What images come to mind when you think about heaven? For many of us, it's a pearly wall with a golden-grated gate; a beautiful city visible through the entry way and billowy clouds all around. And there are lots of winged people in white robes playing harps... for some reason.
Is this a realistic picture of heaven? I mean, we know there are gates of pearl and a city laid out in a perfect square because the book of Revelation tells us that. But what will Heaven actually be like? And where will it be? Where is it now? Does it exist today?
First off, let's set some boundaries because this can get overly complicated if we get caught up in details: the Bible uses the word "heaven" in more than one context. For example, in Genesis 1:1 God creates the heavens and the earth. The "heavens" in this context is the sky. That's not the heaven we want to explore - we want to know about the heaven that we go to when we die, the heaven that God lives in... those are the same place, right? That's where we go, right?
There is a Biblical basis to prove that heaven is were God is. Jesus prayed, "Our Father which art in heaven..." God resides in heaven. So where is God at this very moment? Is He in the sky? If I ask you to point to where God is, there would be a temptation to point up into the sky. But we know God does not literally live in the sky. He's not Zeus; He does not live atop a mountain or on a skiff of clouds. He doesn't live in space. So is God somewhere beyond the spiral arm of the Milky Way or somewhere beyond the edge of the universe? That makes Him seem pretty far away...
We're thinking about it wrong. We are trying to place Heaven somewhere, to give it coordinates. Psalm 115:16 says "The heaven, even the heavens, are Lord's; but the earth hath He given to the children of men." There is "God space" and there is "human space." Heaven is God's space. It's not a physical place identified by its location, it is where God is. God is hard to wrap our minds around. His name is "I Am." That's a powerful statement. He is everything. He is, He always was, and He always will be. He is all powerful. Let's apply that concept to God's location. God is. He is there and over there and up there and under there. He's everywhere. Heaven is God's space and God is everywhere, thus heaven is... all over the place! Heaven is right in front of you, between your eyes and the screen you're reading these words from. It's not accessible to you, it's not something you can perceive, but it's right there. God does not leave heaven to interact with the world and then go back to heaven to sit on His throne, removed from us. The only time God left heaven was when He came to earth in the form of a man. Jesus left heaven (God's space) to come to earth (our space, to be seen of us).
Consider the story of Jacob's "ladder." I put the word ladder in quotes because we have tended to think of it that way but the original Hebrew word there probably meant something more like a staircase - think of a ziggurat, those stair-steppe pyramids the ancient Aztecs built. When Jacob dreamed of this stair with angels ascending and descending it, he was getting a vision of this accessing of "our space" from "God's space." I have seen artists' recreations of his vision and there are usually one or two angels on it. I rather think this thing looked like the staircase at the mall or an airport terminal - teeming with life. There were angles coming in and out of "our space," demonstrating the activity between heaven and earth.
The stairway Jacob saw was an image of a portal between heaven and earth. God spoke to Jacob from the top of the stair (which makes all of us happy who pointed up to identify where God was earlier...) and Jacob rightly identified this location as a "gate of heaven." (Genesis 28:17) Later, God would use Mt. Sinai as another gateway and eventually, the Israelite people would carry a gateway around with them through the desert in the from of the tabernacle and ark of the covenant. These portals to the heavenly realm would be the access point between "God's space" and ours.
So, in review: heaven is not above the skies or beyond space in the physical sense. It is beyond our world, our perceptions, our dimension or plane of existence. God is in heaven and His angles go back and forth from heaven to earth doing the work of God. (There's a whole other blog post there - just remember that pretty much any time God spoke to someone or needed something on earth done, it was an "angel of the Lord" who did it, spoke it, etc.) Sin has separated us from God so His world and our world are also separated, but there are "gates" or portals between heaven and earth.
We still have unanswered questions. What does this mean for us today? What is the heaven like that I go to when I die? Stay tuned, same bat-time, same bat-channel, for the exciting conclusion!