Redefining the “Go To Heaven” Perspective

This post is part of my personal blog. It is not intended to be representative of any church or other organization I am associated with.

“The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
2 Timothy 4:18

I have always loved singing with the church, and the times I’ve spent singing songs about heaven with other Christians have been some of the most uplifting and energizing spiritual experiences I’ve ever had.

They still are.

I love harmonizing on the phrase, “When we all see Jesus…”, in the chorus of “When We All Get To Heaven”, especially singing it with my family in the Old Philadelphia church building and thinking about how lucky I am to have so many close blood relatives to spend eternity in the presence of God with.

I love thinking back to when Adam Bridgman would passionately start singing, “Come we that love the Lord…,” as he led singing at devotionals in Old Chapel Hall at Freed-Hardeman University, and how life-changing it was to spend four years there around hundreds of my peers who had their eyes fixed on Jesus and our eternal home with him.

I love belting out the tenor line in the chorus of “When All Of God’s Singers Get Home”, and it reminds me of my time spent with the Mabelvale church of Christ in Little Rock with Christians who love singing and love the idea of singing eternally with their Christian family.

Nearly every time I sing the last line of “God’s Family”, “…when we all get to heaven [as] God’s family”, I get choked up thinking about all the many people in many different churches, perhaps especially my East Orlando family, that I will reunite with one day in a world beyond all we have grieved about together, those still alive and those who are asleep.

Several weeks ago I wrote about how a paradigm that most Christians accept as fundamental, the desire to “go to heaven”, is not consistent with what the Bible actially says about the hope of eternal life. I expected it to be somewhat controversial, but I was still surprised by some of the more extreme reactions. Some appreciated being exposed to ideas they hadn’t considered before. Some were troubled and distressed. Some said they were encouraged to study for themselves the scriptures I referenced. Some said I was a “false teacher”. Some engaged me in thoughtful and mutually beneficial conversation. Some were concerned I might be a stumbling block to others.

I still stand by what I wrote. It is what I have gradually come to conclude over the past decade or so studying the Bible and pondering what it actually says (and doesn’t say) about the end. I remain open to further study and discussion, and since I published the post the discussions I’ve had and studies I’ve done on the topics I wrote about in my prior article have not changed my conclusions.

The Bible uses the word “heaven” to refer to God’s realm, the exalted place where God is (Deuteronomy 26:15). Jesus said that the Father is in heaven (Matthew 5:16). God’s angels are said to be in heaven (Matthew 18:10). Our reward is there (Matthew 5:12). It is where we accumulate incorruptible treasure (Matthew 6:20). Our names are recorded there (Luke 10:20). Our citizenship is there (Philippians 3:20). Our inheritance is there (1 Peter 1:3-5).

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”
Ephesians 1:18-21

It is true that the Bible doesn’t actually say we will “go to heaven”. Paul did say that dying was better than living, because it meant he would “depart and be with Christ”. He says elsewhere that Christ is in the “heavenly” places with the Father seated at his right hand, although the purpose of him saying this seems to me to be to indicate his position of highest authority, not necessarily to indicate his location. Still, he did look up to heaven to pray to the Father (John 17:1), and he did ascend upwards, away from the earth, in his resurrected body.

I believe that much of what we see portrayed as heaven traditionally and historically (as well as hell), much of what we have imagined, does start with the way the Bible uses certain words, like “heavenly”. If by “go to heaven” we mean that we will be where God is, then there is a sense in which we might say go to heaven when we die, and there is a sense in which we might say that going to heaven will be our eternal reward. Our hope is eternal life together with God, with this present darkness behind us. That hope also involves our bodily resurrection, the destruction of evil and death, and the new creation set free from corruption.

There are admittedly some heaven-themed songs that I grant a lot of poetic license to in order to sing sincerely. There are a few lines here and there I just skip altogether. But in most cases, I still sing songs about going to heaven. I just mean what I’m singing a little differently than most of the people I’m singing with.

I encourage you to read The Christian Exile’s post about what happens after death:

After Life: Where do Christians Go When They Die?

There’s a great follow up post about the resurrection body as well:

Life After Life: The Redemption of Our Bodies

I also love what the The Bible Project has put out in the last couple years, and this video about Heaven and Earth is especially relevant:

They also had a great discussion about this topic on their podcast, especially regarding John 14, and though it’s the truth, you probably won’t believe that I didn’t listen to it until after I posted about many of the same things:

Image: Mottram, Charles. The Plains Of Heaven. 1857. National Gallery of Art.

12/18/2017 EDIT: Originally, this post’s title was an antithesis to an earlier post, the two titles being “I Want To ‘Go to Heaven'” and “I Don’t Want To ‘Go To Heaven'” respectively. I changed the later of these out of respect for some people I love who were offended and hurt when they read it. This post’s original title was conceived in light of the other post’s original title, so I felt it approproate to also modify it to better reflect the focus of this post. I modified a sentence that referred to the connection to these titles as well.

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