What is Heaven?
“What is heaven?” asked Victoria DuBois, a senior at Pilgrim High School who had asked if she could interview me for a film she is making about “Heaven.” She was amazingly organized, especially for a high school student. I say this as someone who has worked with teenagers since I was one myself, which is a long time. She had emailed me at the church, set up an appointment, arrived on time. She filmed our worship service, and then our conversation. I asked if her film was her senior project. She said, “No, it is just something I am interested in.” Right away, I liked her. I also was amazed at her maturity. I would have guessed that she was in college, rather than high school. I love the fact that she at such a young age is living her life as spiritual adventure, seeking to learn about the things that intrigue her!
At 53 years old I feel blessed to have the freedom to say what I think.” “Well, you may find my idea of heaven is not exactly orthodox, but I believe “heaven” is not a “place” where we go when we die, but rather a state of being which we can live in right here, right now.” Victoria, with the maturity of someone my age, responded, “That’s kind of how I think of it too.”
To me “heaven” is all about relationship: our relationship with God, with others, (including our planet), and with ourselves. When we are living in a deep, right relationship with God, others, and ourselves, that is “heaven.” When we live in deep communion with God, seeing God in all others, in all that is, and treating all others, all that is with reverence, that is “heaven on earth.”
Jesus had several names for this: the “kingdom of heaven,” or the “kingdom of God,” or “eternal life.” Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is among you (or within you.)” (Luke 17:21) In other words, it starts NOW. He also said, “THIS is eternal life, that that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3) (Also NOW!) Saint Paul writes: “Behold NOW is the acceptable time; behold NOW is the day of your salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)
We also discussed heaven’s counterpart: hell. I confessed to Victoria that I do not believe in “hell” as a place either, but rather as a state of being in which we are not living in right relationship with God, others, or ourselves. I quoted Albert Einstein, who said that “evil,” or I would say, “hell,” is “the absence of God.” I love that. When we live our lives in the absence of God, that is “hell.” In other words, we create our own “hell.” Victoria said she felt similarly.
During Lent our “theme” in our community of faith was “Deepening Faith.” We used a film series called “Animate Faith.” It featured seven leading voices in the post-modern, post-Christian, “emerging” church movement. The session that was everyone’s favorite was the one on “Salvation,” (a very “churchy” word) which for many means the same thing as “heaven.” The speaker for this “Salvation” clip was a young man named Shane Hipps. He was the teaching pastor at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, but before that his career was in the advertising industry, with accounts like Guinness and Porsche. His ten minute clip on salvation says pretty much the same thing: that heaven is here and now. (See link in sidebar)I admit, when we watch the news we ask ourselves, “Surely this life of prejudice, conflict, war, income inequality, injustice, oppression, racism, sexism, etc. – this cannot be heaven, can it?” No, as I learned in seminary, “heaven is both “already,” and at the same time “ not yet.” A paradox, yes. Prejudice, injustice, conflict, war, is when we are not living in right relationship with God, others, or ourselves. (In other words, “hell.”) But when we stand against these things because we seek to live in deep communion with God, others, and ourselves, we are one by one ushering in the reign of God, “salvation,” or “heaven.” Some time ago there was a film, a comedy, called “Heaven can wait.” But look around, and you will see that “Heaven cannot wait.” Here, now, you and I are invited to live in right relationship with God, others, and ourselves, to live in the reign of God.
Right here, right now, today and every day, may you see God in all you encounter, and may you reflect God to all you encounter. When you do, you will see that heaven is right here, right now.
Pastor Linda Copyright, May 6, 2014