If I may steal and rehabilitate a tired Gnostic platitude: “Heaven is not your home. God has something much better in mind.”
That’s right. I went there.
Genesis says that in the beginning, the Lord God created the physical cosmos. And that it was good. Every bit of it, part by part, carried the pronouncement from God that it was good. The Lord God planted a garden and created people (after God’s likeness!) to work in it. It was good. Good, good, good. This was and remains an affirmation of Creation and physical existence.
The story of the Fall is a theological statement about the created order. The entire Creation, and the relationships that it was meant to support, are now disordered. The human condition is extremely disordered and idolatrous. That doesn’t make the original idea of the Creation bad, and it certainly doesn’t make physical existence a bad thing. Only in Gnostic Duality (see the Johannine Epistles) and Rapture theology (you heard me) do we find the notion that a platonic, nonphysical, “spiritual” existence is good, and that physical life, grounded in a theology of the body and the making of people in the image of God is somehow inherently bad. To deny the goodness of creation and physicality as such is deeply blasphemous from the biblical standpoint, for it holds that the goodness of God is expressed in the Creation. In addition, God’s plan for salvation is a reaffirmation and restoration of the good work of Creation, and the good relationships that were meant to exist in it. Go read Romans 8, Paul says this is what Creation itself is waiting for: the completion of salvation. And so are we.
Salvation is not about heaven as some kind of “final destination.” Heaven is the “place” where the Reign of God is complete, and in John’s apocalyptic vision at the end of the New Testament we see a city that exists in a renewed heaven and earth. Life is physical, life is real, and life is spiritual. Those ideas are not mutually exclusive, but are rather in separable where God reigns.
Salvation is not limited to an overused courtroom metaphor. Salvation is God’s restoration of relationships and the restoration of the Creation to wholeness. In the Kingdom, those at enmity begin to love. The Church is the community that springs from this Kingdom work, and it is that re-creation and restoration into which we seek to live.
Resurrection is not a sequel to death, a second non-physical life that takes place in another dimension. Resurrection is the reversal of death – all death – in this physical world. This will happen when the vindicated and exalted Christ returns from that “Place” where God reigns to fully consummate the reign that we find sneaking into our lives here and now.
Nobody knows what happens when a person dies, but the Christian hope is that now and then we are waiting for God to raise us up like he raised up Jesus.
I'm a library paraprofessional and occasional theology instructor at a liberal arts college. I teach folks how to do academic research efficiently and throughly, and I teach Christian theology at the college level and in churches. I hold the Master of Applied Theology from the University of Oxford.