Heaven is “up there” (eternal)
Earth is “right here” (temporary)
Hell is “down there” (eternal)
This 3 tier system is an ancient way of thinking about the eternal setup of the cosmos (cosmology of the universe). We see the tribal writers of the Hebrew Bible use this to describe the firmament (Genesis 1:6-8) and other cultures have similar narratives with a similar cosmology such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish. One of the reasons these poems of creation in Genesis, and other creation myths were put together was in order to explain the unknown workings of the Cosmos. At the time, without modern science and in a tribal world filled with mythology and unanswered questions for much of anything they saw, it was all anyone could comprehend due to their limited understanding of the world. So its how they described what they couldn’t fully grasp with the knowledge and words they could communicate with at the time.
So why does this matter? What does this have to do with the ongoing conversation of the Divine and what does it mean to us? From the point of view of those in modern western Christian tradition it means this earth is just an escape plan. And the way its commonly taught is if you are a good little boy or girl, or say the right prayer, or believe the right doctrine, you will go “up there” to heaven when you die. And if you misbehave, or don’t say the right prayer or accept Jesus into your heart before you die, you go “down there” to hell when you die. Tortured and separated from the Divine forever. Is that all there is? Is that what this life is all about? This is all just some weird test? What would be the point in that? And…
Is this even biblical?
The short answer is yes it is. And no it’s not. Depending on the lens, hermeneutic and interpretation of the ancient text, this is one way and indeed THE WAY of modern/western christendom. But I think Jesus throughout the Gospels and the epistles in the New Testament show us another way. A way that brings fullness of life and abundant “heavenly” life here and now. A way where life on earth isn’t a test or some elaborate escape plan but …
A better way.
The Apostle Paul in his letters tell us of a revelation of God being in and through everything since creation’s beginning. We actually see this starting in Genesis and riddled throughout the teachings of Jesus and the epistles.
(Genesis 28:16, Matthew 25:40, John 1:1-3, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3, Ephesians 4:6, Acts 17:28)
Jesus even explains that the kingdom of Heaven is here and now (Luke 17:21) and therefore, it would stand to reason, so is hell. Just ask anyone who has suffered extreme loss, been sexualy physically or emotionally adused, or addicted to drugs if they believe Hell is in this life. Watch as people weep and gnash their teeth in misery and fiery anguish, mentally separated from the Divine, as they claim those that don’t deserve mercy, receive it. Kind of like the prodigal son’s brother.
The entire trajectory of the Bible is that the Kingdom of God is for the here and now, not so much for the future destination of those that leave their earthly bodies. Now I’m not suggesting there is no life after death or some place of dwelling once our flesh passes. Part of the christian hope is resurrection from the dead and the restoration of all things and people and heaven and earth becoming one.
I’m of the mind that the Divine God of the cosmos has that all under the sovereignty of Her love and that no one can resist the presence of this “ground of all being” face to face, for any extended amount of time, which is what I hope happens when someone physically dies. But really I don’t know for sure and neither does anyone else. That is all speculation. And what good does it do to speculate what might happen when the kingdom of heaven is already here. Meanwhile all of creation is groaning and waiting for those alive RIGHT NOW, on earth, to reveal Heaven on earth.
It’s all here now. So let’s get rid of this ancient 3 tier system and embrace the system that the trajectory of all the scriptures point to (Revelation 21) and as we see Jesus speak of in the Gospels. In the christian tradition that’s what the ministry of reconciliation is all about. Participating with the Divine as creation wakes up, manifesting the Christ that is in all and through all.