Have we got it wrong: Heaven on Earth?
Is heaven a place far away?
Only habitable by the dead?
Or could it be attainable here?
On earth…in this life?
Many, perhaps a majority, of us look at our life on earth as something to be endured. Perhaps a cosmic test of some kind. Increasing numbers of us accept reincarnation and its karmic payback.
We Christians may not all that different in our thinking. Many of us act as if suffering is what life is…what life should be. We seem determined to wrest misery out of the jaws of joy.
Take a look around at your neighbors, other people in the grocery stores. Do they look as if they live in the midst of abundance?
How about those at church? Do they look and act like people who have been saved? (Paraphrasing Nietzche)
During a eulogy for a priest friend, the homilist spoke of Surprised By Hope
A book which posits that praying the words, thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven are the most powerful and revolutionary words we can ever say.
Think about that for a moment or five.
Of course I bought and read the book, but this last week, I have been prompted to read it again. And I conclude that I/we have got it wrong: heaven on earth.
Anglican Pauline scholar and priest NT Writght hammers at the Gnosticism and dualism that has infected Christianity since the Enlightenment. ‘The world is bad and getting worse’, ‘our job is to suffer the evil and aim to get to heaven.’ ‘All matter is corrupt, we will be happy only when we discard these bodies and become pure spirit.’ Lies which distort and deprive us of the Truth.
The book is packed with startling statements like these:
The early Christians did not believe in progress. They did not think
the world was getting better and better under its own steam—or
even under the steady influence of God. They knew God had to do
something fresh to put it to rights.
But neither did they believe that the world was getting worse
and worse and that their task was to escape it altogether. They were
Since most people who think about these things today tend toward one or other of those two points of view, it comes as something of a surprise to discover that the early Christians held a quite different view. They believed that God was going to do for the whole cosmos what he had done for Jesus at Easter. This is such a surprising belief, and so little reflected on even in Christian circles, still less outside the church, that we must set it out step by step and show how the different early writers developed different images that together add up to a stunning picture of a future for which, so they insisted, the whole world was waiting on tiptoe.Surprised By Hope
Most of Wright’s main points eluded me in my first read
I rarely read and then write about a book I have read twice. But with both Friedman’s Failure of Nerve and Wright’s Surprised by Joy, I learned that my first reads of the books overlooked many of the authors’ primary points. Or perhaps this new awareness of mine derives from the chaos of these days we live in.
Author Wright has challenged me in more than a few ways. Here are just two examples. Until I reread Wright’s book, pantheism and gnosticism were “isms” from another era. On this latest read, I see that some of my own thinking is dualistic and even pantheistic.
Quite clearly I scanned-or ignored- his critiques of Teilhard de Chardin’s cosmic Christ. On my first read, I discarded Wright’s criticism of the Jesuit. Now, despite being a lifelong admirer of de Chardin, I see that Wright’s categorizing the Jesuit philosopher as a pantheist is well founded.
This reread recalls my initial reaction to St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians when reading it as a brand new convert:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
I share NT Wright’s love for the Apostle of the Apostles.The book of Ephesians like so many of St Paul’s letters seem to emanate from infused wisdom. In my latest novel on the life of Saul, I wrote this:
The knowledge, understanding, and wisdom I have shared in my writing over these past thirty years were infused within me there, in the fourth level of the heavens. Carried there on the wings of a cloud, I witnessed splendors and glory, which cannot be described with any accuracy or precision, for much of what I experienced in that place cannot fit into any language, at least none that I know. My attempts to do so sound fanciful, even to my own ears. But I will briefly tell you about the light, the place, and the Being who led me to the Lord. We know and understand light as a thing that surrounds us and which we perceive in contrast with darkness and shadow. But in this place, the light was not external; it suffused everything there. The brightness of the light was so intense and pervasive, it should have burned my eyes and scorched my skin. Instead, it seemed to merge with the air.My Name is Saul
Should you decide to read Wright’s book, here is a free PDF download of Surprised By Hope.