The Problem of Heaven

By J.C. Mitchell


    I was talking recently with someone about a novel from the 19th century that we both enjoy and felt it spoke to humanity today as it did then, which led us to say the more things change the more things stay the same.  It is both comforting and extremely frustrating, especially when it comes to stories of human drama. Why is it that we do we not learn from these stories we keep telling each other, but we are comforted by telling these stories of our human drama, and then still see them played out in the news again and again?  


If we could simply follow the ideal narrative there would be no drama, and things would be perfect.  I was asked once in all seriousness if heaven would be boring? They imagined a place of perfection (and I think harps and clouds as well), and it was a true concern for this person.  And should it not be our own concern as well?


Not that heaven would be boring, but that the idealized imagery of heaven has become something we cannot imagine on earth.  In one respect that makes perfect sense that the culture (or more traditionally “kingdom”) of God cannot be imagined in our world, as we are working to bring this reality of the Divine to Earth, but I think we need to be able to imagine  like the writer of Revelation wrote,  

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2)


The writer included the images of a city and of marriage, both are filled with stories and many are messy, the stuff that makes good movies and novels.  It is the stuff of life that is included in his imagery of the new heaven and earth we are all working and waiting for.  


This is important: if we truly pray as we are taught and we say, “On earth as it is in heaven” we must understand how our current imagery is a problem. 


It is less about the afterlife whenever we talk eschatology (heaven, hell, and end times), but it is about our life now, so when we think that heaven is unattainable we hear excuses for not working on solving problems for the environment, poverty, race, disability--because there isn’t anything we think we can do that will insure success.  Thus we do not work on these things because we cannot imagine heaven on earth, with all its human drama. 


Heaven must include all our stories, written and unwritten, of human drama, and most stories do uphold redemption and salvation, even if the ending is not wrapped up neatly; that is how we should imagine perfection, or in other words, heaven..  


Most miracle stories I know have been messy and full of drama, but in it God is found and God’s perfection must include our stories. In order to move beyond repeating our dramatic history, let us get to work writing the hard chapters we are terrified to start…