The previous post can be found here.
Continuing with some meditations on “The Model Prayer” (or “The Lord’s Prayer”, as most of us in my generation know it).
“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven…” Matthew 6:9
“Our Father who art in heaven…” That’s not just a form of address. It’s a promise. In what way? Well, walk with me for the next few minutes and let’s see if I can explain this.
Heaven. When you read or hear that word, what comes to mind? Most people associate that word at least with pleasant thoughts, with the end of pain and suffering, with eternity, with a time of joy and freedom. We as believers, as disciples of Christ, immediately jump from heaven to God. Why? Because we believe that heaven is the abode—the dwelling place—of God. There are many verses in the Bible that tell us that heaven is the royal seat of God, that His throne is established there. Here’s one as a case in point:
Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. Revelation 4:2
So God rules and reigns in heaven. We’ve all accepted that, if we’re believers. We all believe that God is in heaven. We’ll come back to that thought.
But what do we really know about heaven? Do we know what it’s made of? Does it have a physical existence that can be found, located, described? Mmm, well, maybe not so much. Scripture indicates that angels and a few men go “up” to heaven, and “down” to earth. That would make us think of heaven being somewhere “out there” (waving our arms to the sky).
Now I’m not going to try and rationalize heaven with the natural science of the world. But back in the days when dirt was new and I was in high school, I had a science teacher who taught me that our universe has four dimensions: length, breadth, height/depth, and time. These are what we can perceive with our bodies, right? (Yes, I know there are some physicists who are postulating other dimensions, but let’s stick with what we can experience.) Okay. Now, mankind has pretty much been all over the earth. We’ve at least peeked into all its nooks and crannies, even if we haven’t walked there. The mountaintops have all been viewed. Any sign of heaven? Any sign of God’s throne on earth? Not that I’ve heard about.
Man has learned to fly through the air. Any sign of heaven lurking in the clouds? Not that anyone’s reported.
Man has learned to send sophisticated scientific measurement devices out beyond the atmosphere. Any sign of heaven on the moon, or Mars, or any of the other planets of the solar system? Any sign of heaven glimpsed by the Hubble telescope? Nope.
Does that mean that heaven doesn’t have a physical existence? No. But it does mean that if heaven is bound into the physical universe of length and breadth and height and time, it’s either a lot farther away than we can see, or it’s in a form that we can’t recognize as being heaven.
But . . .
There is one verse in scripture that makes me believe that a search for a physical heaven is wasted, that heaven is not a physical place or structure.
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 2 Peter 3:8
Time is an inextricable part of the physical universe. And from the creation of the universe until today, time has always marched in one direction. And despite the theories of the natural scientists, no one has ever been able to substantially affect the flow of time. A second is a second pretty much everywhere on earth.
The temptation is to treat Peter’s words as poetic imagery, as hyperbole to create a feeling or effect. The problem with that is this verse is out of the middle of a sobering passage describing to believers many of the effects and consequences of the last days. But to me this passage is also saying that God is not bound up in time. Therefore, God is greater than the limitations of our physical universe. God is within our universe, yes, but He is also without it.
And if God is not contained within the strictures of time and length and width and height, then it makes sense that heaven is also not contained within them.
So how does heaven exist? Well, I think we get a clue in the following verses:
For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation.
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Colossians 1:13-17
In Christ all things hold together. Another way of saying that is that the mind of God holds all things together. And if that is true of the physical universe, then it is undoubtedly true of heaven. Heaven exists because God wills it to exist. And if it exists in some manner not bound into our physical universe, it does so because that’s how God wills it to exist.
All of the descriptions of heaven found in scripture are given to us by way of visions, no two of which seem to be exactly alike. Is that a problem? No, not really; because in each case the visions were being given to diverse individuals for diverse reasons. God was allowing them to see what they needed to see to convey God’s particular message for thatparticular time. They could not and did not see all of heaven. See the following verses where Paul describes what all authorities believe was one of his own experiences:
Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago — whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows — such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man — whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows — was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. 2 Corinthians 12:1-4
“Inexpressible words.” Things that Paul heard could not be expressed in Greek—I dare say could not be expressed in any human tongue. Likewise, trying to describe the wonders of heaven with any human language must be impossible. What we read in scripture is only the poorest description of the beauties of the place created by God for Himself.
And now let’s circle back to the beginning, where I said that the phrase “Our Father who art in heaven” was a promise. Turn now to John 14:1-3.
“Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” John 14:1-3
We have the promise of Christ–the promise of God Himself—that we will one day stand in that indescribable inexpressible place outside of our physical universe, that place which God formed for Himself; the throne room of God. And because of that, when we pray “Our Father who art in heaven” we should feel great joy at the reminder of that promise.
Prayer should always begin with joy.
Peace and grace to you.