“Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout heaven like they just can’t wait to go
Sayin’ how it’s gonna be so good, so beautiful
Lyin’ next to you, in this bed with you, I ain’t convinced
‘Cause, I don’t know how, I don’t know how heaven, heaven
Could be better than this.” – “Heaven” by Kane Brown

The songs of popular culture help give us insight into the cultural milieu and worldview in which we find ourselves. The lyrics above, although arguably meant simply as artistic hyperbole, highlight what is perhaps not just a problem in popular culture, but in the church as well: We have a distorted understanding of heaven and so have propagated a perspective on heaven that is easily dismissed. We are not the only ones to observe this, as evidenced by a recent 9Marks article entitled, “The Church Should Sing for Heaven’s Sake: When and Why We Stopped Singing about Heaven, and How to Start Again.” By “distorted”, we are not merely reiterating Dallas Willard’s reminder in his book The Divine Conspiracy that the Kingdom of God is not a far off place but is active now in the lives of believers, nor are we emphasizing N.T. Wright’s point in his book Surprised by Hope that a biblical conversation about our glorification centers on “life after life after death.” On these two points, Willard and Wright would probably find themselves in agreement. A distorted portrayal of heaven views the eternal state (new creation) as the natural limit of our current technological progression. Said more colloquially, heaven will merely appear as an “update with improved features” on what we already have in the modern Western world. Our language betrays our view that heaven is (merely) a technologically sophisticated world without the presence of death.

When did we start to consider technology as a means for progress, and to what are we progressing? As a starting point, one could appeal to the Enlightenment. We, mankind, through our own creativity and efforts can make our lives better. Together we can eliminate disease, provide nourishment for all, and encourage human flourishing. However, the human delusion that we can create heaven on earth is at least as old as the Tower of Babel. On the plains of Shinar, humanity built a tower  to reach up to the heavens (Gen. 11:1-9). Through their own creativity, ingenuity and technique, humanity believed they could bring heaven to earth. Although God confused our languages and consequently scattered us, humankind’s efforts to bring heaven to earth have continued through the ages. C.S. Lewis was interested in this progression and proposed that although the magic and alchemy of the Middle Ages seems backwards compared to the science and technology of the Enlightenment period, they are rooted in the same thing. Lewis says it best in his book The Abolition of Man

“There is something which unites magic and applied science [i.e. technology] while separating both from the ‘wisdom’ of earlier ages. For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.”

We not only want to bring heaven to earth, but we want to dictate the terms of its arrival.

Lewis’ astute observation is that humankind’s reach towards heaven is not an attempt to commune with God, but instead is rooted in our desire to subdue reality to our wishes. We not only want to bring heaven to earth, but we want to dictate the terms of its arrival. Recalling Babel: It didn’t work then, and it hasn’t worked since.

What further compounds these issues is the rate of change we are seeing in technological advances. In his book The Law of Accelerating Returns, famed computer scientist and futurist Ray Kurzweil argues that technological advance is exponential, not linear. In his view, we are not just crawling towards advancements, but have progressed from crawling to walking to running to flying to teleporting (and beyond!). As Christians, however, we must constantly remind ourselves that the place to which we will arrive with all this advancement is not the new heavens and the new earth. Technology certainly has a role in God’s plan, but it is not the mechanism for delivering creation from its bondage to corruption nor the means for our future glorification (Rom. 8:19–25). We acknowledge that “all good gifts come from God” (James 1:7), but unlike Christian Transhumanists, we hold that God’s Word, his Spirit, and his Body, the Church, are the primary mechanisms by which God brings about changes in our lives. We should not dismiss the use of technology; however, we should equally not overemphasize it above the multitude of other “good gifts” God might choose to engage in His service.

