Earth's the right place for love. I don't know where it's likely to go better." That's a line in the poem "Birches" by Robert Frost.
At first the Christian response might be that, or course, love goes better in heaven. Yet when we consider parts of the Bible giving us our ideas of heaven, we realize they're about a transformed earth. John's vision in Revelation states, "I saw Heaven and earth new created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea. I saw Holy Jerusalem, new created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband. I heard a voice thunder from the throne of God, "Look!Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women. They're his people. He's their God. He'll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good - tears gone, crying gone, pain gone, all the first order of things gone." The Enthroned one continued. "Look, I'm making everything new."
John's vision continues of a beautifully transformed earth, and people whose focus is one worshipping God rather than warring with each other. Healing is brought to all. Food is plentiful and delicious. No wonder this section of Revelation is used so often at funerals. We long for peace, joy and beauty in this life along with continuing companionship with those we love.
Our modern ideas of heaven and the good life spring more from Greek thought and other religions than the Bible. In John, Jesus both promises his followers that they can be with him and that he'll send the Comforter.
Isaiah, like Revelation, has a vision of the good life. "Pay close attention now: I'm creating new heavens and a new earth. All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain are things of the past, to be forgotten. Look ahead with joy. Anticipate what I'm creating ... No more sounds of weeping in the city, no cries of anguish, no more babies dying in the cradle, or old people who don't enjoy a full lifetime ... They'll build houses and move in. They'll plant fields and eat what they grow. No more building a house that some outsider takes over." Isaiah is focused on this life.
The Sufi poet Hafiz has a poem, "Becoming Human," about a man coming for counsel concerning his vision. The poet keeps directing him back to his life as it is and finally responds, "You asked me if I thought your visions were true. I would say that they were if they make you become more human, more kind to every creature and plant that you know."
Funeral hymnas such as "I'll Flay Away," "Shall We Gather at the River," and even "Rock of Ages" point more to a time and place of gathering with those we love and the end to worldly cares than a place materially different from what we now know. Heaven, eternity, afterlife are more a place where we can be with God, where we're in the midst of loved ones and earthly needs are either met or no longer matter.
The first letter of John tells us how we can "live after the fashion" of the New Jerusalem: "God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us so that they're free of worry on Judgment Day - our standing in the world is identical with Christ's. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life - fear of death, fear of judgment - is one not yet fully formed in love. He loved us first. If anyone boasts, ‘I love God,' and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won't love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can't see? The command we have from Christ is blind. Loving God includes loving people. You've got to love both."
So until we are able to discern better, I think Frost has it right. "Earth's the right place for love." I don't know where it's likely to go better.
All biblical quotations are from "The Message," a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson.
The Rev. Dorothy Price Knudson is retired from active ministry in the Presbyterian Church, but preaches regularly at Congregational and Presbyterian churches in Eastern Oregon Presbytery. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at email@example.com. Her phone number: 509-522-3916.