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How Big Is Your Lion? Part 2: Heaven

“The Lord is high above all the nations

And his glory above the heavens.

Who is like the Lord our God,

Who is seated on high.”

-Psalm 113:4-5

 

The lark ’s on the wing;

The snail ’s on the thorn;

God ’s in His heaven—

All ’s right with the world!

-Robert Browning

 

“There’s a lot of fish where you’re going, Dad.”

-A man to his father, a fisherman, on his deathbed

 

HEAVEN: THE FALSE NARRATIVES

 

What comes to mind when you hear the word, “Heaven?”

 

Be honest.

 

Even folks who don’t believe in God still have some ideas in their mind when they hear the word, “heaven.” This is mostly thanks to pop culture, comic strips, and general discourse on this topic that we’ve been having for centuries now.




 

For many, Heaven evokes one of these mental images:

 

  • A magical city just above the cloud line that is guarded by a large pair of golden, “pearly” gates. Parked outside of the gates is St. Peter, holding a list with the names of everyone who was lucky enough to “make the cut.” You will have to hold your breath until the moment he finds your name, announces you “approved,” and the gates open wide. You then head down a street of gold, where you will eventually be given a pair of wings, a golden halo fastened above your head, and a golden harp to strum for eternity (apparently there’s just a lot of gold in this fantasy).

  • A white sandy beach with Hawaiian music playing, a light breeze in the air, and an angel bringing you Pina Coladas whenever you wish.

  • An extremely large worship center, church building, or sanctuary. Instead of wings and a halo, you are fitted for your choir robe, and then promptly ushered up the bleachers to join the chorus of angels where you get to sing the high harmony of Hillsong’s “Oceans” forever.  

  • A reenactment of whatever period you consider the “prime of your life.” For many, it is their childhood home and the corresponding family, friends, and neighbors that go along with it. For others, it is being reunited with their spouse in the house where they grew old together.

 

Now, what do these four images have in common? Well, for starters, none of them are majorly supported by any reliable knowledge, including the Bible. But more importantly…

 

Did you notice a semi-important character that seemed to be missing from every one of these scenarios?

 

Yes. God does not seem to play a big part in any of these settings. I imagine a heaven that, if I can just “make the cut,” I can then be in a much better place, where the focal point is me and my loved ones. But God does not seem to be around much. At the very least, maybe I imagine God simply transferring me to my new heavenly abode and then saying, “here you go! Call me if you need me!”

 

Now I am firmly convinced that we will have a blessed reunion with all our loved ones who learned to trust God with their earthly lives. But the more emphasis we put on that one aspect of Heaven, the more we are in danger of de-emphasizing any need for God to be present with us at all.

 

And if this kind of low-level involvement from God is what we expect in Heaven, then the implication is that any more of God’s presence would be “less than ideal.”

 

Discussing these views of heaven, Dallas Willard writes,

 

It might prove helpful to think occasionally of how, exactly, I would be glad to be in heaven should I ‘make it.’ I often wonder how happy and useful some of the fearful, bitter, lust-ridden, hate-filled Christians would be if they were forced to live forever in the unrestrained fullness of the reality of God, and with multitudes of beings like Him.

 

In other words, the issue at hand is not, “will I make it into heaven?” but “what is the real heaven that I am trying to make it into?” and will I like it when I get there?

 

HEAVEN IS NOT A PLACE

 

Last time, we set out on an ambitious journey to locate God, to find out how “big” God is, how much space God occupies.

             

I think most of us can agree that, if you believe in God, then you believe that Heaven is, undoubtedly, a place where you could locate Him. You would be hard-pressed to find a person who believes in Heaven and yet does not believe that God is there. God and Heaven seem to go together like PB & J. You can’t really have one without the other.

 

But saying we can “locate” God in Heaven does not necessarily mean that Heaven is a “location” by our common definition. To us, the McDonald’s in Cleveland, Ohio is a location. A location is a place to which you can physically travel.

 

But what if there were things, just as real and substantial as a McDonald’s in Cleveland, that could not be located by physically travelling to them?

 

What if I asked you to locate your mind? Or to show me on a diagram of the human body where your personality is?

             

You know that your mind and your personality are real things. But you can’t “locate” them the way you can locate a McDonald’s. You can’t “travel” to them in the way you can travel to Cleveland.

 

This is what it means to try to locate Heaven, and God along with it.

 

But how will the average person on the street respond when you ask them where they think Heaven is located? Without even thinking about it, they will, despite having little theological education, immediately point straight up towards the sky. And there’s a very good reason why they do that…

 

THE DOME IN THE SKY

 

The thinking that God is geographically located somewhere up in the sky originates with the ancient world. As you know, there were no airplanes thousands of years ago. There were no telescopes. There were no Space Programs. There was no way for us to get “up there” to see what was in the sky. So, naturally, there were different guesses from primitive thinkers as to what the sky was. One of my favorite guesses, which is completely logical given the lack of available information at the time, was that the sky was a large blue dome (yes, like the one in the movie The Truman Show).

