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. . . On Earth as it is in Heaven (II): What the heck is Heaven?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)

I feel kind of stupid. For all these years that I’ve read, studied and memorized the bible, I’ve always sort of assumed that heaven was where God lived, that it contained him, that it was eternal and has always existed. Obviously, from this famous first verse of the bible, I’ve been mistaken. Heaven was created simultaneously with the earth, presumably in similar fashion although the creation narrative fails to address the development of heaven. The remainder of Genesis 1 is predominantly about the earth and sea.

Interestingly, as the creation story unfolds, first comes light, then heaven, then earth. God made an expanse to separate the waters above and below it. He called it heaven. From the waters below come the earth and sea and the rest of the earth’s creation story is told. Thus, in addition to this story never telling us about the evolution of heaven, it leaves another obvious question unanswered, what about the waters above?

So, the ever-controversial biblical account of creation leaves plenty unanswered, but my point is, heaven was created by God and therefore cannot contain Him. Heaven has not always existed. My presumptions for so many years were wrong. And I’m purposely avoiding the creation vs evolution debate here. Whether you believe in a literal seven day creation, or you believe that this is simply a story illustrating an intelligent Creator-God, or you believe in the Big Bang + evolution theory, or anything in between, hopefully this discussion can be thought provoking, regardless.

Anyway, to continue, throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the word heavens or heaven is used hundreds of times. The plural, heavens, normally indicates the entirety of the extraterrestrial universe. Birds fly through the heavens, the sun and moon are day and night lights created in the heavens, the stars are of heaven, but none of this indicates a place where people go when they die.

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On the other hand, other references do describe a heaven, normally used in the singular, which is a place presumably beyond the heavens. An angel spoke to Abraham from heaven to save his son Isaac. Moses refers to heaven as a specific place . In Jacob’s famous dream, God spoke to him from heaven and there was a ladder into heaven with angels ascending and descending on it . Elijah was swept up into heaven by chariots of fire . So, it appears from the biblical accounts in the Old Testament that there is a specific place called heaven, where God, at times, resides, and where angels live and where people go, although I believe Elijah, Melchizedek and Jesus are the only accounts of people going to heaven without physically dying. Where dead people go, to me, isn’t clear.

Interestingly, the word in Hebrew for “the place of the dead” is “Sheol” which is translated as “hell” rather than “heaven”. And although Sheol has a predominantly negative connotation throughout the sixty-five times its used in the Old Testament, it was not necessarily a bifurcated place which separated the righteous from the unrighteous.

In the New Testament, Jesus and the disciples change gears. More to come . . .

Only the truth will set you free. Set me free 360.

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