Earth or Heavens?

by Brian Walsh

I’ve got to confess that I’ve never really got the ‘heaven’ thing.

I know, I know, ‘going to heaven’ seems to be at the heart of Christian piety.
Our hymnody, our preaching, our prayers seem to be preoccupied with heaven as our most hoped for destination.

Now, I’ve never got this because as far as I can see the Scriptures never offer heaven as the eternal destination for believers.

Last week at WBB we read the end of the story where the whole direction of things isn’t ‘up’ but ‘down.’

“I saw the New Jerusalem, come down from God out of heaven….”

Coming down. So how come we always want to go up?

Well, let’s go from the end of the Bible back to the beginning.

In Genesis we meet the first human creature, made in the image of God, but decidedly earthly. In fact the Hebrew name given to that creature is ‘adam, which is rooted in ‘adamah, the earth. So humans are ‘adam from the ‘adamah, humans from the humus. We are earth creatures. Created from the dust, created from the very stuff of the earth.

So when did we get the idea that somehow we should try to rise above our earthly roots (metaphorically and literally)? When did we decide that ‘up’ was the direction of human life and not ‘down’? When did we get this thing about being removed from the earth, above the earth? When did we start reaching for the heavens and longing for a place of height looking down upon all that is below, looking down on our very birth place, looking down on earth?

Think Babel.
Think of a tower and think of a city.

Our preoccupation with ‘up’ can be traced back to that primordial act of city and tower building.
A city and tower that can reach the heavens.
A city and tower where we can “make a name for ourselves.”

But here’s the thing.
We already have a name and it is ‘adam. It is ‘earth creature.’

Cities and towers. They always go together.

Cities, towers and a despising of the earth. Must they always go together?
Cities, towers and wanting to go to heaven. Has Babel actually won in the end?

I hope not. But that might be hoping against hope.

We continue our meditations on the city in biblical faith at WBB.

And I’ll put on the coffee.

Wine Before Breakfast
Tuesday @ 7.22am, Wycliffe Chapel
Breakfast in the Chaplain’s office after the service.

Hope to see you on Tuesday.



Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

3 Responses to “Earth or Heavens?”

  1. Gerri

    Are we obbsessed with “up” because we don´t know what to do on earth? Or, we dont need to bother about earthly problems like poverty ecology, …? It is easier than, we can tell the poor, that what matters is heaven, the future afterlife and not the present earthly life while keeping our possesions and the way of gaining them to ourselfs.

    • Brian Walsh

      Yes, indeed, Gerri. If you focus on ‘up’ then you don’t need to be too concerned about what happens ‘down’ here. But paradoxically, this kind of heaven/earth dualism also manages to legitimate all kinds of materialism – dare I say, ‘worldliness’ – as well. You see, if your eschatological hope is all focused on heaven, that essentially leaves most of our earthly lives independent of our future, and therefore left to their own devices. So we have the crazy phenomenon of evangelical piety that is all about going to heaven, but also managing to live a thoroughly materialistic life (read, prosperity gospel) here. I can’t imagine anything that strips Christian faith of its radical integrity more than this kind of unbiblical heaven theology.

  2. Kevin

    Case in point, Brian: US President Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior, James Watt. In a Saturday Evening Post article entitled “Ours is the Earth,” he stated that resource management strategies were to little effect since “we don’t know how much time we have before Jesus returns.” He further argued that our planet was “merely a temporary way station on the road to eternal life” and that it was only “put here by the Lord for His people to subdue and to use for profitable purposes on their way to the hereafter.”

    Earth to Watt: down is the new up.


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