An old Warren Beatty film Heaven Can Wait has been something of a sentimental favourite. Its plot revolves around an angel anxious to avert the suffering of a human by taking him to heaven moments before a fatal accident. Only one problem: the accident wouldn’t have killed him. The angel faces the challenge of fixing his mistake.
“Heaven Can Wait” is something of a catch-cry. (Remember the Meatloaf song?) It echoes our desire to live longer, at the same time implying that the image of heaven we have given is something less than desirable above all else. In a strange way, proclamation of the christian gospel reinforces the futuristic, remote aspect of heaven which is available to us only when we die. We have both subverted the gospel message and its implications.
When Jesus asked us to pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” he was screaming at us “Heaven CANNOT wait”. Heaven is not a place simply reserved for the dead, it is a reality for which we are to pray, work and strive on earth. Heaven is for the living.
By deferring the notion of heaven to the afterlife, we have disembodied and spiritualised the gospel. Such an approach also inclines towards inuring us against the sufferings of our fellow human beings, and to ignore our responsibilities to the planet: why care for creation, or that another person suffers if this is not what it is really about?
Another bridge we need to cross is the constant tendency towards dualism, in which we artificially divide secular and sacred, this life and eternal life, drawing clear lines where blurring would be more appropriate. For example, Jesus spoke of preferring to enter the next life without an eye which causes us to sin, instead of not entering it at all. For him there was unbroken continuity and overlap between heaven and earth, kingdom to come and kingdom present.
It is part of our calling to see heaven come on earth. How are we living and acting to facilitate and prepare for this?
February 20, 2005