Rev. Kevin Flynn is an Anglican priest and director of the Anglican studies program at Saint Paul University.
It’s not easy talking about heaven. The concept is bound up in many people’s minds with images of harps, clouds, angels and pearly gates, making it difficult to take seriously. Talk of heaven as a “reward” makes it seem as if it is little better than a wish fulfilment fantasy for the egocentric.
Heaven is not a reward for faith. Still less is it compensation for things given up for the sake of faith. Far from being a reward for a life of faith, hope and love, heaven is the end of such a life, the consummation of lives marked and directed by these virtues.
The great theme that runs from the first page of the Bible to the last is that of life. The living God is the faithful God, the one who will not ¬allow life to be brought to an end forever in death.
To speak of heaven, then, is to speak not so much of future happenings but rather of the God who gives us courage as we advance into the future.
The Christian’s courage comes from understanding that what life really means is now known only in light of the risen Christ (see e.g., 2 Corinthians 4:10ff).
In Christ, God’s faithfulness is shown to be a faithfulness in death and beyond death. There is no question here of reward, only of gift. Heaven might be said to be the reward for having been delivered from having to seek a reward! The “resurrection from the dead” that we proclaim in the creed means nothing else than that life is offered for an eternal future, a promise for the whole person.
Now we perceive God’s presence as “in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Heaven will be the direct enjoyment and awareness of God — the beatific vision.
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