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  • Sonya Leigh Anderson

Heaven Dilemma

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I will tell you today about some of the things I grapple with, here at my little lake retreat, a ring or two removed from Minnesota’s Twin Cities. My work in this season is writing and learning, and both are responsible for the serious questions I’ve been asking myself.

My online “seminary,” which I’ve mentioned before, is the BibleProject Classroom—free (or crowd-funded) classes taught by a brilliant teacher named Tim Mackey. In addition to attending a class or two most afternoons after my writing brain has begun to fail me, I listen frequently to the BP podcasts, and occasionally, when I need a quick answer to a niggling question, I opt for the wonderfully helpful animated videos on the website. (I will link here to one such video, as it may help you later, to follow my rambling.)

Here’s the heart of my dilemma. I have come to believe that my truest vocation, as a follower of Jesus, is to bring heaven to earth. This, I will admit, is a way of thinking, slightly outside the box of typical church teaching (at least in my context)—but it makes perfect sense in light of my experience reading and engaging my Bible. While most Christians think of “heaven” as a place removed from earth—the eternal space of the afterlife—I have been compelled to see in the Bible’s story, convincing evidence that God always meant for his space and ours to overlap—HERE. On earth as in heaven. (And here is where you might benefit from a brief video explanation.)

That said. While I DO believe followers of Jesus will live for eternity with God in some sort of guaranteed-to-be-amazing afterlife, I have been increasingly concerned about our tendency as a church to preach messages intended to secure our place in heaven, while ignoring our “vocational” call to bring the life-giving blessing and transformative healing of what Jesus called the kingdom of heaven, here and now, to our earthly spaces.

Let me switch gears for a moment to an even harder conversation, admittedly the one causing my real quandary. And that is the subject of hell. When we think of hell, our thoughts go immediately (like heaven) to afterlife. But for today’s discussion, I’d like to ask a different question. If God’s view of heaven assumes some degree of overlap with our earthly experience—what about hell? Would it be safe to say hell is present, too, in the here and now?

Maybe this is a no-brainer. Have you heard the news this week? It would appear hell-on-earth is a provable thing. And herein lies my real predicament.

Let’s say God is calling me to this vocation of bringing heaven to earth. Which is to say God is calling US to this vocation, together—because (thank goodness) there is NO WAY he is calling me to do this myself. WE are in this together, which is to say, Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and the rest of us who claim this NAME. So. Would it be safe to say that we who embody the power and presence of the God who IS HEAVEN have (together) this vocational calling to transform the hells of this earth into heavens?? And if so… what in the world does this mean?

I have admitted twice this week to my husband, who annoying laughs in agreement, that I am prone to intellectualizing things I resist putting into practice. It is so much easier to BLOG something than to actually do it.

I am very concerned (in theory) about the hells of this earth. But to be quite honest, the hells terrify me. Apart from a whole lot of supernatural something, my survival instincts are going to keep me as far away from hell-on-earth as humanly possible. Let me remind you. I live in the woods. And I like it a lot.

It is so much easier to share the good news of the gospel with kids at church, inviting them to pray their way into heaven, than it is to bring actual heaven into the hell-bent places that desperately need saving. Just saying.

Welcome to my dilemma.

After this past year of whatever it is we’ve been experiencing, it would be so nice to keep our eyes fixed on some version of an afterlife escape plan, and just amp up our prayers for Come Lord Jesus (and don’t get me wrong, I am ALL for His Coming)—but my gut tells me there is something more He is asking of us here. He did not call his followers to build bunkers and hunker down. He sent them out THERE to actually BE the solution. He sends us—in His Name, and fully equipped with His (albeit mostly untried) power—to transform hells into heavens.

Which, to be honest, is totally terrifying, and absolutely overwhelming, and I am not at all sure I’m up to the task. But maybe together. Father, Son, Holy Spirit…me and you?

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