Friday, September 16, 2011

Heaven Isn't Too Far Away

I've been thinking a lot about the presence and will of God lately.   Two recent conversations and book I'm reading have combined to bring the idea of God's presence and will to the front of my mind.  I can think of little else. 

How do we relate to God?  What is his level of interaction in our lives?  Where is he?  What we believe about the answers to these questions determines how we make decisions, how we relate to ourselves and others - how we live and what level of joy we find in that living. 

The idea change that's had the most impact are my thoughts on where heaven is.  The prevailing idea is that heaven, where God lives, is a far off unreachable place.  Its in outer space at the closest.  Most assume its beyond our cosmos, outside the expanse of our universe.  I'm starting to disagree.  I think Paradise, like where all the dead Christians are, is probably somewhere like that.  I think its a place - a place we can go but not easily and certainly not a place we can visit and then return.  Its a place for another life.  Can you see how the idea that God lives there is destructive to our spiritual lives here?  It creates in us the mindset that our faith is about another life - a way to ensure our ticket to heaven.  If God lives in heaven and heaven is a place for another life then any real relationship or interaction with God has to be primarily reserved for that life.  It creates a framework by witch to live in this life completely free from any interaction with our God.  It makes God free living seem normal and practical.  The power of God in our day to day is undermined and his influence diminished. 

When you think of God speaking to people in the old testament, where do you imagine that voice to come from?  I've always imagined a booming voice from the sky.  I now think it may have been more like a whisper in the ear or friend across the dinner table.  The Lord called to Abraham out of heaven, called to Hagar out of heaven, spoke to Moses from heaven.  The nation of Israel experienced fire from heaven and ate manna from heaven.  In these stories heaven isn't thought of as far away.  Heaven in right here.  Jacob, while asleep, saw the earth and heaven connected by a passage.  He saw the Lord himself standing beside him.  When he awoke he proclaimed, "God lives here!"  The understanding of God's chosen people was that God is actually here.  He speaks to us and exists in the very air around us.  God inhabits his creation the way we inhabit our bodies. 

I am a spiritual being who currently has a physical body.  I occupy my body
and environs by my consciousness of it and by my capacity to will and to
act with and through it.  I occupy my body and its proximate space, but I am
not localizable in it or around it.  You cannot find me or any of my thoughts,
feelings, or character traits in any part of my body...  Yet I am present as agent
or casual influence with and about my body and its features and movements.  In turn
what my body undergoes and provides influences my life as a personal being.  And
through my body... I can make myself present to others.
-Dallas Willard, The Devine Conspiracy

We think of the air around us as empty space - nothingness.  We think we give it meaning - we fill.  We think what isn't us in our world is nothing - that we have to occupy space for it to have presence.  My job frequently takes me out into that free space.  Up away from our presence and noise.  By that understanding where I am should be lonely - void of any presence expect mine. I can tell you that it isn't.  God doesn't feel far away, he feels very near.  The I hear him best there.  When God calls to me from heaven I experience it very differently then I have imaged Moses did.  He is near, his voice is soft but his presence is not.  God occupies that space and uses it to make himself present to me.  Heaven isn't too far away. 

This has gotten long and I'm tired so I'll save the discussion of how this influences our relationship to God and how we find our place in his will for later.