21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” – Lk 17:21
Heaven and Hell do not exist as geographical entities. But if they did, would that make earth the border between them? In the spiritual realm, is earth like the border lands between Texas and Mexico, a convergence of differing influences? Would that explain our mestizo spirituality? Even when we think of Heaven and Hell more theologically, the idea of “here” (or maybe “now”) as a permeable divider still holds. Consider Heaven to be the state of perfect and total union with God. Likewise, Hell could be viewed as a complete absence of God’s presence. Now we live in the middle, sometimes leaning more one way, and if we’re honest, sometimes the other. Every post-modern author and director in the world strives desperately to convince us of our mixed spiritual heritage. Each bad cop a hero, every heroine with a tragic flaw.
These broken hero/redeemed villain characters speak so clearly to us because we recognize ourselves and our lives in their stories. On some level, we realize we are spiritually amphibious, both body and soul. We live, at once, connected to and disconnected from our Creator. We thrill at the scent of perfume floating amid the stench of sulfur and death because it smells like home. We appreciate the flower growing in the dump, even when the odor of rotting garbage overwhelms us. There, in Gehenna, we too readily recognize the images of our world given us by media and social network. They are self-portraits, after all.
Hell on earth is easy to imagine. And too easy to find. Carnage and death, oppression and pain, disease and destruction spill upon us from every arena. If you think Hell is only found in history or Hollywood then stop reading this and buy a plane ticket. Go anyplace where people live in fear. Afghanistan. Darfur. Drug riddled neighborhoods. Alcohol soaked homes. Abusive relationships. We know hell is no mythical realm of fire and brimstone because torture and torment are burning realities too particular to ignore.
And if Hell is here, then what of Heaven?
We’ve lived so long with the myth of “pie in sky in the great by and by” that we still struggle to wrap our arms round the simple proclamation of our Lord, “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Jesus doesn’t say maybe, or tomorrow, or there. Jesus says here and now. Heaven doesn’t begin when we die. Heaven begins today.
For every death, birth.
For every tear, laughter.
For every addiction, sobriety.
For every hunger, satisfaction.
For every loneliness, relationship.
For every sorrow, joy.
For every darkness, light.
For every sinner, redemption.
Heaven isn’t something that will happen. Heaven is something that is happening. All around us. Every moment. Every day. Heaven is the abundant life we can choose to live in Christ. Whenever we seek first the Kingdom of God, we find Heaven. Wherever we love our neighbor, we find Heaven. However we allow Jesus to calm our storms and heal our blindness and carry our burdens, we find Heaven.
If we dare to do unto others, unto the least of these, unto the orphan, the widow and the alien in the land then we touch the Heavenly realm. Jesus didn’t give us the Holy Spirit so we could go to Heaven. Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit so we could be in Heaven. In redemption. In justice. In mercy. Wherever and whenever and however we find ourselves living in Christ, then and there, here and now, we realize that Heaven begins today.