“It is not in heaven that we find God, but in God we find heaven.” Studies of the new heavens and new earth, and I’m thinking especially of Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope, have brought heaven back to earth because they have urged us to look again at what the New Testament actually says about heaven (not up in the sky somewhere where we flit to and fro as disembodied souls). This has been a noteworthy improvement for theology in the last two decades.
But Tony Thiselton, in his book Life after Death, wants us to focus less on the where of heaven and more on the essence of heaven by examining four dimensions to the word “glory” when it comes to heaven. Heaven is not so much about projecting our ideals onto a future state of affairs (that is, new heavens and new earth and new Jerusalem) but to see that the word “glory,” which dominates visions of that future, final state of affairs, is about the presence of God. Throughout the Bible glory refers to a visible manifestation of God’s proximate presence. He cites texts especially from Ezekiel and Revelation.
A second dimension of glory derives from the word in Hebrew meaning “weighty” or someone who has gravitas. In other words, what makes a person impressive. The startling feature of the glory of God is that God’s gravitas is found in his self-emptying in the incarnation and cross. In other words, God’s gravitas is Christ himself. Glory and Christ belong together. It is to see the beauty of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 3:18–4:4). That is, God’s glory is Christlikeness.
The third dimension of God’s glory is love God for his own sake, to enjoy God as he is in himself, to relish God for who God is. Glory is the sheer celebration of God. And as we sustain and retain our individuality, relishing God means relishing that in which God takes delight, and that means his Son and his people, and that means an element of glory is enjoying others as they are in God.
The fourth element of glory, and one Thiselton thinks is an extension of what has already been said, is face-to-face encounter with God. The “presence” of God is often associated with God’s “face” (panim) and God’s “eyes” (ayin), and God as light — so that heaven is the enjoyment of knowing and experiencing of God face-to-face in all of God’s glory and endless depths.