Saturday, September 19, 2009

Physical Things in Heaven: A Divine Dilemma?

This morning I read a verse in the eighth chapter of Hebrews that really got me thinking. It read that certain things on earth, particularly the tabernacle of ancient Jews, are earthly representations of heavenly things:

“They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” – Hebrews 6:5
At first the shook me a little bit. Here’s why:

If earthly things are a “shadow” of heavenly things that would mean that some sort of tangible or physical reality must exist in heaven.

But isn’t that less glorious than the heaven I’ve believed in? Heaven is supposed to be a transcendent reality, spiritual, with no strings attaching it to this lower, polluted plain. Right?

Well, I realized that that was my preconception, and that supposition caused me to question what I was reading. But if you ask legitimately, you tend to receive.

I asked myself, “What warrant do I have for devaluing this scripture because it shows that the spiritual does not exclude the physical?” I found I had none. I was falling victim to the same false dichotomy that led Gnostics to believe that matter was evil and needed to be escaped. They could not see that is was sin, a moral ailment with spiritual and physical ramifications, was the evil that needed to be killed.

There is nothing unholy about a perfected reality. In fact, it’s validating. It provides significance for certain things on earth, and alludes to the Genesis statement of creation being “good.” The existence of a heavenly cup does not delegitimize heaven’s existence, it shows that physical actions like eating and drinking are good and should be exercised with responsibility and joy with the assurance that something so much greater, yet similar, exists in eternity.

C.S. Lewis depicts this in his short novel The Great Divorce. In almost a Platonic sense, the present is shown to be vague reflection of the more real, more solid divine existence.

Islam is often criticized for the Qur’an’s carnal depiction of the afterlife – namely that certain faithful men are rewarded with virgins for their enjoyment, and I thought that the New Testament heaven may fall into the same criticism. But the Christian heaven depicts our connection with Christ as the ultimate union: we are wed to Him. The spiritual/physical elements present are good because it is in that solid plane that we act out our devotion, gratitude, and love toward God and others.

That revelation rendered my dichotomy fallacious. There is nothing inherently “de-motional” about physical things. The premise that the spiritual and physical exist in tandem renders existence in a sense “amphibious” (to borrow a description from Lewis’s Screwtape Letters).

This grand restoration of things will make them whole. It will supplement reality with a weight of glory lost in the Fall.

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