Is Heaven all that “Remote”?

Many of us live in a truncated universe where there is the material world we live in and God above in a distant place called “heaven,” a place far removed from us here, but a place we hope to get to when we die. We “believe” in angels because the Bible talks about them so much, but for the most part, they have little or nothing to do with us. The “spiritual realm” is not all that real to us now in our day to day. We believe in spirituality, but it has mostly to do with what goes on inside of our own hearts, our own subjective experience of God, or in fellowship with one another. This has been my experience for much of my life; I think there is more. But what is there about the spiritual realm that I am not getting? Why the separation?

The key, I believe, is in last week’s post. We do not understand creation. We tend to think of creation only in its material aspects. The cosmological fact that heaven is a created spiritual realm that fits with the material realm like body and soul is lost to us. We unthinkingly assume that heaven, the spiritual realm, is a remote, uncreated place where God dwells with His angels, and the dead in Christ are mixed in somehow. Again, the reality is that God stands above and beyond His creation, both the physical and spiritual realms. The line is drawn between God and all other things, not between us and spiritual realm.

There are reasons for not seeing this. First and foremost, we do not see because of our fallen natures. When God created, the material and the spiritual were perfectly wedded together, perfect harmony. It is impossible for us to understand what life was like for Adam and Eve, but we do know that there was no death and curse, that the material was filled with a glory that we can only catch brief glimpses of now. We must speculate that the angelic realm was perfectly at harmony with our physical ream, and that humanity was made to relate with angels, and that angels were made to relate with humanity. After all, the angels, although not physically bound to the physical world in the same sense as humans, were not co-eternal with God, and must inhabit created space, albeit spiritual. This spiritual space is a mirror of the physical. They both belong together. God came and went freely from this perfect union of the physical and spiritual, as that haunting verse in 3:8 suggests to us.

The fall happened when Adam and Eve cut themselves off from God by disobedience. Behind their disobedience was a desire to be autonomous, coveting the material world for their own. Their sin was at root spiritual, but it manifested through the physical. Therefore, God punished Adam and Eve by subjecting them to live by their senses. Rather than live from within, the spirit ruling the soul, and the soul ruling the body, they now lived by their senses that now ruled their interior spiritual being. Rather than living by an intuitive knowledge, a spiritual knowledge, they now were endowed with reason for the purposes of survival. However, the senses and reason cannot in and of themselves penetrate into the spiritual. When God sent Adam and Eve from the garden, they also lost their vision for, and natural relationship with, the spiritual realm. Angels, once close intimates, now become distant and remote, as humanity trudges over this cursed earth.

God has, over the course of redemptive history, has reopened up to humanity the spiritual realm. In fact, the reality is that even though we are unaware of the spiritual realm, it surrounds us and penetrates our lives from birth to death. It is not that the spiritual realm is off in the distant skies somewhere. It is remote merely because we cannot sense it with our senses, or comprehend it with our reason, the two things we rely upon most to survive in this world. In other words, heaven didn’t go anywhere; sin and death make it remote to us. If we study the cosmology of the Bible, we can see that God is, in fact, intent on revealing to us the glory of the spiritual realm, the perfect mate to our earthly realm. Final redemption will happen when heaven and earth are perfectly restored together. In this life, however, it is our business to grow in our awareness of heaven, of the spiritual realm that surrounds us, which we cannot see because of our dullness born by our dependence on our senses and reason (a dullness that is encouraged by our rationalistic, materialistic, and sensual culture).

Let’s talk about angels next week.

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