Saturday, June 27, 2020

History and revelation, or Wright and Barth

I hugely appreciate the work of N.T. Wright, and particularly the first three volumes* of his Christian Origins and the Question of God.  I've written before about the importance of volume 3 - The Resurrection of the Son of God - to my own faith.  Wright's work is all about locating the New Testament witness within its historical context, and interrogating it using historical tools.  The emphasis is on the fact that this stuff really happened and is therefore in principle open to all.  I like that.

On the other hand, I am a great fan of Karl Barth, whose methodology is often thought to be the exact opposite.  For Barth, although the events to which the New Testament bears witness did indeed occur in history#, in their character as revelation they are emphatically not available to all.  Revelation, for Barth, is always God's action.  He talks about it as a door, which can only be opened from the other side - i.e., God's side.  The historian, qua historian, has no access whatsoever to this.

Polar opposites?

Well, actually, no.  Wright does take fairly regular pops at Barthians in TRotSoG, but he is usually wisely careful to blame the followers and not the master.  Some followers of Barth have certainly ended up in what is basically a Christianised existentialism, where the history of Jesus is basically inaccessible and we just have to take a leap of faith into the (hopefully) waiting arms of revelation - but that isn't Barth's position.

In three paragraphs (Church Dogmatics IV/2, 149-150), Barth summarises his position on the historical accessibility of knowledge of God through Christ.  "Is there", he asks, "a 'historical' knowledge of this event" - he is speaking of the event of revelation, by which he means specifically the life, death, and resurrection of Christ - "which can be maintained neutrally and with complete objectivity?"  The first answer is 'no', not if we're talking about real knowledge of God, which necessarily overflows in love.  That sort of knowledge - we might call it relational knowledge - can of course never be objective in that sense, nor is it in any way neutral.  And for Barth knowledge of God is necessarily relational knowledge.  So, no, if we're talking about "knowledge in this decisive sense", there is no generally available historical revelation.

But...  "neutral and objective - 'historical' - knowledge is its presupposition".

In other words, historical knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient, for relational knowledge.

He offers two clarifying statements.  Firstly, this historical knowledge will mean "the most impartial and painstaking investigation of the texts which speak of this event."  To try to go around the New Testament and its witness is not to seek historical knowledge of these events, but to import one's own understanding.  To seek historical knowledge of an event without reading the texts which witness to this event - well, its sufficiently nonsensical to call into question the motives.

Second, the historical investigation "must really be impartial."  That is to say, it is no use if the historian has already decided what can and can't happen in history, or what is to qualify as historical knowledge.  Impartiality means at the very least hearing the texts on their own terms.  (And not, for example, ruling out their witness to the resurrection because resurrections don't happen, or designating such witness as beyond the scope of historical enquiry because dealing with matters of faith rather than history).

I think Barth is absolutely in agreement with Wright here; the difference of emphasis between them is complementary and not contradictory.  In TRotSoG Wright effectively endorses this perspective.  Historical investigation can lead us to the conclusion that the most reasonable explanation for the rise of the church is the empty tomb and the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  It cannot get us from there to God.  But surely knowing historically that Jesus rose is the essential presupposition for seeing in him the revelation of God.

Some 'Barthians' I know would object that this is to put the Word of God on trial.  If God has spoken to us, then we should receive his Word and not question.  I agree, but it seems to me that what God has said, he has said in history.  His Word is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  To hear that Word in faith is more than, but it is absolutely not less than, to hear it in history.

* I don't think the enormous fourth volume, on Paul, is quite so good, although there's a lot of valuable stuff in there if you have the time to search for it and the strength in your arms to lift the book.

# If you have ever been told that Barth did not believe in the historicity of, say, the resurrection of Jesus - well, that is just plain wrong. It can only be maintained through either ignorance or reading and reasoning in very bad faith. But that's another topic for another day.

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

On worship and being good witnesses

There has been a debate in church circles about whether we ought to be pushing for permission to gather again for worship.  As we move to a point where 'non-essential retail' is allowed to open up, you can see why there are more voices pushing for a quicker pace for churches.  On the other hand, the activities of a church are different from the activities undertaken in a department store; there is a reasonable case to be made that gathering for worship carries more risk of spreading disease than popping to the shops.  Hence the debate.

