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On Earth as it is in Heaven

By Glen Campbell
For The Register-Guard
Published: Saturday, January 20th, 2007 (reprinted here with permission)


In my faith tradition, we repeat a prayer left to us by our spiritual leader. It begins:

Our Father, who art in heaven
Hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done
On Earth as it is in heaven

What an awesome thing to contemplate. Those simple words bring a surprise and pose a great challenge.

The surprise is that the kingdom of God is coming to us, rather than the other way around. Jesus teaches that the real question isn't what we can do to "save" ourselves for eternity in an afterlife, but what we can do to bring God's will to Earth - to usher in the reign of God. Not in some distant heaven, but apparently right here, where, as the Apostle Paul wrote, "we live and move and have our being." Surprised?

The challenge is that vision of heaven, of a place where God's will reigns. I love the phrase "On Earth as it is in heaven." Well, how exactly is it in heaven? That's a question that can be downright scary to contemplate.

I wonder if we're clothed or naked in heaven? If clothed, do you suppose it matters whether we're wearing jeans from the Gap as compared to Goodwill? If that doesn't matter in heaven, why does it matter so much on Earth?

I wonder if some souls in heaven are rich and others poor? Or do all souls have equal economic standing and security in heaven?

I wonder if souls retain skin color in heaven? Are there souls that appear black in appearance, and others white? What about sexual orientation? Do these divisions we see on Earth persist in heaven? If not, why do they persist on Earth?

Are there countries in heaven? Do souls clump together by nationality? Are there American souls, as distinct from souls identified with North Korea, Israel, Iraq or China? If these distinctions mean nothing in heaven, why do they mean so much on Earth? Is there any justification for a child in El Salvador to be born into poverty, while children elsewhere are born into riches?

Does your vision of heaven include war? Do violent conflicts break out between warring factions of souls in heaven? Or do you picture heaven as a serene and peaceful place? Will humans evolve quickly enough toward that vision of peace and understanding before our weapons of war (or environmental degradation) take us out of Earth's equation?

I wonder if there are religious differences in heaven - do our souls retain their Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or other identifications? Within Christianity, would souls in heaven be known as Catholic or Protestant, or any of the myriad Protestant denominations? If these identifications melt away in heaven, how should that guide our interfaith relations on Earth?

This column poses many questions rather than providing answers. The two most important are these: What exactly is our vision of heaven? Can we help bring it to Earth?

Glen Campbell is a member of First Christian Church in Eugene. This column is coordinated by Two Rivers Interfaith Ministries, a network of more than 35 religious and spiritual traditions. For more information, visit www.interfaitheugene.org or call 344-5693.




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