Where is heaven, what is it like and how do we get there? Part 3

God the Trinity
Who is the God who comes to us and with us, who brings heaven with God?
The full Bible answer is that God is not just a Being who sits above the heavens – or the sole creator of all things. God is the Father of the Son with the Holy Spirit. God lives, in and as community, and makes a story through God’s kind of time. God is not remote, not the mere origin, as the creator Father, but the one who as Father shares in the history on earth lived by the Son in fellowship with the Father. God, the whole one God, comes here and now, in the Son, who is God’s eternal Word become a real particular human being. In Jesus we see God, because God here translates God into the basic human language, (which, surprise! surprise! is not English) but is flesh and blood, one person with others, talking and doing, loving and suffering, living, dying and rising again, living in the world of human beings, with God the Father, without God. Jesus is God coming to us still, bringing God’s heaven to us, in God’s way. That may not fit our conventional pictures of heaven, but in the storms of life, Jesus comes, as Thompson saw: And lo! Christ walking on the waters, not of Gennesareth but Thames. Or the Aire.

With and from Father and Son comes Holy Spirit, the living outgoingness of God himself, who gets through to us, even in our blindness and deafness, who sets up the ladder from where we are to heaven, and sets the angels, the messengers going up and down. The question about God is not just who is God, but how God is with people and how can people be with God. That is why it is good that in the unity of God is the Holy Spirit, the unending, unwearying outgoing of God into all the world. This is God who does not leave us to figure out, as best we can, something in this murky world about heaven and how we get there. This is God goes on working with us on how we can live with God.

This God is not a God we can get to possess: we cannot go into any shop and buy it and say it is ours. Any religion which offers you God like this, is selling idols. This God takes time, time to live and work in our time, so we have to give God the time of our lives. God walks with us, so we walk with him. We have a lot to learn, to experiment and discover about how to walk with God, if we are to do something more significant than produce a bit more religion in the world. We are seeking above all the kingdom of heaven, in our way on earth now.

On the way, in one way and another, God gives signs of his heaven, the light and the fire break out. God is here so heaven breaks out. Sometimes this is alarming, sometimes transforming, sometimes cheering, but never boring. And it is mostly practical.

God is love
It is practical when we remember and keep in mind a key clue about what ‘God’ means. God is love, said John (I John 4.8). This is not to say, God is an emotion, or God is a timeless quality, or God is a simple rule of conduct. In this is love, says John, that God loved us and gave his Son for us (I John 4.9-10). Love is action, useful action relevant to those who need to be loved not just to those who are loving.

God’s love is not like a little good deed, now and again, though every good deed is a little note in God’s great music. God’s love is the massive eternal action, the foundation of all creation, its culmination and the repairing and joyful presence at the heart of it. God’s love is foundational and commanding action for us all and through all time. So John says, simply, If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

So heaven comes down to earth, and from the future into the present. Heaven is what God brings wherever God comes, and heaven is what we share wherever we love as God loves.

Heaven in the present is not all there is to heaven. We have not tasted half of it yet. And we are clearly far from perfect in appreciating and valuing, treasuring and sharing heaven when God brings it close to us in this world, blesses us with its light and joy and thus gives us a chance to share it with others. We are chary in sharing, and even when we pass on God’s love to others, we often mess it up with so much of ourselves it does not come across as the genuine article. This is true of all Christian mission, whether on big or small scale: the good news of the love of God, Father, Son and Spirit, does get shared and passed on in this world, but often other things get passed on as well.

So the wait for heaven, there is still more to come, to be given. But this is not waiting in a vacuum, a great absence; it is like waiting for the main course, by enjoying the starter which makes us think, This is a good restaurant and a good chef, so the evening is going to get even better.


Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit
into every troubled breast!
Let us all in thee inherit;
let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
end of faith, as its beginning,
set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return and never,
nevermore thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
serve thee as thy hosts above,
pray and praise thee without ceasing,
glory in thy perfect love.

Finish, then, thy new creation;
pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see thy great salvation
perfectly restored in thee;
changed from glory into glory,
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise.


Where is heaven, what is it like and how do we get there? Part 2

Read part one here
Read part three here

God is the key to a workable idea of heaven.
We are not looking for a place in the universe, for some special planet somewhere. We cannot place God in that way. And heaven is the place where God is, because heaven is the place God makes around God wherever God is. It is not that heaven is a place, and then God comes and lives in it. Heaven is not like a hutch, which you build, and then put the rabbit in it. Nor is it like a great house, which God comes along and buys, or takes over as a squatter. No: heaven as place is nowhere and anywhere. It is wherever God is or comes, because God makes heaven around him as he goes and comes.

Heaven is not located somewhere out of this world, out of our reach. It is also not simply future, out of reach while we live in this present. There is much about heaven we do not know – so we can think of coming to know it in the future. There is much about heaven we do not enjoy and are not fit for – so we can hope that we will come to the full joy one day and be fit to enjoy and not spoil the beauty of heaven by our being in it. Heaven is future in significant ways, and so it is hidden from us, as the future always is.

But it is not just future, because it is wherever and whenever God is. God makes and brings and shares heaven wherever God is. And God is not locked in the future alone.

God comes. Into the present. Into our present. And brings heaven. But does pointing us to God like that help us? Is it not answering a question about one mystery – heaven – by pointing us to another mystery – God? There is no doubt a great deal of mystery here, but it is not all obscurity. God comes and shows God. Not that God lets us know everything about God – could we take it in if God did? But God gives us plenty to go on and to hold on to about God.

Talking of God in the Bible way
We talk of God as though it is obvious what ‘God’ means, as though we know just by growing up in our mixed up society or in the repetitions of our religion. But do we? The Bible, this collection of texts we listen to to hear God, is the abiding outcome of God’s speaking to people in various ways over a long time, in Israel and in early Christianity. The Bible’s way of letting us hear and get to know God rests on some strange assumptions.

First, the Bible assumes that we human beings do not know God well enough to be able to talk confidently of God. We do well to keep silence a lot of the time, keep our eyes open, and to practise speaking tentatively as children do.
So, secondly, it assumes that it is essential to our knowing God truly that we always respect the secrets God keeps to God-self – we are on the path of knowing God truly when we are humble about how little we know.
Thirdly, it sees that human beings, in their energetic ignorance and desperate desire for God, tend to make gods for themselves, idols and religions in some form. So the Bible aims to expose our mistakes about God, get us to confess and turn from this tendency to false gods, and be open to God’s showing us true God in God’s own chosen way.
Fourthly, God’s own way of showing God to us is not short and simple and clear cut, but long and bewildering and not yet finished. God chose Abraham and his descendants and set about living and working with them through many generations, wandering towards a promise which is open-ended (it may be that heaven symbolises God’s open-ended promise of life and love). God does not show God in a moment, a twinkling of an eye. We see God by living in and learning from the long history of God with God’s people. Lessons with God take longer than 35 minutes. God works with people by choosing and affirming them, by calling and disciplining them, by renewing and challenging them. All this happens to people as they live with God, and slowly, with many mistakes down dead ends, and detours, come to see
• who the God is who is with them,
• how God is with them,
• how therefore they can be with God.
And coming to see something of all this is to be with God in the heaven God brings wherever he is.

We use the name God very glibly but the story the Bible gives it more substance and mystery.

Read part one of this series here and part three here
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