Bell summarises his chapter on Heaven as follows:
There’s heaven now, somewhere else
There’s heaven here, sometime else
And then there’s Jesus’s invitation to heaven here and now, in this moment, in this place
Nothing contentious there. I applaud Rob Bell’s efforts to show that there is more to Heaven than somewhere “above the bright blue sky” you go when you die. He is right to emphasise that Jesus calls the Kingdom of heaven now, for justice NOW, for peace NOW. And he is right to paint Heaven as MORE real than Earth, and to show that eventually there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth. Christians need to be much clearer that heaven is not simply (or not at all) clouds and harps and white robes. There is too much taking of the vivid allegorical imagery of Revelation and making it literal.
At the same time though, I don’t walk away from this chapter with a clearer picture, but a more confused one. Bell says that
Much of the speculation about heaven…comes from the idea that in the blink of an eye we will automatically become totally different people who “know” everything. But our heart, our character, our desires, our longings – those things take time.
Really? What does Paul mean then in 1 Corinthians 13 when he says:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (ESV)
or this when talking about the resurrection:
Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 ESV)
Perhaps I have my eschatology confused but it seems from a general balanced reading of Scripture that when we die we go to be with Jesus in heaven. As Paul says we will “depart and be with Christ.” Immediately. We will be “at home with the Lord.” Then one day at the resurrection
Christ returns and raises from the dead the bodies of all believers for all time who have died, and reunites them with their souls, and changes the bodies of all believers who remain alive, thereby giving all believers at the same time perfect resurrection bodies like their own. (Systematic Theology, Grudem, p. 829)
At the same time creation will be renewed as something fit for our resurrection bodies to live in. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. And we will be changed people in it!
I suspect Bell believes all this. I just wish he would be clearer about it.
Above all I wish he could say clearly that ultimately our life here and now (on earth), or our life then and there (in heaven), or our life then and here (in the new heaven and the new earth after the resurrection), is about how we respond to Jesus NOW. Now, at the time we meet Him and the time he invites us. What happens is dependent on our heart attitude to HIM and his invitation to acknowledge that he is our King and to follow him and put our lives and future completely in his hands. The thief on the cross did that. The Rich young ruler couldn’t on his own.
The great news, the GOSPEL news is that none of us can respond to Jesus’ invitation on our own. “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”