What picture comes to mind when you think of God’s eternal kingdom? Sitting on a puffy cloud in a diaphanous nightgown playing a harp?
For many of us, even for some long-term believers, our picture of God’s kingdom to come derives from an unlikely combination of ancient Greek philosophy and modern Hollywood movies. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato taught that the physical world is a kind of grubby reflection of the ultimate non-physical reality to which everything is headed. Buddhism and Hinduism with their goal of nirvana, share a similar outlook. Somehow Hollywood got hold of this idea and now almost always portrays the afterlife as an airy-fairy, fourth-dimensional existence with clouds, haloes, bright lights and the ever-present harp music.
In the years after I came to believe in Christ, it always troubled me that I was now meant to enjoy the thought of escaping the physical world and entering a spiritual one called heaven. I love the taste, smell, sight, sound and touch of this world. And here I was, being told to look forward to losing these five senses and having them replaced by a spiritual sixth sense. I wasn’t terribly excited about it. Then someone challenged me to point to biblical texts that describe the afterlife as a disembodied nirvana-like bliss. I couldn’t. Every passage I turned to challenged the Hollywood version of heaven.
It turns out that the biblical coming kingdom is not an ethereal place of clouds and ghosts, but a tangible place of real existence. It is a new creation. Whether or not we gain a sixth sense, I’ve no idea, but I think we can count on keeping the other five senses. This is a future I can get excited about! It is life in the fullest sense of the word, a reality in which the moral and physical tensions of our current world will be resolved through an extraordinary act of divine re-creation. And when I find myself doubting that that such a fantastic hope could ever become a reality, I need only go down to the beach near where I live or look up at the glorious night sky and remind myself that God has already done it once. The proof is right there before my eyes, why should I question His ability to do it a second time?