Could Heaven be in Outer Space?
- Tuesday, May 08, 2012
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "ask roger" column regularly appears at preach it, teach it. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Could space be a part of heaven?
If Heaven is in just the right place in space, it might begin to explain how God can be omnipresent (every where all the time), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipotent (all powerful) instantaneously throughout the universe.
“Heaven is out beyond the North Star,” said the preacher when I was a boy. “There are no stars out beyond the North Star, just vast empty space. This is where Heaven is.” I was so impressed.
Now I know better. Just as many stars exist behind the North Star as they do everywhere else in space.
The idea of what’s "out there" has puzzled mankind since ancient times. It puzzles still today. Every culture developed a cosmology to explain the world they could see but never touch. Some cultures figured better than others. For example, the wise men from Babylon were "star gazers" who figured out the meaning of the stars leading to Bethlehem. Prehistoric peoples figured out enough about the universe to erect Stonehenge with astral accuracy. By looking down a deep well during the summer solstice, the ancient Egyptians figured out that the earth was round, rotating and revolving around the sun. Compare the Egyptian astronomers with the Pope in Rome, who only relatively recently admitted that the Church was wrong and Galileo was right. The sun doesn’t revolve the earth. It’s the other way around.
Paul’s understanding of the universe was consistent with the cosmology of his day which postulated the existence of three Heavens. Paul wrote:
“I know a man in Christ [Paul was talking about himself] fourteen years ago who was caught up to the third Heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man… was caught up to Paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that a man is not permitted to tell” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).
According to the cosmology of Paul’s time and place, the First Heaven was the atmosphere where birds fly, clouds move and people breathe. In the Second Heaven the sun, moon and stars moved and shined. The Third Heaven was “way out there,” where God and the angels dwelled.
Paul’s understanding of the cosmos is quite unlike ours today. But that’s okay. Neither the Bible nor Paul ever tried to establish the actual location of Heaven. Paul just told us that he was taken there.
So, where is Heaven? And, what are the implications for the nature and character of God?
Ever since I got over the “North Star stuff," I’ve wondered about the other “stuff.” Is Heaven a spirit world just a step away from ours? Think about it. In His spiritual body Jesus walked through walls, got hungry, ate dinner with the disciples, changed appearances and even let Thomas touch His nailed-scared hands (
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