What if the source of Christian hope isn’t life after death? What if going to heaven when we die isn’t what we should be hoping for?
The going-to-heaven narrative is so deeply bound to modern Christianity that it seems slightly heretical absurd to suggest that perhaps it’s wrong, but…
Perhaps it’s wrong.
Where’s the Emphasis in Scripture?
I’ve written before that when we really understand Christianity, we understand that God’s agenda is not the saving of souls per se, but the restoration of all creation.We abandon the world when we cease to care for it as #God cares for it. #compassion #community Click To Tweet
God’s intention isn’t to carry us away to some immaterial, Platonic heaven. Just as Jesus rose to newness of life, so also we will rise to newness of life: Real, physical, embodied life, on a real, physical, tangible Earth, remade new in the perfection for which God always intended it.
“Behold,” says God from his throne, “I am making all things new.”1
This means that our hope is not going to heaven when we die, whatever that might mean.2 Rather, just as Jesus was resurrected, the first fruit of the resurrection,3 we look ahead to a time when we, too, will be raised from the dead, into the new creation.
This new creation began with Jesus’ resurrection, and it will be a creation returned to its original goodness, a creation in which God is all in all,4 in which the knowledge of his glory fills the earth as the waters fill the seas.5 Resurrection to this new creation, is the true and proper Christian hope.
The “going to heaven” view is dangerous in that it implies that we don’t belong here. If that’s true, then this place doesn’t matter. If God is going to rescue us from the world, if he’s going to take us away to “another world,” then that means that God is going to abandon this world.Behold, says #God from His throne, I am making all things new. Click To Tweet
Abandoning the World
We abandon the world when we cease to care for the lived needs of others, and concentrate only on getting them “saved.”
We abandon the world when we begin to think of it as a place where we don’t belong, which can then be used and abused as we see fit.
We abandon the world when we consider it inferior to the disembodied spiritual life that we erroneously believe we will inherit on our death.
We abandon the world when we cease to care for it as God cares for it.
When we recapture God’s true vision—a vision for the restoration of the world, and not our escape from it—we capture anew the value of the Christian vocation in our world and our cities, in our communities and our neighborhoods.
With the resurrection of Jesus, the new creation has burst forth into the world. So now, if anyone is in Christ, behold: new creation! The old has passed away and the new has come.6
Our True Hope
This is the hope, available through Jesus, that we offer to our neighbors in word and in deed. This hope prompts us to do more than just “save souls” so they can float away to heaven when they die. It calls us to meet people’s lived needs in the here and now, as a way of tangibly demonstrating what the new creation is all about.
This is the hope that renews not just our lives, but also our neighborhoods and our cities. And one glorious day, this hope will restore the whole of God’s creation.
This is what we should be hoping for; this is what we should be working for.
- Revelation 21:5a. For a compelling vision of this new (earthly) existence, see Revelation 21:1-5.
- In his magnificent book Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright argues powerfully that this vision of Christian hope, the “going to heaven” view, is not supported by scripture. Instead, he says, our hope is in life after life after death. Whatever happens to us between our death and our resurrection, our proper hope is on the latter, and not on some in-between state.
- See 1 Corinthians 15:12-28, esp. vv. 20-23
- 1 Corinthians 15:28
- Hebrews 2.14, Isaiah 11:9
- Paraphrased from 2 Corinthians 5:17. Most translations supply “he is a” after “in Christ” and before “new creation.” But the Greek lacks the phrase “he is a.” I am convinced that Paul is arguing that the mere fact that men and women are now “in Christ” is evidence of the new creation that is breaking into the world.