Heaven: A Redeemed Cosmos Where the Resurrected Body and Soul Will Live with God Forever

Feature Article Heaven: A Redeemed Cosmos Where the Resurrected Body and Soul Will Live with God Forever

It amazes me that every good Christian wants to go to heaven but knows very little about heaven. The goal of the Christian is not about living well on this present earth but to be guided by the counsel of God and afterward go into glory. The psalmist says the earth has nothing I desire besides you. The book of Ecclesiastes says, 'When I surveyed all things my hands had done, and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, chasing after the wind, nothing was gained under the sun.' The good and the wise Christian knows that life lived under the sun is profoundly unsatisfactory, punctuated by pain and suffering because of sin, impermanence, and death.

The early Christians faced the chronic danger of persecution from the authorities, yet they marched on and were ready to die to see the face of the Lord. They kept the faith only because they were looking forward to New Jerusalem. The ultimate goal of the Christian is to be with the Lord and enjoy him forever. The apostle said, "If the dead are not raised, Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." The question is: Why is it that Christians know little about heaven if that is their ultimate goal or the place for the resurrected saints? Are we worried about our loved ones who have died before Christ's coming and where they are, as the Thessalonian Christians were concerned about theirs? If heaven will be the eternal destiny of Christians, then why don't they care much about it? Did you think about heaven when your loved one passed away? Have you worried about your life after death?

What is heaven, and where is heaven? Simply defined, heaven is where God is: It is the presence of God. Heaven is an endless dynamic of joy where we will be ourselves and become what we were meant to be. Heaven is seeing God or basking in the presence of God, or what has sometimes termed the beatific vision: the seeing that will make us happy. To the Christian, heaven is where Christ is. Going to heaven is not about going to a higher space above because heaven is not the space above us or below us but the entire presence of an invisible or non-corporeal being. In other words, heaven is God's realm or domain of the created order (Genesis 1, 1; Psalm 115:16, Matthew 6:9). Whereas our world is one of space, time, and matter, that is not presently the case for heaven, unless God providentially reveals it to us, as he did for the servant of Elisha, at Elisha's request ( 2Kings 6:17), or as he revealed to John on the Island of Patmos in (Revelation chapters 1, 4, and 5).

Unlike the Greek platonic idea that had infiltrated Christianity that a human soul is imprisoned in a body and free after death when it escapes, Christianity teaches that our souls will finally be reunited with our bodies. The Bible declares that God is a spirit. So the idea of heaven at present is not about space but God's presence. People have asked: Do souls go to heaven? No, souls are not ultimately destined for heaven; the Christian tradition speaks about the body and soul going to heaven. The souls of departed Christians without the body are in what theologians call the intermediate state. The intermediate state is the state of the soul between the time a Christian dies and the time the soul is reunited with the resurrected body. N. T. Wright quotes John Polkinghorne, a physicist and a priest, "God will download our software onto his hardware until the time he gives us new hardware to rerun the software for ourselves." That gets to two things nicely: the period after death is when we are in God's presence but not active in our bodies, and the more important transformation will be when we are again embodied and are Christ's kingdom.

So heaven is not where we go after we die, but it is a place that God has prepared for our resurrected bodies to live eternally. Heaven is not an ethereal, otherworldly place for disembodied spirits. Heaven will be a restoration of our physical universe or cosmos. God will not throw away his creation but will restore or renew it for its intended purpose. Listen to how Paul describes that state in 2 Corinthians 5, "For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile, we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling because we will not be found naked when we are clothed. For a while, we are in this tent; we groan and are burdened because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."

Please pay particular attention to the apostle's words here, "Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked." Why is he naked? Because he is in an intermediate state without his body.

The Christian message is about the resurrection of the body, the complete human being with the Lord. The Bible says, "In this very body we shall rise." The resurrected body will be identical to this present one that eats fish, just as the resurrected Christ did. It will be a different body because it will be a glorified body that will be recognizable. The glorified body will be freed from its present limitations and possess the qualities of completion and fulfillment.

