I read an article this morning from Relevant Magazine entitled “Everyone Wants to go to Heaven Just Not Yet”. The point of the article is that there seems to be an absence of longing for heaven in all but the oldest Christians among us (whose longing seems logical because their bodies are deteriorating and they have already experienced a full life). This lack of longing for heaven is presented by the author as evidence of our attachment to this world and lack of eternal priorities. While I think there is some truth to his argument it seems a bit misdirected.
When Longing for Heaven is a Bad Thing
While there is certainly room for more longing for God in all of our lives, sometimes a longing to go to heaven can be rooted in escapism and a fear of living life with all of its challenges and trials in the here and now. My limited experience as a Christian has seen many examples (at times from my own life) of folks whose spirituality is exemplified by retreating from the culture and an obsessive hope of one day escaping this evil world. Too often these folks see little value in this physical world and thus slip into a form of Christianized Gnosticism that makes people so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.
But what if our lack of longing for heaven isn’t as bad of a thing as it has been made out to be? What if our lack of longing for heaven is because we were made for earth? What if heaven isn’t a place that we are to escape to but rather a realm we are to pray to intersect with ours?
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus encourages his followers to pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus never encouraged his disciples to long for heaven as an escape from the troubles of the world but rather to long for God’s kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Romans 8 in which Paul talks of creation groaning under the curse of sin as it awaits the revealing of the sons of God. Paul also talks about the Spirit groaning within us. These pictures of groaning that Paul gives in Romans 8 are perhaps closer to the appropriate longing of Christ-followers—a groan that doesn’t seek to escape the troubles of this life but instead groans with the creation, that expresses solidarity with the hurting, a longing that prays and seeks that God’s kingdom will be manifested in the midst of this sin-scared world.
While heaven is no doubt glorious beyond all imagining I am a big fan of earth! I love the stuff I have experienced on planet Earth: friendships, sunsets, movies, mountains, concerts, coffee, campfires, my wife and kids, Texas barbeque and Cajun cooking, and I could go on… The picture we get in Romans 8 is not a picture of creation marred beyond repair but rather creation being held back, unable to reach its full potential. And what we see at the end of the Bible is that at some point heaven and earth will be in the same place (the Apostle John writes in the Book of Revelations of the New Jerusalem descending from heaven to earth, and also of the new heavens and new earth). Perhaps the reason we love earth is because it is the natural habitat of humans. God created all of this for us. God knew how stoked we would be by sunsets, food and friendship, by a place that gives us all of the natural resources to express our own creativity from playing instruments to building buildings, from painting pictures to cooking—And God created a world in which all of those buttons would be pushed on a regular basis. While it is not bad to long for heaven, our longing should be that heaven will be manifested on earth, that the very creation will be set free from the curse of sin and death and that this marred world will be freed to be as God had originally intended when he created it in the beginning.
So, should heaven be a place we want to go or a place we want to come into our world?