal and slightly redacted words of Belinda Carlisle: Heaven is not now but will one day, on the Last Day, be a place on Earth.
Which makes this bit from comedian Louis CK all the more prescient:
Warning, his language makes me sound like Rev Dimmesdale.