I don't particularly want to engage in that debate now, although obviously I have opinions.  Instead I want to try to see what's happening behind it.  There are lots of motives one way and the other, but I think the strongest advocates on both sides of the debate are talking about (amongst other things) how we can best bear witness to Christ.  Do we best bear witness to Christ and his kingdom by being good citizens, not scandalising our neighbours by returning to activities they would regard as unsafe (and relatively unimportant), staying at home, staying safe?  A case can be made.  It is loving to make sacrifices for the good of others.  It is right that believers should think about the safety of society.  But on the other hand, might we not best bear witness to Christ and his kingdom by showing that we are ultimately citizens of another country, a heavenly one?  That we don't see safety as the ultimate value?  Again, a case can be made.  Christians ought to have different priorities from the world.  We should be demonstrating that our hopes are not primarily in this life.

So apart from all other considerations - and there are plenty of others which would have to be taken into consideration - thinking only about witness, a case can be made either way.

I regularly come back to these words from the 2nd century letter to Diognetus: "But while they live in Greek and barbarian cities, as each one's lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. (Christians) live in their own countries, but only as non-residents; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners."  Christians participate as citizens, but endure as foreigners.  Which is to be stressed in the current crisis - the participation, or the enduring?  Our standing alongside and with our fellow human beings, or our union with Christ which makes us foreigners wherever we are in the world?

I don't know the answer, but I'll tell you the risk I see whilst we're not gathering.  Corporate worship is the particular event in which we celebrate and remember that the kingdom of God has come in Christ Jesus.  As we together lift up our hearts and minds to heaven by the Holy Spirit within us, we recall that we can do this because heaven came down to us in Christ.  We remember that the kingdoms of this world are passing away, and that the kingdom of God which came in Jesus is also coming with Jesus when he returns.  We nourish ourselves on worship, on the Word, on the body-bread and blood-wine, because we reject the nourishment that this fallen world has to offer - its ideologies, its plans, its spiritualities.  We will take Jesus over them all, because he is Lord over them all.  And because his kingdom is better, his presence is sweeter, his life is life indeed.  So when it comes to witness, our gathered worship is already a testimony that we don't belong here, aren't ultimately invested here, expect nothing good from the setup of this world but all our good from Christ.

Whilst we're not gathering, there is a danger that we will forget this.  It is so easy for Christians to forget the immanent-yet-transcendent kingdom of the enthroned Lamb, and start to identify the kingdom of God with something happening on the plane of this world.  When well-meaning Christians point to all the good works which the church is up to at this time and say 'look, that's the real church', implying that the food banks and the justice ministries are the heart of the matter rather than worship, we are on the very brink of that terrible danger.  The kingdom of God is not to be identified with any social or political movement in this world.  It is not to be identified with governments or protesters against governments; it is not to be identified with the works of the church or the prophetic utterances of her leaders.  (In fact, every truly prophetic utterance will acknowledge and show this).  The kingdom of God is in Christ the King, in heaven, and surely coming quickly.  We need to remember this, and without corporate worship we lose our best reminder.

Don't read this as me arguing for a hasty reopening of the churches.  That's not what it is.  It is a reflection on how quickly and easily we subside from being those crazy people who show by their behaviour that they're really banking on there being a real God, a real resurrection, a genuine eternity - and become instead good citizens, practising our politics (progressive or conservative), doing good works, speaking into society.  In short, we become sane in the eyes of the world, with just a little bit of religion in our morality to which nobody but the hardest humanist could object.  We must be good citizens, of course, but only as foreigners.  Without gathered worship, we need to work extra hard to recall just how much we don't belong.

Friday, May 29, 2020

The odour of sanctity

The last few months have been hugely challenging, and for most of us I would guess very draining in different ways.  The stresses and strains thrown up by pandemic and lockdown have been varied, but I guess there are very few people who have not found themselves under pressure in one way or another.  If nothing else, the general background anxiety has been exhausting.  We're tired, aren't we?

