Abrasive Alert! Let me say this right away up front, some of you will read this and won’t like it. I’m ok with that; but I don’t know you are. Most of us want others to think the same way we do about things and then get a little perturbed when they don’t… But don’t let that stop you – read on!
When the book Heaven is for Real came out several years ago, I had a discerning movement in the pit of my stomach. I believe that is God’s gift to me when His Spirit is telling my spirit that something isn’t quite right. It happens often enough that I have learned to pay attention to two things: what is happening in the world around me and what does Scripture have to say?
Around me in the world, especially in the world of evangelicalism, this book is receiving a lot of attention. A young boy and his family are receiving a lot of attention! That thing that happens in my stomach was happening. So I looked to Scripture.
Interestingly, in the Bible, nobody goes to heaven, comes back, and tells about it. What about Jesus, you ask? Well, technically, Jesus came from the Father’s side in heaven and has now returned back to the Father’s side. We are still waiting for his return, when the Kingdom will be fully manifested. Even Lazarus, after several days in the tomb, doesn’t have anything to say. I have always wondered about that…
Jesus does tell a parable about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus in Luke 16. The rich man dies and goes to hell and the beggar, Lazarus, goes to heaven near Abraham. In the parable the rich man, in his hellish misery, begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his family. The funny thing is this – in the parable Abraham is abundantly clear that even if Lazarus was to come back from the dead his family wouldn’t believe.
Who has gone up to heaven and come down? The is the question of the author of Proverbs 30:4. This question doesn’t get answered until John 3:13: No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man. In Scripture there are only 4 accounts of visions of heaven. Over the course of thousands of years – only four accounts recorded in the Bible. Isaiah, Ezekial, Paul in 2 Corinthians, and John’s vision in Revelation.
In all four accounts recorded in Scripture, there is also only one common denominator – a complete preoccupation with the magnificent glory of God.
The book, Heaven is for Real, was sitting around our house. So I picked it up. This was years after it had come out. It is well written. But, the book, it is focused on the boy’s experience. He even describes not liking the wings he was given (didn’t know we were getting wings in resurrection – that would’ve freaked out the disciples when Jesus walked through the wall!). The book is not biblical. But we like it, and others, anyway. Why?
In our North American evangelical sub-culture, we have an unhealthy pre-occupation with end-times, heaven and hell. It’s become popular. Actually, our whole North American culture has become very distracted by apocalyptic themes. This is why zombies are now showing up everywhere in media. I believe we, as a culture, are profoundly dissatisfied with our lives. So we cling to those things that talk about something, somewhere else, being better or worse than our own experiences. This way we have something euphoric to look forward to, or we can say at least lives aren’t as bad as that! We have forgotten that Jesus came from heaven to give us a life, a full life – a life of abundant purpose. Jesus wants us to live exciting lives. Here. Now. You can read about that in John 10.
But, what isn’t popular, is actually reading the Bible, believing God (different than believing in God, btw), and working hard in partnership with the Spirit for the transformation of ourselves and our world.
Getting pumped as the Newsboys sing God’s Not Dead at the end of the movie with the same title or after seeing Heaven is for Real, doesn’t make for lasting change. In many ways we have become like those who kept asking Jesus, after his many miracles, for a sign. Jesus had some interesting things to say about that in Matthew 12:38ff.
I love going to movies, you could even call it a habit – err… I mean a hobby! But movies don’t transform. Deep change comes in our lives when we partner deeply with God’s Spirit in working out our salvation “with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12) We have to do the hard work of discipleship. As we slowly begin to grow up and mature in Christ, we slowly begin to live lives that reflect the image of Christ in us. We begin to slowly make a significant impact where we live, work and play.