Did God create man so that he could escape this wicked world and “fly away” to an invisible heaven forever? Or did He have a different ultimate purpose in mind?
Right about now, I have this tune running through my head to the Clash’s 80’s song, “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” But my version would go something like, “Should I stay or fly away?” (Everybody sing now!)
The reason for my provocative tone is get you to think–maybe take a fresh look at some of our evangelical assumptions. And since this post runs along the lines of what I’ve written here and here, I’ll try not to go into what was already said there.
And I’m going to attempt this without jumping into the quagmire of eschatology. I don’t want to talk about the end of all things but the reason for all things. Although, I do need to delve into some popular assumptions to make my point.
For starters, here’s five questions to ponder about God’s eternal purpose (Eph.3:11)…
1.) Were we saved just to “fly away” or to stay?
In the West, sensationalized fictional books like the “Left Behind” series, which have sold over 60 million copies, have woven their assumptions deeply into our imaginations about God and the future. A large percentage of Western evangelical Christians believe in a secret rapture that could happen at any moment, even though this idea is a relatively recent one in Church history, and there’s not one clear statement in Scripture to support it.
So we have millions of mostly American Christians anticipating abandoning their cars, planes, or whatever else they might be doing, suddenly being whisked away (of course, with their cars and planes crashing into and possibly killing lots of people!)
2.) If we’re supposed to be escaping the physical world for the spiritual one, why did God create the physical world in the first place? Just to destroy it? For He certainly knew we would sin and provided for it before creation (Rev.13:8)
3.) Why did God give us physical bodies to live in if we’re supposed to be leaving them forever? Did He make a mistake?
4.) If the main purpose of salvation is all about getting your sins forgiven so you can go to heaven instead of hell, why did He create Adam without the need for salvation?
“Whoa! Adam screwed up, didn’t see that coming! (picture God scratching His head)…guess that’s not gonna work. I’ll just have to save them so I can beam them up to heaven instead!”
Okay, I’m getting a bit facetious here but I think my points are valid. And we should see where we got these ideas of escaping this dusty ol’ world.
A lot of our evangelical assumptions about heaven and earth tend to start in the middle of God’s story (Gen.3)…then we mix in a little Greek philosophy…and voila! You have what many Christians believe about how we will spend eternity.
So let’s blame it on the Greeks…
Where does our “escapist” eschatology come from? Well, we can blame it on the Greeks…at least I will here… 🙂
It might interest you to know that the mainstream view of living like Gerber babies with wings playing harps in the clouds of heaven came from the likes of Plato, and later, the Gnostics…not the Bible.
By the way, does that prospect sound interesting you?
No wonder “Heaven can wait” is a popular sentiment!
Okay, let’s get philosophical…
Like Gnosticism, Platonism sees the origin of man’s truest self (his soul) in the invisible world, where his soul has fallen into the visible world of matter. It sees the physical body as a hindrance, a burden, sometimes even as the tomb of the soul.
Platonism and Gnosticism conceives of salvation as the “freeing of the soul from the prison house of our evil body” and all its entanglement in the physical world so that it may “fly away” way back to the heavenly world.
I don’t have room to go into it here but our early church fathers were infatuated with Platonic Greek philosophy and so we don’t have to wonder how this paradigm got deeply interwoven into our theology.
So now we read Scripture with our “Plato glasses” on.
But Scripture actually reveals a different story…
Let me briefly outline my points here…
- The physical creation is not evil, God made it and said it was very good (Gen.1:31)
- God gave man the earth to rule over and take care of (Gen.1:26-28; Psalm 115:16).
- The Father’s heart was to send His eternal Son as a human so He could bring us to Himself, to include us NOW in the eternal fellowship within the Trinity (John 17:24).
- The Father’s mission from before the foundation of the world was to have sons and daughters who would represent Him on the earth, not have the Gerber baby angels with wings playing harps in the clouds of heaven (Eph.1:5). In fact, all of creation is waiting for us to get this for its own redemption (Rom.8:19-21)
- Jesus’ prayer was that our being one with Him and the Father would glorify Him while in the world (John 17:21-23), not when we finally get to heaven.
Now, if you died before Jesus returns, you will go to an invisible heaven. But that’s only because your spirit is already there now (Eph.2:6; Phil.3:20; Heb.12:22) and your mortal body needs a physical realm to live in…so you won’t have a body…temporarily.
So…if you’re looking forward to leaving this earth forever, to fly up in the sky in the “sweet by and by,” you’re going to be greatly disappointed because, even if you die and go to heaven, Jesus intends on bringing you back. Heaven is coming here, we’re not staying there! (Rev.21:1-2).
You see, Jesus actually thinks He didn’t make a mistake by creating the physical world. He just wants to fix what isn’t born out of love.
So, instead of wanting to vacate the planet and entertain some morbid fascination with our tabloid eschatology, shouldn’t we actually be about our Father’s business?
And this brings up more questions…
Would you feel loved if I kept telling you I didn’t want to be here and always talked about leaving?
What if we stopped acting like we don’t want to be here? What if our world started seeing people crazy in love with Jesus who loved them too–who said, “I’m here, I’m not leaving you…how can I help?”
What if people didn’t identity us by our obsession about leaving but, instead, saw the Father’s heart in us?
Wasn’t Jesus’ mission ours too? (John 14:9-12; 20:21)
What if we weren’t saved from the earth but we were saved for it?
Anyway, just some things to think about…
I’ll end with one of my favorite Bill Johnson quotes. “Everyone wants a King like Jesus. And if we will represent Him well, they’ll want His body too.”