Which is unfortunate, because I think the next bit is going to be hard and draining in different ways.  At least going into lockdown there was a sense that we were all pulling together, that it was a response to an emergency in which we were all involved.  That sense has largely dissipated now.  Partly I think that's just a natural thing; as lockdown has dragged on beyond what many were expecting, the goals have become less clear and frustration has set in.  Then again, our leaders don't seem to have set shining examples in every case, which undermines the sense of being all in it together.  And of course, we ourselves have begun to divide into those who have been applying rules and guidelines more rigorously, those who like to think they've been maintaining the spirit of the law whilst using their own judgement as to the details, and those who have just given up being locked down altogether.  Since all three groups tend to look down on the others, an increasing sense of division is probably inevitable.  Added to that, as we gradually emerge from lockdown there will be those who want to move faster (and those who de facto do move faster, whatever the official line) and those who are still too anxious to leave the house.  Then again, as the sense of immediate crisis passes, and the analysis of what has happened takes over, there will be differing views on what was done right or wrong, ranging right from a sense that lockdown was pointless and damaging through to lockdown was too late and insufficiently rigorous.

All this is going on, and I am anticipating more difficult and tiring times ahead.

Now, we can't control the times, but we can control to some extent our reactions to them.  I am not in the business of political or social punditry, so I don't have to offer opinions on everything, thankfully.  But I do have some observations on how Christians have been reacting and ought to react.  I advance them somewhat hesitantly, and with a genuine sense that I have not myself worked out what an adequate reaction would look like in practice; nor have I fully lived up to what I do know to be right.  But I also feel these things increasingly as an urgent burden.

Firstly, Christian responses should be characterised at every stage by humility.  There should be humility at every stage.  We should be humble about our own knowledge - do we really know and understand the full story in any given case?  Have we got a grasp of the details?  Our culture is quick to react, and tends to react emotionally.  Humility demands a brake on my reactions, a refusal to allow my immediate emotional response to determine my overall approach.  That doesn't mean being unemotional, or suppressing our emotional responses.  It just means recognising that our first response may not be the best response, because we may not - indeed, we probably do not - see the full picture at first.

Then again, humility is necessary as we think about other people.  Whether they are people in government, the neighbours who we see breaking the rules, or the friends who won't move as quickly back to normality as we would like, we need to react humbly.  With people in power, in particular, where there is a civic duty to hold them to account for their use of power, it is easy to act with pride.  Can I be honest and say I see that in a lot of responses from Christians to government in particular?  It is not that we should never be angry, but our anger should be tempered by the fact that we know we are not dealing here with monsters or demons, but that more tricky class of being: fallible and sinful human beings.  It might be worth asking ourselves how certain we are that we would have done better in the circumstances.  Would I definitely have been more competent?  Would I definitely have been more righteous?  I don't feel that I can tread with confidence here.  Certainly I don't feel I can react only with anger towards those who have tried and failed, or even towards those who haven't really tried.

Second, alongside humility we need to show hope.  How does it come across in our response that we have an ultimate hope that God is working everything - everything! - together for good?  In our response, does it look like we believe in the resurrection?  The unique Christian hope ought to enable a unique Christian response here.  The world swings back and forth between shallow hope on the one hand, and grief and anger on the other.  Christians are called to grieve as those with hope, to be angry as those who know that underneath are the everlasting arms.  This is not meant to be a background hope, against which we carry on much as everyone else.  It is meant to be transformative.  We are Easter people.  Our hopes are not in this world, but in the resurrected Christ.  But that hope, securely grounded in heaven, is meant to transform our response to what happens on earth.  I'm not seeing that, in me or in others, to the extent that I think the gospel demands.

Third, and this one is a bit more vague and sadly doesn't begin with 'h', we need some better content to our responses.  Not all, but a lot, of the response I've seen from Christians has been in content identical with the response of  (particular sectors of) society.  To be very blunt, if the content of our response to this crisis reads like a Guardian editorial, it is a political and not a specifically Christian response.  I am not here making a party political point; nor am I saying that Christians shouldn't be engaged in politics.  But I worry that our response is indistinguishable from that of the world.  We don't seem to have anything more to say than can be said by any 'progressive' person; and it seems to me that Christians who don't subscribe to 'progressive politics' have nothing whatsoever to say.  I am glad this isn't universal - I'm glad that there are responses looking for hope in a Covid world - but I feel the lack of distinctively Christian shape to my own responses and thoughts.

Distinctively Christian shape.  That's what I miss in myself and in much of what I see online.  I feel that we - that I - have failed to communicate into this crisis the weighty, solemn, joy of the gospel.  I don't think that people would look at me, and see someone who is set apart from the world, someone whose hope is in heaven.  I worry that the church doesn't have the odour of sanctity, that we don't reek of Christ in this crisis as we ought to do.  I don't think anyone would look at us and think that we actually live in a different world from them - and I think that ought to be the case, even as we work hard to get alongside people and to prove that we are committed to serving this world which we share.  The paradox of the gospel - that we are separate from the world and therefore committed to the world in Christ - I don't think that is coming across.  We're not strange enough right now.

