It’s funny how we usually think of heaven as being in a faraway place, one we can’t reach until after our death. But Jesus left a clue that may indicate heaven is a lot closer than we imagine.
If you were brought up in a Christian household like me, from a young age you heard that when someone had passed away they had “died and gone to heaven” which we imagined as a place up in the clouds. It’s an idea that’s been reinforced more recently by the spate of books on near-death experiences, from Proof of Heaven to Touching Heaven, that have us traveling to another realm upon death, one filled with heavenly light, joyful noise and angelic beings.
But wait a second. There’s a very different take on heaven that’s mentioned in the Gospel of Luke, one that runs counter to our pre-conceived notions. It positions heaven not as situated in the clouds, but as a place right here on earth. More importantly, it can be accessed prior to our death. Check out this passage from Luke 17:20-21:
Asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
The kingdom of God (synonymous with the kingdom of heaven), is “in the midst of you”, a phrase that is also sometimes translated as “already among you” and “already within you.” Which is enough to cause you to stop for a moment and wonder: What did Jesus mean by this? Can heaven be experienced here on this earth?
In the Bible, heaven is sometimes referred to as a distinct place (“on earth as it in heaven”) and if you consult most religious websites, you’ll be told that heaven is up in the sky and Jesus is there now sitting at the right hand of his heavenly father. There is little attention paid to Luke 17:20-21. Yet curiously, there is a similar passage that appears in what some call the fifth Gospel, the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas:
Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you.
Two different books from the first century carrying a nearly identical message from Jesus. Heaven is here right now, just out of our range of vision, perhaps not visible to the naked eye.
Does heaven exist in a fourth dimension here on earth?
The Reverend Dr. Calvin Butts, pastor of New York’s famed Abyssinian Baptist Church, has his how own take on heaven that mirrors Luke 17:20-21. Butts claims to have had many visions of heaven over the years and describes it as “no tears, no mourning, no suffering. It’s eternal joy and happiness because you are at one with God.”
He was once interviewed by Barbara Walters and said that he’s not only certain of heaven’s existence, but that it exists in another dimension. “So you don’t necessarily have to look up but you can look out and see heaven. Heaven is a fourth dimension if you will.” Or, as Luke says, “heaven is in the midst of you.”
What is the fourth dimension? Michio Kaku, the noted physicist and author, describes it as “a hidden, invisible field that permeates every part of the three-dimensional world.” We can’t readily see it, Kaku explains, because of our own evolution. “Our survival depended on operating skillfully in three dimensions, which allowed our ancestors to judge how to locate and kill game and how to elude prey. An extra dimension wasn’t necessary until mathematics and the frustration of physicists made it so.”
If humans are growing more spiritually advanced with time, as many people believe, is it possible that we might evolve to see and sense this fourth dimension? One person who thinks this event will happen during our lifetime is the best-selling author Eckhart Tolle. In his book A New Earth, Tolle explains that:
The new heaven, the awakened consciousness, is not a future state to be achieved. A new heaven and a new earth are arising within you at this moment, they are no more than a thought in your head and therefore not arising at all. What did Jesus tell his disciples? Heaven is right here in the midst of you.
Are we part of a reality that is larger and stranger than we can possible imagine? Is there a thin veil that separates our world from another dimension? Is the presence of heaven and God closer than we may think?