Here’s another paradox of “biblical” Christian theology.
“But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
What could be clearer? The apostle tells us that no one has imagined, no human is able to imagine, our ultimate destiny.
And yet on the one hand we have the preachers of foamy sermons and writers of pulpy books telling us in lavish detail about what heaven is going to be like. And on the other hand we have more biblically astute folk admonishing us that “going to heaven” isn’t a thing at all, and that Platonism infected Christianity with false ideas (most damnably, they say, the eternal soul), and that the real deal is resurrection into “new heaven and earth”–which seems to be imagined in terms remarkably close to old earth and our current form of embodied existence in space and time.
How are they all not running roughshod over the apostle’s clear statement (by way of a quotation from a OT prophet) that we do not know and cannot imagine what awaits? Which implies, quite absolutely and unavoidably, that the Bible cannot tell us, and hence definitely has not told us, exactly what God has in store for us.
My conclusion? The traditional language of going to heaven, insofar as it conveys the unshakable hope that death does not have the final word, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God, while undoubtedly metaphorical in ways that believers without a sophisticated literary education may not be able to grasp, is reliable and good and true, and better and truer and more trustworthy than the well-intentioned but strangely tone-deaf voices out there exerting themselves (why?! can they think of nothing better to do with their time, energy, and intelligence?) to debunk the notion of “going to heaven.”
Ironically, a bit of Plato and a bit of Kant and a bit of modern physics and cosmology might help instill some very biblical epistemic humility–and humility before the great Christian tradition–in the minds of those well-meaning and admirably learned (biblically if not philosophically or pastorally) people.
I love these words. Note the repeated “I know not” and . . . the “but I know.” They say enough. They say all that can be said.
I know not why God’s wondrous grace
To me He hath made known,
Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love
Redeemed me for His own.
I know not how this saving faith
To me He did impart,
Nor how believing in His Word
Wrought peace within my heart.
I know not how the Spirit moves,
Convincing men of sin,
Revealing Jesus through the Word,
Creating faith in Him.
I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.
I know not when my Lord may come,
At night or noonday fair,
Nor if I’ll walk the vale with Him,
Or meet Him in the air.
But “I know Whom I have believed,(Daniel Whittle, 1883)
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.”