To fully comprehend the gravity of the issue, we must return to the biblical narrative with this question in mind: Where does technology fit into God’s story? In Genesis 1-2, God created all things by his powerful word and gave humanity dominion over the works of his hands (Ps. 8:6). Genesis 3 records humanity’s fall, whereby sin entered the world and death through sin (Rom. 5:12–19). God banished humanity from his presence to labor under the curse in exile. Once living in harmony with God and creation within the sacred space of Eden, mankind would now eat bread by the sweat of their brow toiling in the midst of thorns and thistles all while under the sentence of death. Yet God is gracious. He promised that one born of the woman would defeat the Serpent (Gen. 3:15). This promise ensures that creation will be the stage on which God’s plan of redemption unfolds.

We currently live in a post-Genesis 3 world which groans in anticipation (Rom 8:22) of being set free from its bondage to corruption. That day will come. Creation will be set free, and the new creation will be consummated. Until then, technology, at its best, is a gift of God’s common grace (James 1:17) that tempers the devastating impact of the Fall on our world and our bodies. The sweat of the brow loses its full agony under the cool breeze of the air conditioner. Technology, properly employed, mitigates the effects of the Fall. The creativity provided to us by God is a means of mitigating the impact of sin, not of eliminating it! 

How does the place of technology connect with heaven? In the modern industrialized world, we have become so accustomed to the advances and benefits of technology that we often confuse our future glorification with an accelerated version of the place where we are now headed under common grace. We conflate technological advance with redemptive advance. We must clarify our thinking and guard our language around heaven and our future glorification in a way that respects both the inauguration of the kingdom and Christ’s future return, and the consummation of His work–the already-not-yet world in which we live. The challenge in this statement is highlighted by the extremes of how the Church has handled this. On one end of the spectrum, we talk about heaven all the time in language that sounds like it is merely a better version of what we have now. On the other, we eliminate talking about heaven at all and only present the Kingdom language of the now. Somewhere in-between these two poles is the biblical message.

The epistle to the Hebrews provides a perspective that will keep our view of heaven from being swallowed up by a distorted vision of human technological progress. The author of Hebrews likened his readers to Israel in the wilderness on the verge of inheriting the Promised Land. The great goal of the Exodus was not merely the acquisition of a piece of property, but life in the very presence of God. The promised land was the place where God would dwell with his people; it was a picture of Edenic bliss. Yet, as Abraham understood, the land of promise was only a type and a shadow of the heavenly country (Heb. 11:8–10). Upon his resurrection from the dead and ascension, Jesus entered into heaven itself. Even now, he has brought us not to Sinai, but to the Zion above, the heavenly Jerusalem, and city of the living God (Heb. 12:22). During our earthly journey, we taste the power of the age to come and share in Christ’s reign as those who are seated with him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:5–6). Yet, like Israel on the edge of the Promised Land, we have not arrived at our final destination. We are called to persevere in faith even in the midst of suffering and persecution because here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Heb. 13:14). No amount of technological achievement will ever bring heaven to earth.

As technology continues to advance, we must be careful not to find an underlying belief deep in our hearts that our job is to create heaven on earth. Neither should we despair that the best technology this world has to offer still leaves us wanting something more, something eternal, something heavenly. If we do not embrace the reality that we are strangers and exiles on earth, then perhaps our view of heaven has indeed become distorted. The heavenly city is a city not built by human hands, but a city with foundations whose designer and builder is God (Heb. 11:9–10). 

Written by Mike Kirby and Matthew Emadi.

Mike Kirby headshot

Mike is a professor of computer science within the Kahlert School of Computing at the University of Utah. He earned a Ph.D. from Brown University and a M.T.E from Gateway Seminary. He is also the author of over 200 peer-reviewed journal and conference publications spanning scientific computing, machine learning, and computational science and engineering.

Matt Emadi headshot

Matt currently serves as the lead pastor of Crossroads Church in Sandy. He earned an M.Div. and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY). Matt is the author of The Royal Priest: Psalm 110 in Biblical Theology in IVP’s New Studies in Biblical Theology series, and the booklets, How Can I Serve My Church? (Crossway) and What is a Church? (Crossway).  

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