 

But the sky inspired more than just estimated guesses about its nature. It was equated with God’s dwelling place. This is why the original word for “Heaven” (“Shamayim” in Hebrew) was the same word for “sky.” Author Tim Mackie invites us to think about the sky this way,

 

Put yourself in the shoes of an ancient Israelite. When you look up into the sky, you are overwhelmed with its beauty and majesty. The skies are one of the most mysterious and awe-inspiring things to behold. The skies are vast and powerful. They are literally above us, as in a position of authority, and we depend on them for life. You can begin to see why the word “sky” became the same word to describe God’s domain, heaven. The skies are a perfect metaphor for the glory and transcendence of the domain where God reigns and dwells.

 

So, there you have it. Ancient thinkers saw the mystery, beauty, wonder, and power of the skies as an adequate parallel for the domain of God. Please understand, however, that this does not mean that they were locating God literally 30,000 feet above their heads. It means that they were using heightened language to describe God and his dwelling place in relation to humans and their dwelling place. They were attempting to capture, in words, the holiness or the set-apart-ness, of God.

 

We still use language like this today. If I were to describe the CEO of a company to you in relation to their employees, I might say things like, ‘they are above them in rank,” or “they are higher on the pay scale,” or that they are considered “upper-level management.” You would understand that I’m not saying the CEO is, at this very moment, standing on top of their employees, or even that their office is on a higher floor. I’m using directional language to describe to you the heightened status of the CEO. I’m saying that, as far as the company is concerned, the CEO’s power and influence reach farther than that of the employees they oversee.

 

So to say that God is “up in heaven” or “above the heavens” (Psalm 113) does not mean that God is, at this very moment, sitting on a cloud above the stratosphere. It is describing the heightened status of God. It’s saying that God’s domain is of a greater substance, power, and influence than our domain. It certainly includes clouds, stars, planets, and every other celestial body in the outer Cosmos, but it is not limited to them.

 

CLOSER THAN YOU THINK

 

Not only did the ancient Biblical thinkers know that God couldn’t be limited to a singular location like “up in the sky,” but they also knew what many of us have forgotten:


Heaven is closer than you think. Much closer.

 

To the Biblical writers, “Heaven” simply meant “God’s dwelling place.” So the goal is really to find God. If you find God, Heaven will likely not be far away.  

 

For a helpful way of thinking about where God is, let’s go back to the example of your mind. Believing that your mind is a non-physical, yet real and substantial thing, I will then ask you: would you consider your mind close to you or far away? Most of us would lean towards our mind, though we can’t physically locate it, being very close to us.

 

In the same way, God, who is a non-physical yet real, substantial, and personal being, is as close to you right now as your own mind. He is near you in such a way that no other physical person can be. And He has made it abundantly clear that He is willing and able to be found by those who would relentlessly seek Him (Jer. 29:13).

 

God is discoverable. And if God is discoverable, so is Heaven. If God is always near you, so is Heaven.  

 

HEAVEN COMING AROUND THE CORNER

 

I hope you can see the importance of not confining God’s dwelling place to some ivory tower up in the sky. To place God there in your mind is to eliminate any possibility of Him and His Heaven dwelling in your midst here and now. 

 

So our first step of Re-thinking Heaven is to begin clearing out all our cluttered and false narratives. We must dispose of the “streets of gold, gates of gold, harps of gold, (just get rid of the gold!)” We must dissolve the ideas that heaven is a tropical island or a never-ending church service.

 

More importantly, we must stop thinking about Heaven as a place that is out of reach and waiting for us only after we die.

 

Heaven is a landscape that is near to us now. And, yes, Heaven as a whole is, as the saying goes, “both now and not yet.” But, make no mistake, it is now. And though Heaven as an afterlife is not going to be limited to our childhood home, it is nonetheless the kind of “place” that we should recognize when we experience it after death. It should be a place that has been increasing in size and scope to us throughout our life. We should, as we said earlier, “like Heaven when we get there.”

 

And if we want to recognize Heaven after we’re dead, then we need to start looking for it while we’re alive. We must count on it to be in the air around us wherever we go. We must assume that there is another unseen Kingdom always on the move even when we are tempted to think our kingdom is “the only game in town.”


The phrase “Heaven is nearby” is not simply a warm sentiment. It is a practical reality.

 It means God is really in the atmosphere around you, from the top of your head to a galaxy far, far away. Heaven, therefore, is quite possibly the most substantial plot of real estate imaginable. We can see it in the stars and, if we grow silent and still for long enough, we might just notice it coming around the corner.

 

And here, at our conclusion, is where I must remind you what our goal was for this teaching series. Our aim was to find out just how expansive God is. Just how sizeable is the CEO? How large is the lion? And, to expand our view of God and his arena, we had to first expand our view of his primary dwelling place: Heaven.

 

But remember, we are in pursuit of a Big Lion. The savannah is certainly a large part of the lion’s kingdom, but it is not the whole of his kingdom. His domain reaches beyond it. Animals in other parts of the jungle have heard of Him. The tree dwellers of the lush rainforests have been told tales of “the size of His teeth.” In the mountains, they’ve heard rumors of the “earthshaking power of His roar.” Along the riverbeds, they’ve grown up listening to stories of “the terrifying goodness in His eyes.” Even creatures in the dark underground have heard The Name and trembled. Strangely, they all talk as if this Big Cat has visited them on their turf.

 

So it is about time that we reach beyond Heaven to another potential habitat of God: Earth.

 

Until then, friends. Be well.

 

-Andrew

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