More than nine out of ten Americans say that they believe in Heaven. Almost every culture has traditions and legends about it. Philosophers have imagined it, artists have painted it, poets have been inspired and written about it, each trying to provide a glimpse into its shadowy wonders. The ancient Greeks thought of Heaven as a place far away from earth and the difficulties of earthly life; a place filled with peace and pleasure. And other traditions have similar thoughts making heaven the equivalent of a celestial Bahamas’ resort. But where is Heaven anyway?
The Scriptures talk a lot about it but never give us its exact location. We can try to surmise from passing references that seem to give hints or clues; like when Jesus tells Mary in the Garden following His resurrection that He would be ascending to His Father (John 20:17), or when Paul speaks of a living man who was “caught up” into the third Heaven (2 Cor 12:2) and saw things that were unlawful to describe. So is Heaven up there somewhere beyond our stars and the farthest galaxy?
Our galaxy, called the Milky Way because of its dim milky glowing ban appearance across the night sky, is an estimated 100-120 thousand light years across. A light year is about six trillion miles with light traveling at a rate of 186,000 miles per second. So our galaxy is about 600 thousand trillion miles across and there are many other galaxies beyond that. If Heaven is beyond the farthest galaxy it sure seems to be a long way away.
Well, I don’t have the definitive answer. But the short answer is that Heaven is where God is. It is the dwelling place of God and God is not far away from any of us. As a matter of fact, James tells us to “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” in James 4:8, and the writer of Hebrews tells us to “draw near with a true heart” and to “come boldly before the throne”. Tough if it is 600 thousand trillion miles away. Perhaps when the Bible speaks of Heaven it is not so much a different geographical place as it is a different plane of reality. Like light, for example, science tells us that the spectrum of light is without beginning or ending, yet we can only see what falls on that spectrum between red and violet (everything beyond is infra-red and ultra-violet). It’s there but we can’t see it. Our optic nerves are not adapted to see beyond red and violet. So, perhaps Heaven is not far away but in an alternate dimension beyond our ability to see or experience with our natural limitations.
Here are a few thoughts that are expressed in the couple of passages of Scripture from which we can draw insights about Heaven and our potential connection to it, wherever it is.
- Jesus says in Matt. 6:9-13 (The Lord’s Prayer) that Heaven is the dwelling place of God. “Our Father Who art in Heaven…” Heaven is God’s abode.
- Jesus teaches us to pray to God in secret, and that when we pray in secret God will hear us and reward us openly. The principle? When we speak here on earth, we can be heard in Heaven.
- When Jesus was transfigured before His disciples in Matt. 17:1-8 we get a glimpse into a Heavenly reality. Jesus became translucent yet there is no implication that He traveled far away, but rather it would seem that He revealed His glory from another dimensional reality.
- Moses and Elijah were with Him, and the disciples knew who they were though they had lived hundreds of years before.
- They were heard conversing with Jesus. Apparently there are conversations in Heaven.
- Hebrews chapter 12 tells us that, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (presumably the saints from chapter eleven). Here we see the implication that the saints that have died and are with the Lord are watching what we are doing on earth, surrounding us as witnesses. The Scripture tells us then to run our race faithfully and finish strong as they had. Heavens population seems to be watching and aware of our lives.
- In Revelation 21:1&2 we see the grand climax of the New Testament is a “New Heaven and a New Earth” and a “New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven from God”. It would seem that God’s intent is to merge Heaven and Earth in a final triumphant dimension of existence with Jesus as Lord of all!
Now, I’m not advocating a new doctrine or even a new twist on an old one. All I’m saying is that I don’t believe that Heaven is 600 thousand trillion miles away, with our Lord and loved ones being so far removed from us. I believe that it is simply an “other” plane or dimension of existence. Beyond us for sure, yet connected to us every day. Bette Midler sang about God “Watching from a distance” but in my experience it would seem that He is closer. In moments of despair and suffering, meditation and prayer, I have known His touch and felt His heartbeat. When I have fallen He has been there to pick me up and comfort me, helping me to make peace with what happened and enabling me to move on.
If your loved ones are with the Lord in Heaven and according to the Scriptures they are witnesses to the race of life that we are running, and if the Lord is a “very present help in trouble” and close enough to hear our deepest prayers and even contemplate our thoughts, then you’re never alone and Heaven is just a breath away, if that far.