We believe that our hearts will stop beating, our brains will stop sending signals to our muscles, and our breathing will cease. Everything that we know about our bodies and minds will end. Then we believe that we will enter into a new mode of existence where we abide with God in a spiritual realm. Finally, we believe that God will knit us back together in the resurrection where we will live with God in a new heaven and new earth.
That is strange. No two ways about it.
We must (re)claim this weirdness to make sense of life
We should stop to consider why heaven feels so weird to us. Why should an existence within in a spiritual realm seem odd? Part of the answer lies in a shift of how we understand the world. Four hundred years ago, it was a given that forest spirits existed. Be careful in the woods at night. While uncommon, people nevertheless would expect to encounter an angel. It was not something unheard of—it was not impossibly strange.
And now it is.
Our world has become disenchanted. Despite this, our faith demands that we believe in deep mysteries. But we feel that everything has an explanation in nature. We know that unicorns do not exist nor forest spirits.
And yet Christianity demands beliefs that seem just as weird as unicorns or forest spirits. We believe that God exists. We believe in seraphim, cherubim, and all sorts of angelic beings who oversee the nations. We worship in a certain manner “because the angels are watching” (1 Cor 11:10). We believe in a lamb slain in heaven, a throne room, and martyrs crying out for justice.
Christianity is delightfully weird. And we really cannot make sense of life without this weirdness. A simple question illustrates why: Why is there something and not nothing? Because God created it. God is Spirit. And he and angelic beings maintain the world. Everything somehow has its origin in a spiritual being.
So the universe has a spiritual cause. And despite our corporal existence, we too have a spirit. Better: we are made up of flesh and spirit. And so our bodily and spiritual nature allow us to grasp and participate in spiritual realities.
So what now?
We embrace the unfashionable and unthinkable reality that non-material beings and ideas shape the material world—shape us. We live as if the angels are watching. We rely upon the divine Spirit who guides our every step.
We look at the butterfly floating in front of us not as a mere happenstance of wind patterns and biology but as a sign of God’s providence. That butterfly was meant to be seen. That struggle was meant to be had. Nothing is insignificant but instead bubbles over with spiritual significance.
Dreams matter. Biologically, they might assist our brain to process the day. Spiritually, they tell us a lot about what we hate or love or fear. God might use these experiences to tell us something of import. We must not ignore them as mere biological processes as the world around us does.
We should pray and expect God to answer. We should experience God. We should have joy through spiritual experiences that cannot be explained as merely a rise in endorphins or some other biological explanation.
Life is delightfully strange. But we have closed our eyes to all. We have been born into a world that has left enchantment behind. All that is left is mere scientific fact—as if science could explain what is really real.
The realist things are not physical. They cannot be. Remember: a spiritual being created the spiritual-physical universe. The realist thing could be an idea that you have your head—more real than the couch in your living room.
When our heart stops, your lungs fail, and your body falls lifeless, we will enter into a real existence. I suspect that we will have a body as we have now. Yet we will see spiritual realities first whereas in this life we see material realities first. It will be an inversion of perception.
But that perception will be just that: perception. Now and then, we will possess natures of spirit and flesh that exist within both modes of reality: spiritual and material, inner and outer, human and divine.
God created us in his image—we are icons of a spiritual being. We are different and yet alike. We are creatures yet like the creator. If we do not embrace this strangeness, we will not be able to make sense of life. We will not be able to discern what is really real. We will never expect to encounter an angel during an evening walk. And that is a real tragedy.