TO GO TO HEAVEN?
What does it mean "to be saved" ? It is interesting that most Christians are motivated to live their lives for the sake of being "saved," yet if asked, they really cannot explain what that means! Saved from what? Saved to what? And what happens to those who are not "saved?" Most Christians would answer such questions with words like, "saved means I go to heaven after I die, instead of going to hell." But what is "heaven?" Or "hell?" We can't seem to get beyond a Sunday School definition of "heaven" as a place somewhere other than earth where one will live with God in perfect peace and happiness in a timeless forever. And "hell" is a place for the wicked, ruled by Satan, where one suffers high heat and terrible punishment forever. So, on the basis of such definitions, many people devote themselves to lives of "goodness." Evidence to support such simplistic definitions is scant, so preachers raise their voices a little, or a lot, in order to swing your focus away from questioning what those things really are.
The answers aren't easy, for the very reason that evidence is scant. In order to be objective, one goes first to the Lexicons for definitions of "heaven" and "hell." We will take a look, but we need to go beyond that, looking to our spiritual understanding, building upon that which we do know.
The Greek word for "heaven" is (ouranos). The Liddell and Scott GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON says it means "1. vault or firmament of heaven, sky; 2. heaven, as the seat of the gods, outside or above this skyey vault, the portion of Zeus; 3. in common language, sky." So, heaven means sky, but was used metaphorically by the Greeks to mean the home of the gods."
The great set of Greek word-study volumes by Kittel & Friedrich, THEOLOGICAL DICTIONARY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, treats the study of the word "ouranos" in vol. 5, pages 497-543, saying, "The word always has a double reference. Heaven is the firmament, the arch of heaven over the earth. But it is also that which embraces all things in the absolute, a . In the historical development of the two insights or ideas, the definitions change, but the indissoluble duality remains. . . . In Homer's mythical view of the brazen, iron, starry heaven which rests on pillars, but which also serves as a habitation for the heavenly beings, especially Zeus. The same duality underlies the use in Plato who equates with the (pan - the "all"), the (kosmos), but who also regards it as that which embraces all conceivable life, so that it is seen to be a figure of the absolute and perfect. . . . Finally, heaven is in Gnosticism the (air) and (aither/ether). . . .For antiquity the term gives expression to the unity of the world, of the cosmos which is not only physical but also psychical and metaphysical." On page 507, section 3., "Heaven as the Place of Salvation" is discussed. "it was natural to regard this place, which in any event was the source of all blessings, as the setting of the eternal life inaccessible to man, and indeed as the place where God's planned salvation is already present prior to its working out on earth. 'Obvious here is the influence of distinctive ancient oriental notions of the pre-existence of everything earthly in heaven. The view is accepted that according to the law of correspondence between the macrocosm and the microcosm the prototypes of all lands, rivers, cities and temples existed in heaven in certain constellations, while these earthly things are only copies thereof." On page 508, we read: "The idea of rapture shows some affinity to this concept. Elijah goes up to heaven in a whirlwind, 2 K. 2:11. Whenever the OT refers to rapture, it always has in view heavenly chambers in which men, rescued from death, are set in a state of perpetual nearness to God.
The word, "ouranos," occurs 667 times in the OT and 284 times in the NT, of which 84 are in Matthew. Where other Gospel writers quote Jesus as saying "kingdom of God," Matthew writes Jesus' words as "kingdom of Heaven."
Obviously, the concept of "heaven" has never been easily definable by secular, philosophical, or Biblical writers, the word always being used to refer to some ambiguous, ethereal place that is the home of God or gods, and a place to which we hope to go. Jesus seemed to contradict the idea of heaven being some place off in the ethers when He said, "The kingdom of heaven is within (entos = inside) you." (Luke 17:21). With just that simple statement, He has us looking within ourselves for something we haven't consciously known before; He has pointed our attention inward instead of upward. If we can keep this idea in mind while we search for the true meaning of "heaven," perhaps it will help.
The word "heaven" certainly was an important one to Jesus. Matthew records Jesus as telling ten examples of what heaven will be like, comparing it to a mustard seed, to a treasure hidden in a field, to a king who went to a far country, to a landowner who leased out his land, etc. Those examples all seem puzzling until one knows the plan of the Ages, that history follows cyclic patterns through long periods of time. See my linear diagram of history (SINE-WAVE DIAGRAM), that we are now about to exit kingdom of "World," and begin the future ages of kingdom of "Heaven." When one knows that the word "Heaven" refers to future ages under the rulership of Christ, then Jesus' parables make perfect sense.
But, what do we do with His statement about heaven being "within you?" This is a little more difficult, for we must begin to confront metaphysical ideas of God being a supreme "Mind" that is behind all reality, and that we are participants in His creative process through our minds which are part of His Mind. So, the kingdom of "Heaven" appears to be a state of mind, rather than any "place" at all. In this state of God's Mind, our minds cycle through dimensions of reality like a dreamer cycling through a pattern of dreams. We are finally left with the conclusion that the kingdom of "Heaven" is the counterpart to kingdom of "World," and that these two kingdoms represent two different periods of history.
