Do you ever wonder where heaven is? Not the sky kind of heaven, but the place where God lives. Where is it? We often speak of it being "up" there. Somewhere. But of course that's not possible, since "up" is different from any point on the globe. Many people say they expect to be with God when they die. But where is that and what does it look like? Hard to say, it seems.
Besides the logical problems with the common answers, another concern with the 'up there' or 'out there' concept is that it makes God distant and separated from us and our world, our reality.
The Bible, however, paints a very different picture, one of a God who is anything but distant and uninvolved. In fact, he is just the opposite.
So how do we understand this? Where is God, and what difference does it make to us now?
The traditional concept among Christians (and many others) is that someday, in the unlikely event that we die (not that we really expect that to happen), we will "go to heaven" and spend the rest of forever somehow with God. Perhaps floating on a cloud, playing a harp.
But what if that's not the case at all? What if we have if all wrong? What if the teaching of the Bible is far different?
So where is heaven? And why does it matter?
Even a glance through the Bible reveals a God who is neither distant nor disengaged from our world. On too many occasions to list here, he acted into our world, climaxing in the person of Jesus. In fact, it seems that our world might be the primary area of activity for God.
But to address these questions, I want first to talk about another: the nature of reality. (I can see your eyes rolling, but bear with me.)
Science fiction writers have been very good at creating imaginary parallel universes. They often do it in a way that is "realistic" and plausible. But, of course, we know that there is only one universe, one reality. Right?
Nevertheless, what if...? What if there really are two realms of reality? And what if they are somehow intimately close, so that elements of one can show into the other? Would it matter?
The Celtic Christians spoke of the reality of man and the reality of God as two realms separated by a kind of curtain. Occasionally, there was a small tear in the curtain, allowing someone a glimpse into "the other side," the dwelling place of God. Ezekiel wrote of such an experience, as did John in Revelation.
What if there is indeed some kind of divider between the two, but elements of one reality can move "through the curtain" into the other? What if God can move and work in our reality, and people can in some way experience his?
There are many examples in the Old Testament of God working in the world, entering into our reality. Not much question about that, except whether we accept the accounts as true. And there are a few of human beings moving or seeing into God's reality.
And then there is Jesus, the personification of God's major foray into the world of human beings.
Jesus came that we might know God and have a way to live in relationship with him, manifesting the kingdom of God to the world. In fact, most of what Jesus taught and did was about the kingdom, not the "gospel of salvation" that we often put in its place.
But what is that kingdom? We might correctly say it's the realm where God's will is done. It might be correct, but it doesn't satisfy me. I want to know more of what the kingdom looks like, what happens when people obey God. What should we expect? What should we seek?
What if, in Jesus, God began the task of rebuilding or recreating the fallen world, expanding his kingdom, starting the work of the restoration of creation?
What if the curtain is becoming transparent, ever so slowly, so that we - those with eyes to see - witness increasing evidence of the kingdom and God's presence among us, of his reality spilling over into ours? What if "Immanuel" is about more than Jesus?
What if what we call "miracles" and "supernatural" are simply manifestations of an increasingly indistinct boundary between two realities? What if our "supernatural" is the entry of God's "natural" into our reality?
What if all this is so? What difference would it make? I can say it rocks my boat pretty hard, and changes my view of the world and of God's presence.
How can God be "everywhere present," one of the basic principles of Christian doctrine? Not a problem, if we consider the "alternate reality" concept.
I used to have an idea in my imagination of God sitting in some distant throne room, "up in heaven," wherever that might be, and that his presence with me was at best a vague, pretty much irrelevant matter.
I think I was wrong, and I am finding the idea that I was wrong very attractive. I never liked the idea of a distant God, removed from the actions and concerns of my life. Makes it too hard to live a life that - in my eyes, at least - honors him. I want him close by. Distance and intimacy are not easily compatible.
As I write this, I am acutely conscious that there is some sort of something, a reality that I cannot see, but which is closer than the end of my arm. And God is there. He is never distant, and he is never uninterested.
And - I think this is so very important - his word tells me that he has chosen me to represent him in this reality, speaking and acting for him, making his grace present and his Jesus real to those I encounter. He has chosen me to begin bringing his reality into our reality.
And if you follow Jesus, he has chosen you, too.