Mom – Is There a Heaven Floating Around Somewhere?
A while ago I mentioned that we are trying to encourage our kids to begin to think about and ask questions about their faith. This post is related to a question that our 10-year old recently asked.
Our kids seem to be fascinated with heaven lately. In a nutshell, here is how I understood the question: if we had a telescope powerful enough, could we find heaven floating (presumably on a cloud?) out there somewhere.
The questions betrays a lot about the ideas behind it. This is helpful in learning more about how your kids view or understand spiritual concepts. Quite frankly, however, I think a lot of adults might imagine heaven in a similar way. Get someone off the street to describe heaven and they’ll likely talk about clouds and harps and an old man with a long white beard named God.
What should we expect heaven to look like and where exactly is it?
I found an article by William Lane Craig very insightful as I prepared an answer on this question for our kids. This question requires you to step back and look at the Biblical teaching about what happens when a person dies. I note that I will not make any attempts here to justify why the Biblical teaching on what happens after you die should be accepted, but will merely state what that teaching is.
So, what happens when you die?
You lose your physical body.
When you die, your body dies and decays, but your soul does not. After you die, your soul leaves your body and you become a body-less soul. You are conscious, and you are either with God or apart from Him (see 2 Corinthians 5:1-8). Paul seems to indicate in this verse that the body-less soul state won’t feel quite right or natural, but that’s how we’ll be until Christ’s return. This is a temporary state.
(Note: The Christian hope is not a disembodied existence with God. That is a Greek philosopher’s (e.g. Plato) understanding of the afterlife.)
Christ returns to earth.
Obviously I’m assuming a chronology that involves the person in question dying before Christ’s second coming. Until Christ’s return, you will remain in a conscious, disembodied state with God (or apart from Him if you didn’t know Him) until Christ’s return to earth.
We will receive a resurrection body.
We do not receive our resurrection bodies until after Christ returns (see, for instance, 1 Corinthians 15:21-23 and 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). At the second coming of Christ, the ‘dead in Christ’ (those who died before His second coming) will be raised first. Then those who are still alive at the time of His second coming will be raised and together we will be given resurrection bodies at the same time. The model for our resurrection bodies is Jesus’ resurrection body as described in the gospels. According to William Lane Craig, the Bible teaches that our resurrection body will be the same body that we had on earth, but renewed, glorified, and made incorruptible.
We will pass before the judgement seat of Christ and our final destination will be determined. This is not a judgement based on deeds like every other religion on earth, but one based solely on accepting Jesus’ offer to pay the penalty for our sins – meaning, everything that separates us from God. I think those who have done so will stand trembling before this judgement seat amazed that they were given the chance to be pardoned of all they’d done wrong in their life.
Creation of a New Heaven and Earth
Here, finally, is where the answer to the original question steps in. Heaven, at last. Those who had the absolute privilege of accepting Jesus’ offer of mercy on judgement day get to go to their final resting place: a new heaven and a new earth that will be created at that time but, it seems to me, will be modelled after the ones we know now. One conspicuous absence will be sin, a category that includes disease, pain, sorrow, all forms of evil, etc. The final resting place of those who did not choose Jesus’ mercy gift at the seat of judgement will be something that is too terrible to write about.
So, is there a heaven floating around out there somewhere?
The answer to this question is no, not yet. Until such a time as we can create a device that can detect the physical presence of a soul, we will not ‘see’ a heaven before the end of all time when the new heaven and the new earth are created. Even if we could create a soul-detecting device, we would only see the intermediary ‘heaven’ which is comprised of disembodied souls.
So, we can all relax in our efforts of looking for heaven, and we don’t need to worry when famous scientists, who are also atheists, claim to never have seen any evidence of there being a heaven floating around out there somewhere.