Rob Bell has a fascinating and provocative statement in his book, Love Wins: “Heaven, for Jesus, wasn’t less real, but more real.”
By real, Bell is largely rejecting those dominant cultural assumptions of heaven as floaty, dreamy, hazy–people in white robes with perfect hair and singing in perfect pitch. He suggests that one way to understand the “realness” of heaven is to ask yourself what it is that when you do it, you lose track of time because you get lost in it? What do you do that makes you think, “Wow, I could do this forever”? What is it that makes you think, “I was made for this”? In Revelation 20, we read that people will reign with God – “to reign” means to actively participate in creation. We were made to explore and discover, learn and create, shape, form, and engage this world. When you are engaged in this way, there is this intensity to the experience that literally transcends time.
My wife, Ginny, once taught in a pilot program for high school students at the seminary. The basic idea was to expose interested students to theological education in hopes that some of them might cultivate a call to the ministry. It was a whirlwind of ethics, Bible study, theology, and church history; honestly it was a bit like throwing a handful of wet spaghetti noodles at the wall–you never knew what was going to stick. At one point, she was describing Augustine’s understanding of evil as the absence of good much like darkness is the absence of light. (You might recall I referenced this in a previous post.) I don’t know exactly what you thought of that; but I do know that one of Ginny’s students, fully engaged in the discussion about the nature of good and evil, suddenly jumped to his feet and proclaimed, “Man, I love this stuff!” It was a glimpse of heaven for him, a taste of his deepest calling. In Hebrew, the word for this is shalom: often translated as peace, it is the wholeness, a perfect harmony, everything in place. I once heard Richard Rohr speak of heaven as that which is “really real.” Shalom is not just a heady, intellectual experience; it makes your fingers snap, your feet tap, and your heart sing!
What’s interesting about The Shack is that Mack understands that his daughter, Missy, now lives in this shalom and this knowledge affects how he lives in this world. This new certainty that she is at peace emboldens Mack when, on his final day, Papa takes him to the place where Missy’s remains are buried. Although it is painful to discover her body, Mack knows that the “real” Missy is in a place of love and light. Therefore he can confront his pain and work through his grief. The image of her at peace in turn brings peace to Mack in this world. I am reminded of many stories about last week’s tragedies in Boston and Texas with people who felt God’s presence even in difficult times or in the face of tragedy.
To summarize the last two posts in this series: heaven is not here, but a world to come. Someday, heaven will be on earth. Until then, we can reach a state of being, the shalom, that can be a glimpse or taste or experience of heaven here on earth. It is more than just a good feeling; it is an otherworldly experience of peace or calm or joy. It is to say, “Man, I love this stuff!”