We often seek answers to the question of where heaven is when someone close to us dies, as we hope and pray their soul is at rest there.
It is a subject dear to my heart, and it has taken many years for me to come to an understanding that makes sense to me.
I share my thoughts with you on this subject in comparison to the Ascension of Christ when it was written in the gospels that he was lifted up from the top of a mountain on earth and into heaven in a cloud of glory, as his disciples gazed upwards watching.
Two heavenly figures then appeared, asking why the disciples were gazing up towards heaven, and said Jesus would return in the same way from the heavens above.
Ever since, many many Christians have believed that Heaven was, therefore a place miles away, somewhere over and above the clouds.
Acts 1 9-11 NRSV
When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’
Authors of the New Testament
The gospel writers were all of solid Jewish heritage and would have understood heaven to be nearby and all around, but they often referred to heaven as up and above, as if it were a place in space above the world. I must confess this is where I have always thought heaven was, far far away.
Theologians today argue that this figure of speech could be considered to be a simile. For example, you or I might say, ‘I was uplifted by the sunset this evening’, or ‘I felt down about the argument I had with my friend’. These are just cultural expressions and are not literally applicable.
With this thinking in mind, many believe that Jesus, at his Ascension into heaven, could have disappeared into a cloud (be it a spiritual or visionary cloud) and into another dimension called heaven, rather than being launched up to a heaven far above the clouds in outer space.
The highly influential ancient Greek philosophers introduced the idea that heaven and earth were placed far apart, long before Jesus was born, with no corresponding evidence to support that concept in the bible. These views linger on in today’s world.
The philosophers taught that heaven and earth were incompatible and that our natural home was in heaven. But nothing could be further from the truth because modern-day theologians argue that earth is our home and that heaven will reign on earth when Jesus returns to live amongst us again.
Reflection on Where Heaven Is
Biblical scholars today argue that when God created the world, he made distinctly separate places of heaven and earth, and they are both good; one is not better than the other.
With the disciples use of similes and the philosopher’s aversion to the connectedness of heaven and earth, it could be said that a skewed understanding of the Ascension of Jesus to heaven was formed, leading many to believe that heaven was a far-off place.
The New Testament often mentions Jesus coming back again. However, it could be argued that in other places (Colossians 3 and 1 John 3), we are told that Jesus ‘will appear’ or ‘be revealed’ to us.
Almost as though he has never been far away at all, and as a veil or curtain has dropped, there he is after all as if he had never gone away.
Image used under license from Shutterstock.com
So I believe that heaven is not as many have supposed in an assigned space far up and beyond the clouds. My personal vision is of a place much nearer, in another dimension all around, but separated from us by a heavenly veil or curtain.
God created the world (heaven and earth) as his ultimate resting place, His Holy Temple, and we understand that heaven is where He and Jesus now reign and rest.
However, Christ’s death and resurrection bridged the gulf between heaven and earth. Eventually, when he returns to the earth again, heaven and earth will become as one.
Whilst no one on this side of death can be certain of what happens, I believe that when we die, we simply slip away into the dimension of heaven and are cared for there by Jesus.
Footnote: We are told in the scriptures that Jesus’ return, or appearance again, on earth will be in a cloud of glory. This refers to a divine and holy experience. References to clouds of glory are found in many passages in the Old and New Testament, and the Jewish people had a name for it, ‘The Shekinha’. But this will be the subject of another blog.