What is heaven?
Jesus said (roughly) that heaven “is among you.” What does that mean?
The more I think about scripture, the more that I think we should take it as simply as possible, especially when it addresses questions that don’t have a parallel in our thinking.
Why would Jesus say that, if he was trying to give us good news? His hearers certainly must have thought that by saying that, he meant that the eternal kingdom was preparing to manifest itself very shortly with Himself as the earthly King administering it. Perhaps that happened in some way that is not obvious. Or perhaps he meant something else.
The Abyss – the Un-Heaven
In a parable, Jesus tells the story about the rich man separated from heaven by an abyss that cannot bridged. On the other side of the abyss he sees the poor man, Lazarus, lying in the arms of Moses. Now this poor man Lazarus had suffered during his earthly sojourn, while the rich man did nothing to help him. The rich man calls out to Moses for help. Moses refuses, kindly, but firmly. There is an abyss separating the two, and nothing can cross it.
This description of the “abyss” falls into a type of story-telling that must surely be related to apocalyptic, revelatory writing that appears over and over again in sacred scripture – Daniel’s interpretations of dreams, for example, or the New Testament book of Revelations.
Heaven – the Un-Abyss
But, ‘Rejoice! For the kingdom of Heaven is among you,” is quite different. It doesn’t have the feel of the apocalyptic, although it does seem very mysterious. Maybe it isn’t really so mysterious. Maybe it just refers to point of view.
By that I mean, if you were Jesus, maybe you could see things we can’t. Certainly he knew things no one else could, and he did things and said things not only that no one else had done or said, but didn’t even dare to think about. Maybe we can’t see the Kingdom of Heaven because we are fallen. Maybe that’s what Genesis is really about – that loss of continuity and immediacy with God.
Ways to think of Heaven
Did you ever play the game, “Marco Polo?” Imagine playing it, but every time you call out, “Marco!” the other players – whom you have to find and touch, even though you are blind-folded – respond “Polo,” and you can’t hear them. You know they are there, but you can’t see them – your eyes are covered – or hear them. They avoid you catching them in the game…but maybe the difference here is that those in heaven can’t reach through to you, and you can’t reach through to them. But they can do other things for you: they can listen to you and pray for you. By doing so they may cause in you a change of heart, or an inspiration, through the enabling action of the Holy Spirit.
I think of Heaven another way, as Jesus also described it. I think of it as yeast, rising between us, filling the spaces of our world, pressing into us like dough.
Heaven is not distant at all. It interacts with us, but in ways we aren’t allowed to see for now. After all, we don’t see air either, but we breathe it, speak with it, move through it. It literally feeds our hearts and minds with oxygen, it races through our blood transformed but still active.
Heaven feeds our hearts and minds as well. Another metaphor: we are like little bubbles on top of heaven. It buoys us up, yet is separate from us.
There is no long way home. Home just came to you.
Long story short – Jesus spoke literally when he referred to the Kingdom of Heaven as being among us. By urging us to rejoice, he invited us to have faith in the unseen. If you do that, follow the thought further. Heaven exists, because God exists. In the person of Jesus, he was literally among us. Jesus specifically sent to us the Holy Spirit, and the work of the Holy Spirit isn’t done. It blows among us, around us, it lifts us up and fills our spiritual lungs, and animates us. Therefore, be of good cheer. God exists, he is in his heaven – and heaven is among us.