Heaven is described in the Bible and other
Scriptures as being upward..The picture above portrays what most
people think Heaven is like. In Acts
for example, we read that Jesus "was taken up, and a cloud received
Him out of their sight." Whatever, the picture above is how
Paradise appears. Paradise, not Heaven
Modern astronomy has explored the skies extensively. They have
found new and strange galaxies, black holes, and new planets, and
moons - but no heaven.
In both Greek and Hebrew, the languages in which the Bible is
written, the word heaven has three meanings: There is the first
heaven - the place where the birds fly and the clouds are, the
second heaven - the place where the sun, moon and stars are, and the
third heaven - the place where God dwells.
If you are of the belief that God possesses a physical body, they
you will have to conclude that heaven is located either in some
other dimension or in some far reach of space we have not examined
If on the other hand, you agree with the scriptures which almost
universally speak of God as a spirit, then you many conclude that
heaven is not any "place." For spirit does not require space
nor time. Spirit has no form nor substance.."My ways are not
your ways," God tells us.
Since all that exists comes from God and is contained within him
(Acts 17:28) Heaven is that which remains when all time and space
have ceased to exist. It is pure divinity, uncorrupted by form and
matter. It is everywhere and yet nowhere. for it is not a where at
N.T. "Tom" Wright is one of the most formidable figures in the world
of Christian thought. As Bishop of Durham, he is the fourth most
senior cleric in the Church of England and a major player in the
strife-riven global Anglican Communion; as a much-read theologian
and Biblical scholar he has taught at Cambridge and is a hero to
conservative Christians worldwide for his 2003 book The
Resurrection of the Son of God, which
argued forcefully for a literal interpretation of that event.
It therefore comes as a something of a shock that Wright doesn't
believe in heaven — at least, not in the way that millions of
Christians understand the term. In his new book, Surprised
by Hope (HarperOne),
Wright quotes a children's book by California first lady Maria
Shriver called What's
describes it as "a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds
and talk... If you're good throughout your life, then you get to go
[there]... When your life is finished here on earth, God sends
angels down to take you heaven to be with him." That, says Wright is
a good example of "what not to say." The Biblical truth, he
continues, "is very, very different."
Question: You say that the traditional idea of Heaven is wrong.
Did some Biblical verse contribute to our confusion?
Wright: There is
Luke 23, where Jesus says to the good thief on the cross, "Today you
will be with me in Paradise." But in Luke, we know first of all that
Christ himself will not be resurrected for three days, so "paradise"
cannot be a resurrection. It has to be an intermediate state. And
chapters 4 and 5 of Revelation, where there is a vision of worship
in heaven that people imagine describes our worship at the end of
time. In fact it's describing the worship that's going on right now.
If you read the book through, you see that at the end we don't have
a description of heaven, but, as I said, of the new heavens and the
new earth joined together.
Question: Why, then, have we misread those verses?
Wright: It has,
originally, to do with the translation of Jewish ideas into Greek.
The New Testament is deeply, deeply Jewish, and the Jews had for
some time been intuiting a final, physical resurrection. They
believed that the world of space and time and matter is messed up,
but remains basically good, and God will eventually sort it out and
put it right again. Belief in that goodness is absolutely essential
to Christianity, both theologically and morally. But Greek-speaking
Christians influenced by Plato saw our cosmos as shabby and
misshapen and full of lies, and the idea was not to make it right,
but to escape it and leave behind our material bodies. The church at
its best has always come back toward the Hebrew view, but there have
been times when the Greek view was very influential.
Question: Can you give some historical examples?
obvious ones are Dante's great poetry, which sets up a Heaven,
Purgatory and Hell immediately after death, and Michelangelo's Last
Judgment in the
Sistine chapel, which portrays heaven and hell as equal and opposite
last destinations. Both had enormous influence on Western culture,
so much so that many Christians think that is Christianity.
Question: But it's not?
Wright: Never at
any point do the Gospels or Paul say Jesus has been raised,
therefore we are we are all going to heaven. They all say, Jesus is
raised, therefore the new creation has begun, and we have a job to
Question: That sounds a lot like... work.
Wright: It's more
exciting than hanging around listening to nice music. In Revelation
and Paul's letters we are told that God's people will actually be
running the new world on God's behalf. The idea of our participation
in the new creation goes back to Genesis, when humans are supposed
to be running the Garden and looking after the animals. If you
transpose that all the way through, it's a picture like the one that
you get at the end of Revelation.
Question: And it ties in to what you've written about this all
having a moral dimension.
Wright: Both that,
and the idea of bodily resurrection that people deny when they talk
about their "souls going to Heaven." If people think "my physical
body doesn't matter very much," then who cares what I do with it?
And if people think that our world, our cosmos, doesn't matter much,
who cares what we do with that? Much of "traditional" Christianity
gives the impression that God has these rather arbitrary rules about
how you have to behave, and if you disobey them you go to hell,
rather than to heaven. What the New Testament really says is God
wants you to be a renewed human being helping him to renew his
creation, and his resurrection was the opening bell. And when he
returns to fulfil the plan, you won't be going up there to him,
he'll be coming down here.
Question: That's very different from, say, the vision put out in
the Left Behind books.
Wright: Yes. If
there's going to be an Armageddon, and we'll all be in heaven
already or raptured up just in time, it really doesn't matter if you
have acid rain or greenhouse gases prior to that. Or, for that
matter, whether you bombed civilians in Iraq. All that really
matters is saving souls for that disembodied heaven.
Question: Has anyone you've talked to expressed disappointment at
the loss of the old view?
Wright: Yes, you
might get disappointment in the case where somebody has recently
gone through the death of somebody they love and they are wanting
simply to be with them. And I'd say that's understandable. But the
end of Revelation describes a marvelous human participation in God's
plan. And in almost all cases, when I've explained this to people,
there's a sense of excitement and a sense of, "Why haven't we been
told this before?"