If we accept this thesis that "Heaven" is the future age, which we are now at the doorstep of entering, then this concept will influence how we define "salvation." To live again in Heaven becomes a simple matter of living another lifetime in the future -- basically, reincarnation which is also called "resurrection."
In my attempt to ponder the concept of "Heaven," I feel like I am swimming in the dark, looking for some spark of understanding that I can put into words. If Heaven is someplace one goes after death, I can accept that, but that concept seems to be in real conflict with Jesus' words. That Heaven is a period of future ages is more consistent with the Bible. It is interesting that the Old Testament doesn't address the concept at all, so why do we modern Christians look to Heaven as the goal toward which we labor? It looks to me that the modern idea of Heaven is detrimental rather than helpful for motivating a Christian's daily life. The Christian Church has simplified the process of salvation down to a kindergarten level of simply believing in Jesus' name, with a reward of going to Heaven when one dies. I know of individuals who have reduced their religion to even less than that, saying, "We have grace; isn't that enough?" When I first heard a man say that, I was so shocked that an adult would utter such nonsense, I didn't know how to answer. He obviously doesn't know what "grace" is, or "salvation," or "heaven." Christians who hold such childish notions have no incentive to strive toward anything in their lives. They are not warriors following Jesus into battle because Jesus said, "Don't think I came to bring peace; I came to bring a sword." They are merely passive floaters, like sleepily riding a leaf down a stream thinking they never have to paddle a single stroke. St. Paul talks about discipline and testing and being purified by smelting. We are told to work out our salvations with fear and trembling. Jesus, in St. John's Revelations, says it is to the ones who "overcome" that the crown of life will be given. I struggle along a difficult path to return to my Father, my source, because I hear Him calling me home. I devote my life totally to this quest, and hope that He will not find my weak efforts shameful. It isn't Heaven that I seek, but to serve my destiny in this life to His satisfaction. Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether there is an afterlife for me or for anyone. I might find some consolation in such a promise, but I don't expect to remember any former life anyway, so what difference does it make? The only important thing is that I live this life according to His will, to fulfill the purpose for which I was born, to strive continuously and fervently as a prodigal returning to my Father. Each step is difficult, and I stumble a lot, and I pray a lot, and I worry a lot that I might have the courage and strength to do honor to the life I have been given. There is no daily activity or thought which is not part of my journey. And I've learned that I can carry no baggage, for two reasons: the journey is too difficult to carry extra load, and worldly baggage from this pig-pen has no value to my Father.
If I could accept the simple church-lessons about salvation, that believing in His name is enough, or that grace is enough, then I could lie back and float contentedly without ever paddling a stroke. But I can't do that! And I can't understand how any intelligent child of God could ever settle for such immature and self-serving notions. I don't care if God plans any afterlife for me. I don't think about it. It doesn't matter to me in this life. My motivation is to do the best I can, to strive with all my strength, to pray without ceasing, and to spend my life to the last penny rather than hoard something. One over-riding influence in my life is my belief that God gave me a life, not to keep but to SPEND. At the end, the value of my life will be determined by how I spent it, not by how well I have protected or hoarded it. This belief directs my daily activities, without concern for preserving the life of this flesh at all. I am spending my life with the zeal of one who has one hour to spend all the money he can. I will spend this life with such intensity that it might end long before I would expect. I guess what I am saying is that my motivation is not from any hope for Heaven or fear of Hell, but from some inner desire to exercise the potential that God has given me in order to be all I can be. I neither know nor care what destiny God has for my life; I care only that I yield daily to His will, whatever that might be, and do it with all my might.
As for other races, I consider it tragic that Christians have taught them the same childish notion, that they will go to Heaven when they die IF they believe Jesus died for their sins. The truth is that they have no afterlife, and go only to the ground when they die. The kingdom of Heaven is not a goal available to them, nor did Jesus come for them. He said, "I came not except for the lost sheep of the House of Israel." ONLY Israelites will be resurrected (reincarnated) into the coming ages of the kingdom of Heaven. But, that truth should not matter. What other races should be taught is that our Supreme Father is the God of all that is, and that they can have happy and fulfilled lives by recognizing the true God and by living righteously, according to His will. Diseases and plagues and terrible events will not be part of any society that lives righteously, or tries to as best they can. It is our rebellion against God that brings terrible consequences down upon our heads. All races can live wonderful, happy, fruitful, and healthy lives if they are taught the truth and guided by Israel toward that end. It is not a future life, but this one, that we should live for.
For further discussion of Heaven and Earth, see my commentary on the first four chapters of GENESIS, where it seems that Heaven is the play, or performance of God's expression, while Earth is simply the stage where the play takes place. We children of God are motivated and empowered by God's Holy Spirit to climb Jacob's ladder as prodigals returning home, just like salmon struggle to return to their original home. Heaven is the theme and plot and exercise of our struggle; it is not some place in the ethers where we will live in timelessness. It is our performance, which is directed by our spiritual minds which are within us.
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