As we approach Pentecost, I want to properly pray, that in the midst of the mental, physical, emotional, spiritual weariness of this time, we would be refreshed by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit of God, bringing the presence of Christ to us, giving the reality of the gospel to us, making us - making me - different.  Veni, Creator Spiritus.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

In praise of postmodernism

It may be just a perverse tendency in me, but I sometimes find that I want to defend intellectual positions which Christians have become accustomed to consider as 'the enemy'.  I've written a few times about humanism.  When I was growing up, humanism was the great evil (sometimes, of course, qualified as secular humanism, but often not).  I have since come to believe that humanism is the fruit of Christianity, and that secular humanism is merely the picked (and therefore dying) fruit.  Christians ought to defend, not vilify, humanism, and they ought to do so in the name of Christ and the gospel.  I think in particular that they ought to defend humanism now, because humanism is under threat.  Secular humanism hasn't the internal vitality, the intellectual strength, to resist the basic drift away from valuing human life, for example.  It hasn't the power to insist on humanity in the face of market forces.  Christians should be at the humanist barricades, not fighting under the flag of humanism but under the flag of Christ.

More recently I've noted that wider Western culture has begun to turn its back on one of those other great bugbears of my Christian youth: postmodernism.  Postmodernism, as we knew very well as undergraduates, was evil because it taught that there was no absolute truth, and therefore made everything relative.  In the wider culture for a long time postmodernism was regarded as both liberating and necessary, the former because it meant that I could live my own narrative without regard to any great metastory, and the latter because it meant the avoidance of bitter conflict.  I can live in my world, and you can live in yours.

In recent years, the growth in 'fake news' and the way in which the postmodern insistence on the inviolability of a personal narrative has become a political weapon has put our culture off.  People who were absolute relativists (so to speak) a decade ago are now crying out that truth matters, that there is real truth.  Lots of people in the church see this as a very positive move.

But I am fond of aspects of postmodernism, and I'd hate to lose them.

The new modernism, the new insistence on real truth which is true for everyone, seems like it accepts the Christian position that there is true truth out there.  But because it doesn't put that claim in a Christian framework, it misses something which postmodernism saw more clearly: that just because there is true truth out there doesn't mean that it is easy to access, or that the truth which I think I know corresponds to this absolute truth.  The new modernism seems to me to be actually a return to the naive modernism of the Enlightenment and of Kant.

Ah, Immanuel Kant.  The philosophy of Kant is something else that I love even though Christians are meant to be against it.  I mean, it's really badly wrong in lots of ways, but the key insights are genuinely, well, insightful.  For Kant the key thing in epistemology (or so it seems to me, though I doubt he would have put it like this; he would have put it in hundreds of pages of incomprehensible German) is that we all think and know as humans.  That means that we think and know within certain limitations, certain forms - we think, for example, in terms of time and space.  For Kant, that limits what we can know, but that's okay; knowing the limits, we can proceed with confidence within them.  And Kant and his ilk really thought that if everyone just used reason (and observation) correctly, they would all come to the same conclusions.

The postmodern development is to insist that not only must I think and know as a human, but I must think and know as me.  My culture, my background, my past experiences - all these shape and influence the way that I think and know, just as my basic humanity (if there is such a thing) does.  Just as, for Kant, I cannot step out of humanity to think things without time or space, postmodernism observes that I cannot step out of my particular place and vantage point.  I am located, and I see and think and know from that location.

Now, this is true.  The Christian revelation clearly shows us two things which are deeply relevant to epistemology.  The first is that there is truth, true truth: Truth.  It shows us that there is Truth not by an abstract philosophical doctrine but by the personal appearance of Truth Incarnate amongst us.  But the second is that we do not have obvious and unproblematic access to Truth.  We are both finite (and therefore have a limited perspective) and fallen (and therefore pervert the truth, both wilfully and unconsciously).  Christians do well to remember both: the insights, if you like, of modernism and postmodernism held together.  We need to remember them because the new modernism is already making our natural human tribalism worse: I can see that something is true, so if you don't agree you must be a spreader of fake news.  Rather than wondering whether the other person's different conclusion flows from a different perspective - and therefore might include elements of truth that I can't see so easily from my vantage point - we assume that they are simply party-biased, denying the truth because it is to their advantage.  Ironically, the response to the fact that postmodern epistemology has been weaponised is to weaponise modernism.

