In the first installment of Creationist Heaven, we looked at the unity of heaven as envisioned by the writer of Genesis, and how it was intimately linked with the earth as a part of God’s creation. Today, let’s look at heaven as a physical place located above the earth, where God and the angels look down upon men. We’ll start with the story of “Jacob’s Ladder”
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen. 28:10-17)
Other than the passage in Genesis 3 that portrays God as walking in the Garden of Eden, this is the first passage in the Bible that specifies where God is located, and it puts Him in a heaven that is linked to the earth by a staircase (or “ladder” as the more traditional view puts it). What’s more, we have a fixed location on earth, above which God’s heaven can be specifically located: the town of Bethel, in Palestine, marks the foot of the stairs leading up into God’s heaven. Jacob gives the place the name “Beth-El,” which means “God’s Home,” because this dream has revealed to him that the spot where he is sleeping is actually Heaven’s front gate. It also designates him as the rightful owner of all the surrounding territory, which then forms the basis for the entire covenant with Israel as God’s chosen people, so we can’t dismiss this episode as just a fanciful, symbolic dream. According to the text, this is supposed to be actual, inspired revelation from God. So we know where God lives, and it’s in a Heaven physically located in the sky above Bethel.
So Heaven is God’s home, and the seat from which He issues His decrees, blessings and cursings:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven (Ex. 20:22)
Look down from heaven, your holy dwelling place, and bless your people Israel and the land you have given us as you promised on oath to our forefathers, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Deut. 26:15)
[T]hose who oppose the LORD will be shattered. He will thunder against them from heaven; the LORD will judge the ends of the earth. “He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed.” (I Sam. 2:10)
Out of the brightness of his presence bolts of lightning blazed forth. The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded. He shot arrows and scattered the enemies, bolts of lightning and routed them. (II Sam. 22:13-15)
Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive. (I Kings 8:30)
When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the LORD, he rose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven. (I Kings 8:54)
Is not God in the heights of heaven? And see how lofty are the highest stars! (Job 22:12)
The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. (Ps. 14:2)
(Remember, these are the verses that Answers in Genesis calls “extremely rare”!)
From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind; (Ps. 33:13, note the assumption that you can see all mankind from a high enough location because the earth is flat)
Return to us, O God Almighty! Look down from heaven and see! (Ps. 80:14)
The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth (Ps. 102:19)
I lift up my eyes to you, to you whose throne is in heaven. (Ps. 123:1)
You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. (Is. 14:13)
So when you pray to God, you lift your hands up towards Heaven (i.e. the sky), which is God’s holy dwelling place, and ask Him to look down on man, bless the righteous, and punish the wicked. There’s no ambiguity here, no sense that the Old Testament authors felt the need to make any distinction between a “spiritual” heaven where God actually lives and the physical heaven that appears to be located in the sky above the earth. Nor do they show any sign of even being aware of such a distinction. Heaven, where God lives, is up in the sky. You want to talk to God, you look up. God wants to deal with man, He looks down. Simple, straightforward, and unambiguous–much more so than even the creation story, with its dual versions, talking animals, and technical goofs like separating the creation of “day” from the creation of the sun.
Nor is this merely a primitive, Old Testament view of heaven. The New Testament writers also saw heaven, God’s home, as a place physically located up in the sky over the earth.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. (Matt. 3:16)
Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool (Matt. 5:34-35)
In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven. (Matt. 26:64)
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. (Matt. 28:2)
Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. (Mark 6:41)
After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. (Mark 16:19)
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (Lk. 9:51)
He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)
The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. (John 3:31)
For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. (John 6:33)
After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)
Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:55-56)
But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ ” (that is, to bring Christ down), (Rom. 10:6)
He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. (Eph. 4:10)
So heaven, where God is and where Jesus now stands (according to the text), is up relative to the earth. You go up from here to there, and you go down from there to here. And notice, as Stephen shows us, heaven is visible to the naked eye, if you happen to look up at the right moment and catch it open. A physical place, geographically “up” relative to the earth, and close enough to be visible to the naked eye from Jerusalem, when it’s open.
And even if you refer to “heavens” plural, they are still located geographically “up” from where we are, as Paul tells us in Ephesians, so that if you ascend far enough, you can go up above all of them. Again, no uncertainty, no ambiguity, and no division of the various “heavens” into those that are physical locations above the earth, and those that (if they existed) would be spiritual dimensions with no particular geographical location. All of the references to heaven that allow us to determine where heaven is (and there are many) uniformly describe heaven as being up in the sky, above the earth. That’s Old and New Testament.
But we know, of course, that the sky is essentially an optical illusion. There is no land up above the clouds, where angels and God walk around, and from which Satan was cast down to the earth after losing his war against God (Luke 10:18, Rev. 12:7-9). Biblical references to heaven, interpreted the same way creationists interpret the creation and flood stories in Genesis, describe a physical, high-altitude location that does not actually exist. So what’s a creationist to do?
They could, of course, spiritualize all these references. But if you’re going to do that for plain-speaking, common-sense references to heaven, how do you justify refusing to do so in the case of creation and/or Noah’s Ark? If you want to be consistent, then you should either reject the scientific evidence in favor of the plain-sense meaning of the Bible (i.e. literal creation, literal Flood, and literal Heaven in the sky above Bethel) or you should agree that it’s valid to modify your interpretation of Scripture in order to reconcile it with scientific findings (spiritualized Heaven, Flood, and creation).
Truth is consistent with itself. The reason creationists cannot come up with a consistent interpretation of the Bible is because what they believe is not the truth. Or at least not real-world truth.
PS–I know this will roll off true creationists like water off a frog’s back, but I did want to take a moment or two to document the abundant Biblical references to heaven as a physical place, just to make them available to whoever might need them.