Over the next few weeks, I will be adding to this post and chronicling our conception of Heaven and how it has changed through the years and what that has meant to our theology. So with no further ado, let’s junp into the ancient Hebrews conception of their universe and heaven.
The Ancient Hebrew’s View of Heaven:
The ancient view of heaven and earth was a lot different than it is today. Some suggest that the ancient Hebrews had an advanced understanding of the universe that rivals our understanding today. But as you become acquainted with the Creation account and the Flood narrative, it becomes clear that their understanding was on par with other ancient civilizations (see infographic below). That is not to say that God did not Divinely guide the narratives. But Genesis contains a carefully worded understanding of their day, not ours.
So with that being said, here is the ancient Hebrew understanding of Heaven. Heaven was the dwelling of God and the supernatural realm. It was the place were God administered His universe and kept things running as he saw fit. Satan was allowed to enter Heaven (Job 1:6) since all angelic beings had to give an account of their actions on a regular basis.
Surprisingly, Heaven was not where the ancient Hebrews thought they went for the afterlife. For them, Sheol was the common resting place for all (Job 7:9). It is unclear whether they thought of Sheol as a temporary holding tank or a permanent one – since the of idea of the resurrection was not fully expressed until the later books of the Old Testament (Daniel 12:2). But for the ancient Hebrews, they knew that Heaven was above, it was the home and palace of God, and Sheol was below the Earth. And once in Sheol, you were cut off from everything (Psalm 6:5).
It is interesting that there was not an expectation of living in Heaven with God for the ancient Hebrews.
How We See Heaven Now
Now a days we see the universe differently than our ancient predecessors. In fact, our understanding of the cosmos has changed a lot in the last one hundred years alone. We have seen:
- Einstein publish his theory of general relativity in 1916 in which he shows how gravity is actually a geometric property of space/time.
- In 1927, the Catholic priest Georges Lemaître proposed that the universe began with the sudden explosion of a “primeval atom.”
- In 1929, Edwin Hubble gave proof of Lemaître’s theory by showing that the universe was expanding.
- In 1965 the discovery of the cosmic microwave background finally pushed strong support for the Big Bang model.
With our current understanding of the universe and how it functions, we tend to see heaven as a plane of existence that is outside of space/time. Since it does not operate by our laws, the realm of heaven works independently from us. Heaven can interact with our world, but we may not be able to detect it. Below is a quick depiction of how we might view heaven and the universe today:
How Heaven and the Universe Will Be Set Up
How We See Our Eternal Existence Today
For most people, they picture heaven as a place in which they will live on extended vacation. They envision mansions, pools, delicious food, good conversation, and a periodic appearance by God.
For most, the world we live in now is a poor reflection of the world to come. It is rife with pain, disease, disaster, and evil. The world to come, however, they see as filled with pleasure, health, good fortune, and morality.
Another common conception of heaven is that work will be a thing of the past. Challenge, strife, toil, and stress will be no more. Everything will be handed to us because there will be no need for work. Whatever you can think of, will be yours.
And since work will be a thing of the past, so too will be the need for hierarchy, commands, and orders. No such ill sounding words will ever reach our ears again. We will no longer have bosses, managers, CEO’s presidents, sergeants, generals, or supervisors. God will directly communicate with us and we with Him.
And with the threat of poor human management and toil a thing of the past, all that is left to do is enjoy the bliss and serenity of eternity. As we watch the eons role by, the only care in our mind will be what pleasure awaits us around the bend.
All this would be OK, except for the fact that the Bible has a different view on the subject. The biblical description is not all cotton candy clouds and grapes being hand fed. Instead, we see a much more real, engaging view of the future.
As we continue our journey, we will take a look at what actually awaits us with an eternity with God… Talk soon.