There is no epistemic humility, the kind of humility which should follow from knowing that Truth Incarnate could knock on your front door and you wouldn't recognise him unless Truth Inbreathed enabled you.  You, left to yourself, wouldn't recognise truth if it was throwing the tables around in your temple.

So half a cheer for postmodernism.  There was something profoundly right in it all.  Shame if in our scramble to recover Truth we forgot all about it.

Friday, May 22, 2020

On life, contra Pinker

Yesterday saw Twitter graced with this from the popular science writer Steven Pinker:
Is that right?  Leave aside the Washington Post article to which he links, which I think makes a rather more nuanced point: is it right to state that belief in an afterlife devalues actual lives and discourages actions that would make them longer, safer, and happier?

First of all we'd have to clarify what was meant by 'an afterlife'.  It is common in the handling of religion by our new atheists to try to lump things together as if they were all the same; indeed, the notion that 'religion' can be treated as a monolithic thing is one of the hallmarks of contemporary approaches.  But not all afterlives are the same.  'Afterlife' could cover views including reincarnation (a further life, or further lives, to be lived within this physical world, albeit possibly in a different animal form) as well as some sort of spiritual survival (a ghostly element of the human make up to live on in some form, probably in another world).  Different forms of afterlife will have different effects on the understanding of the value of this life.  For example, the ancient Greeks believed in an afterlife, but it was a grim old business, and would hardly have made one keen to go there.

Christians, as N.T. Wright is keen to point out, believe not so much in an afterlife but in life after the afterlife.  That is to say, we look forward to real flesh and blood resurrection, on the model of the resurrection of Jesus, in a renewed physical creation.  That is a particular view of what happens after death.  It has, moreover, other concomitant beliefs  - in a judgement based on the way this life has been lived; in that life as being therefore related to this life by way of consequence.  That matters.

Okay, so not all afterlives are created equal.  Does the Christian view of the afterlife devalue actual lives in the here and now?  Does it discourage action to make lives in the here and now longer and happier?

The history of Christianity would point to the opposite - and again I can't adequately recommend Tom Holland's overview of that history in Dominion.  But I think we can also think it out from first principles.  What does the physical resurrection of Christ demonstrate?  Amongst other things, that God is interested in and committed to this physical life.  Resurrection - rather than, say, the survival of the human spirit - says that this world is not a mere preliminary to a better more spiritual existence.  This world is the goal.  It is for the restoration of this world that Christ gave up his life, and it is the firstfruits of the restoration of this world which we see in his resurrection.  Not pie in the sky when you die, then.

But what about all those biblical references which seem to downplay the value of this life in comparison with the next?  When the apostle Paul says that the sufferings of this time are not to be compared with the future glory isn't he basically denigrating this life?  When he says that we Christians are pitiable if we only have hope for this life, isn't he devaluing this life?

We need to keep firmly in mind that in both cases Paul is talking about resurrection, and the restoration of creation, and not the immortality of the soul - that is to say, not escape from this physical world and this ordinary human life, but the hope of the renewal of the world and the perfection of this human life.  That is the consistent perspective of the Bible.  But more than that, it's important to consider that Paul is in fact expressing his willingness to pour himself out for others, in their service, because he doesn't need to squeeze everything he can for himself out of this mortal life.  He doesn't need to, because resurrection is assured.  The hope of resurrection, then, gives Paul the liberty to put his life wholly at the service of others.  Now, I'm sure Steven Pinker wouldn't like the way Paul serves others - as a missionary preacher - but that's because there are fundamental disagreements between Pinker and Paul on the subject of what life and the world is all about.  But for the purposes of this argument, the key thing is just this: the Christian's resurrection hope - being a certain hope, based on Jesus' resurrection - liberates from self-interest and enables devotion to others.  And of course over the centuries that devotion has expressed itself not only in missionary endeavour but also in nursing the sick, or raising up schools.  Because it is commitment to life.