In the resurrection, the omnipotent God will resuscitate and reanimate our bodies, recall all portions of our bodies consumed by beasts or fire, or parts of our bodies that have been dissolved into dust or ashes or have decomposed into water or evaporated into the air will be restored. We will have spiritual bodies, for our current bodies will be transformed into spiritual bodies. Whatever has been taken from the body will be restored to it. In addition, what has remained in the grave, shall rise again, transformed from the old animal body into the newness of a spiritual body and clothed in incorruption and immortality.

If resurrected bodies must live in heaven, then heaven must be a place. The Bible declares that this present world will be transformed and sanctified: Paradise regained. Thus heaven will be paradise regained where God's real presence will be experienced. The Anglican bishop and eminent New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright writes, "Heaven is not the place we go to when we die, but rather the place God has our future bodies already in store for us." In 1 Corinthians 15:47-49, the apostle talks about the new body suited for the soul in heaven. "The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; as is the heavenly man, so are those who are of heaven. And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man."

The apostle points out that our present body is earthly since it is made of earthly materials. In contrast to our present body, our new body, animated by the Spirit, is suited for heaven. So, folks, the soul and body will inherit heaven. We are not leaving the cosmos behind and entering an ethereal realm somewhere. Instead of us going to some unknown space above us, it is heaven that will come to join the recreated cosmos. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. The New Jerusalem will come down from heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. (Revelation 21:2-3.).

A better understanding of what heaven will be will significantly impact public policy about the environment. Many Christians have a negative attitude towards global warming or the environment because they do not see the cosmos in God's redemptive plan. Some Christians think that the earth and its contents will be thrown away so we can do anything to the environment. They think they will live in an abstract space somewhere. Paul talks about the renewal of the cosmos in Romans 8:22-23. I will not have time to do a lengthy exegesis on these Scriptures, but I will ask readers to read good commentaries on these verses.

The apostle says, "the creation was subjected to futility (to frustration), not of its own will, but on account of him who subjected it in hope." He refers to the whole of creation, animals and birds, trees and flowers, rocks, the sea, rivers, and soil groaning or travailing in anticipation of our glorification. Paul intended to alert us that human sin affected humans and all creation. They are in expectation of their redemption when human redemption takes place. He is drawing our attention to the fact that creation has a place in our redemption.

Heaven will be a real place, but not an imaginary realm. It is not just a state of mind, psychological reality, or a place for Spirit. The inhabitants of heaven will never experience death again; sadness, pain, and suffering will be banished from heaven forever. The believers will be glorified, exalted, and seated with Jesus in heaven. They will be with the savior enjoying His fellowship face to face. Still, someone will ask: what will happen after we are clothed in immortality and spiritual bodies? We cannot confidently say what will happen, for the scripture says, "We know in parts, and prophesy in part until that which is perfect comes."

However, we know that we will enjoy that most beautiful city of God with angels, with Christ, and with our fellow saints. Now we see through a glass darkly but then face to face. The scripture says we shall be like Him when He appears, for we shall see him as He is. In heaven, we may see not only with our bodily eyes but with our spiritual bodies or eyes. Remember that Elisha saw his servant who had followed Naaman, the Syrian, not with his natural eyes but his spiritual eyes.

In heaven, we will be equipped to see God face to face. Job was shaken to the core when God revealed himself to him. He said, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you wherefore I abhor myself and melt away…." We will have the eyes of our hearts illuminated. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." We will enjoy the peace that passes all human understanding: there will be total harmony with no opposition. All parts of our bodies will coexist harmoniously, family members will live in concord, and neighbors will exist without opposition.

While we all yearn for happiness on this earth, none of us has obtained it, but there will be real happiness in the city of God because it shall lack no good, and there will be no evil in it. We will continually praise God. All the organs of the redeemed bodies will be devoted to praising God. And God will be all in all. Scripture says, "I will be your God, and ye shall be my people." God shall be all we have honorably desired-life, health, nourishment, plenty, glory, honor, and peace.