Do you want to go to heaven? If so, do you want to go today? For many Christians, those are surprisingly difficult questions to honestly answer. In Bringing Heaven Down to Earth, Connecting this Life to the Next, Nathan Bierma tackles this odd paradox within the faith of today’s Christians.
For most of us, our image of heaven is misguided. Combine that with an uncertainty about when eternity will arrive, and the result is what Bierma refers to as a crisis of hope. As a result, we seek solace in shallow substitutes for the sacred things God intended, distracting us from our purpose in creation.
Using Revelation 21 as a backdrop, Bierma posits that “eternal heaven will be on earth.” Not only that, but heaven will be a glorious culmination of the story of God’s creation, yielding a continuity between our earthly existence today and our future heavenly home. “[H]eaven will not be an escape from this earth but a renewal of this earth. Heaven will be a relevant resolution of the story of creation.”
God created humans and charged us with creating culture, and as part of the continuity between this life and the next, “Heaven will be a cultural place. We will again interact with other people, designing things, trading things, keeping traditions, enjoying a vibrant cultural life.” But it will be a purified culture, devoted to God, as God originally intended. Christ’s redeeming work was for all creation, not just individual souls.
Bierma covers a wide-range of fascinating aspects to this type of worldview, more than I dare try to summarize in a simple post. One point he made that brought a bit of conviction was that many Americans have let the hope of retirement warp a true view of heaven. We view it as “a permanent vacation. Heaven on earth.” But rather than the retirement years, it is heaven that is “an earthly fulfillment of the work of our hands.”
I very much appreciated how Bierma fleshed out that view of our earthly work.
Each person is created with unique skills …. Each person is distinctively created to fit a niche–to find the intersection, as Frederick Buechner puts it, “where the world’s deep hunger and your deep gladness meet.” To work this way–not for a paycheck, not in dread, not in the sole, shallow hope of the artificial existence of retirement– is to live out an active hope for the eternal restoration of the world.
Having read about Bierma prior to this book, I knew I disagreed with him on a number of political issues. As he delved into the role of Christians within today’s political culture, I found myself questioning some of his points, and wondering whether my political leanings, or perhaps his, were skewing an accurate reading of Scripture. But in the end, I think Bierma remained true, while forcing me to evaluate some of my long-held beliefs.
While touching on many doctrinal issues, Bierma does a great job keeping the book conversational rather than overly theological. In college two of my favorite subjects were the doctrine of creation and eschatology. Part of the reason I found Bierma’s book so refreshing and invigorating is because it showed the intersection of those two doctrines, forming a healthy view Christians should celebrate regarding this life and the next.
[W]e have the Bible’s promise that God will one day restore planet earth … restore the works of human minds and hands … restore human relationships …. This is the promise of heaven. This is the hope of our lives.