Why No One is Going to Heaven: Toward a Biblical Framework for a Theology of Hope
I was asked to give a talk to our pastoral team and ministry staff here at New Life Church on constructing a Biblical framework for a theology of hope. This was one of a list of topics I had offered to teach on, though I had secretly hoped they would have selected one of the less audacious subjects on my list! Fortunately, this topic has been one I have been reading, studying, meditating on over the last couple of years, as well as one I have discussed with wise friends and colleagues. All this has been fueled and aided by the writings of the great N. T. Wright. I cannot overstate his influence on my thinking of this particular subject. His insight and study of first-century Judaism and how to read St. Paul in that light have made familiar yet previously obscure New Testament passages come alive. It has also made me return to Isaiah's vision of the age Messiah would usher in and re-read Jesus' own words about "the age to come" through that lens.
All of this has made me realize that no one is going to heaven. That is not the future first-century Jews or Christians saw. They looked for a new heaven and new earth, finally come together at last. We will live there with resurrected bodies as the first man and woman were meant to live: as God's image-bearers who bring His wise and joyful order to the new creation. Such a vision of the future impacts how we live here, both in terms of the development of our character and how we work for justice.
But it also has significant implications on the hope and comfort we have now. The standard answer to a person in grief that hey, don't worry, God's going to airlift us someday and we'll all float around on clouds together in heaven is of little use. (And of little truth!) And to somehow imply that God gave a person a disease or killed a person in a wreck is to suggest that God has a completely different idea of what's good and what's not. But this cannot be. If we are in the image of God, then the sense of protest we feel when we mourn is something God joins us in. He agrees that all is not as He has made. Moreover, it is not as it will be.
So. This is a talk that attempts to answer what God has done and is doing and will do about evil in the cosmos. Along the way, we'll discover how the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centerpiece not only of our faith but of our hope. Below is an audio link to my 45-minute talk and a pdf of the main bits of my notes.
(If you're puzzled by some of the statements you've just read and wonder if I've gone off the deep end, I would encourage you to listen to the talk which is chock full of Scripture and review the notes before writing me a nasty note!)