6 May 2013

How’s Your Cosmology?

nebulaI’m not sure why so many Christians still seem to operate with a pre-modern view of the universe. They still talk of going ‘up to heaven’ or ‘down to hell’. We know that ‘up’ eventually leads you out of earth’s gravitational field, and that then ‘up’ and ‘down’ are meaningless. If we keep on travelling outwards, away from the earth, we know we could keep going for 14 billion light years without reaching ‘heaven’. If we dig down into the earth, we know we won’t find ‘hell’. Yet, our language and conception remains stubbornly ancient.

People in biblical times did believe (more or less) that ‘heaven’ was just above the earth and possibly that ‘hell’ was beneath the earth. These are both ideas linked to Greek philosophy and were an accepted part of the world view. However, 21st century Christians ought to adapt their conception to fit with what we now know of the universe. ‘Heaven’ (if by that term we mean the domain ‘inhabited’ by God) is not ‘up there’. It’s probably co-existent with our own reality as well as perhaps outside of it, but in a dimension which we have no access to. Modern physics speculates about the existence of other dimensions, and the fact that science only understands the composition of roughly 4.5% of the universe as known matter indicates that there’s more going on than we understand. ‘Heaven’ as the location of Jesus is, I’m pretty sure, within our universe, closer to us than we think, again in another dimension of physical reality.

That heaven might be in some way intimately linked with the cosmos ought not to surprise us or concern us. For Christians, speculation about a ‘heaven’ that’s ‘up there’ somewhere, and what it’s like, is obscuring the true biblical perspective on salvation. Whatever our personal existence between death and resurrection (and Christian theology has expressed different views on this), the fact remains that we are not created for existence in the realm of ‘heaven’. To be ‘unclothed’ says Paul, that is to be without our bodies, is not something any of us desire (2 Cor 5:4).  Our present and future hope is almost entirely intertwined with the reality we understand and now inhabit. We live our current, mortal lives here, and the great hope of the Christian faith is that the renewal of this creation to eliminate human death and evil will provide the setting for our own resurrected, immortal lives, reconciled to our creator, and in the presence of our redeemer Jesus Christ.