To conclude, it's worth briefly considering the alternative.  Suppose we emerged from a meaningless world, sentient by accident, by a cruel trick of fate concerned for - indeed, needing - meaning and purpose in a universe which ultimately has none...  It is not clear to me why any of this should lead to valuing life.  It may lead to a clinging to life, because the alternative is the collapse back into the meaningless darkness from which we came; but then, why prefer the meaningless light to the meaningless darkness?  I just can't see it.  And you know what, if you only live once, I think there's a huge amount of logic to getting as much out of it as you can, regardless of the impact on others.  I'm glad atheists like Pinker don't typically think like this - but I think they're hugely illogical in not drawing this conclusion.  You see, the expectation of post-mortem judgement by God for the Christian is simply a reflection of the profound certainty that in God's meaningful world every action matters; our being and doing are significant, of consequence.  Remove God and you can of course removed the burden of that responsibility; but you also remove the significance of human life.

Take out the resurrection, and you may well be committed to making human lives happier, longer, safer.  But who cares?  What is the value of a human life?  What would it matter if you had chosen differently?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Going to heaven

One effect of lockdown has been to make me much more acutely aware of location.  I am, as I have mostly been for the last couple of months, at home.  Location has been revealed as one of those things which has much more effect on my life than I had ever realised.  Being perpetually in my house makes work and rest more difficult.  It shrinks the world of my experience.  It restricts my access to others.  (And as I write this I am very aware that this is the reality all the time for many people: those justly or unjustly imprisoned, those who are housebound or hospital-bound through illness and disability...)  I am currently unusually conscious of where I am and what that means for me and my life.

As the pastor of a church I'm also particularly conscious of what is not happening: the church is not gathering together for worship.  Given that corporate worship is what the whole of creation is actually for, this is a big deal.  We are seeing each other, digitally, and hearing the word of God through our screens; but it makes the world of difference that we are located in our lounges (actually I get banished to the kitchen for preaching purposes) and not in the same place.  With the greatest respect to those who would love this digital interaction to be a part of our 'new normal' post-Covid, it is not the same thing as a physical gathering.  It must never become the norm, even if we might consider how greater use of technology might be made to ameliorate the cases of those who simply cannot gather.  Location matters.

But today is Ascension Day, and that also has a great deal to do with location.  Where is Jesus?  He has gone 'to heaven'.  That is to say, he has gone to the place of God's immediate presence and power.  Biblically, heaven is the place from which God hears prayer, sends help and judgement, acts and reveals himself.  Each act and intervention of God is a movement from heaven to earth.  The ascension of Christ is a movement from earth to heaven only because it completes an earlier movement from heaven to earth; in that sense, it is the counterpart to the moment of incarnation.

Jesus is in heaven.  But because Jesus' people are united with him, we can also be said to be in heaven - seated in the heavens, our lives hidden in heaven with Christ.  We are in heaven, in terms of our identity, our status, because Jesus is in heaven and we are in Jesus.  (Worth pondering, in terms of location, the regular address to Christians in the NT as those who are 'in Christ' - because this is often paired with a city, e.g., the saints who are in Christ in Philippi.  Both are location terms.  Of course, for the NT being in Christ is a far more significant location than being in Philippi.)

But this is also described in another way.  In the Letter to the Hebrews, which is all about the priestly movement into God's presence, we are urged to take advantage of the blood of Christ shed for us and to enter the sanctuary - not meaning any earthly sanctuary, but the very heavenly sanctuary which is the original of all earthly sanctity.  (And it is not coincidental but important that this is at once linked to the importance of meeting together, for this entry into the sanctuary - accomplished by Christ and received by faith - is symbolised and therefore to some extent experienced when believers come together in worship).

What do we come to when we draw near?  According to Hebrews 12 it is the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, the place where Jesus is.  It is heaven.

We are in heaven, because we are in Jesus.  We come to heaven when we pray, when we meditate, particularly when we come together in corporate worship.  We do well to hold on to both perspectives: we are there, static, immovable, because that is the status Jesus has; but in our experience we draw near, we approach, we enter.  Lose sight of the former and anxiety will set in - how can we approach God in his heaven?  Lose sight of the latter and all sense of relationship with God will disappear - just accept salvation and then get on with your life without reference to God.

So this is a striking thing.  Wherever we are located on earth - and as noted above, this is not an entirely insignificant factor; far from it! - we are able to go to heaven.  Going to heaven is not something that happens when you die; it is something that happens when you pray, when you believe, when you worship.  Let's draw near with faith.