The Christian story claims to be the true story about God and the world. As such, it offers itself as the explanation of the voice whose echo we hear in the search for justice, the quest for spirituality, the longing for relationship, the yearning for beauty. None of these by itself points directly to God. At best, they wave their arms in a rather general direction.
Wright then goes on to look at the various ways that people have tried to explain how God (and heaven) are interrelated (if at all).
Heaven and Earth: the Puzzle
There are three basic ways (with variations) in which we can imagine God’s space and ours relating to one another. There are three basic options of looking at God and the world.
Option One is to slide the two spaces together. God’s space and ours are basically the same. God fill it all with his presence, God is everywhere and everywhere is God. Or, God is everything and everything is God. This option is known as “pantheism.” The main obligation on human beings is then to get in touch with, and in tune with, the divinity within themselves and within the world around. There is a subtle variation called “panentheism” this is the view that, though everything may not be diving as such, everything that exists is “within” God. The problem with this option is that it can’t cope with evil. In paganism, you could blame evil on the god or goddess who was angry at you because you failed to appease them. But when everything (including yourself) shares in, or lives within, divinity, there’s no higher court of appeal when something bad happens.
Option Two is to hold the two spaces firmly apart. God’s space and ours are a long way away from one another in this option. The god(s) is in his/her heaven not connected to the earth. Human beings should get used to being alone in the world. The gods will not intervene, either to help or to harm. Thus, enjoy life the best one can. If you lived a hard existence, the best you could hope for was to escape this earth either by death or by some kind of super-spirituality which would enable you to enjoy a secret happy life here and now and hope for an even better one after death. This view became very popular during the 18th century through deism. “God” and “heaven” are a long way away and have little or nothing directly to do with us. That’s why, when many people say they believe in God, they will often add in the same breath that they don’t go to church, they don’t pray, and in fact they don’t think much about God from one year’s end to the next. The real problem is that this view has to plug its ears to all those echoing voices we were talking about earlier in the book.
Heaven and Earth: Overlapping, Interlocking
Option Three is what we find within classic Judaism and Christianity. Heaven and earth are not separated by a great gulf. Instead, they overlap and interlock in a number of different ways. The OT insists that God belongs in heaven and we on earth. Yet it shows over and over again that the two spheres do indeed overlap, so that God makes his presence known, seen, and heard within the sphere of earth (the strange presence of God in the stories of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, the Israelites…)
The main focus of ancient Israelite belief in the overlap of heaven and earth was the Temple in Jerusalem. The great temple became a single sanctuary for the whole nation, the place where Israel’s God would now make his home forever. This could be seen as a place where heaven and earth overlapped and interlocked. Here we have God being present on earth without having to leave Heaven.
For the ancient Israelite and the early Christian, the creation of the world was the free outpouring of God’s powerful love. The one true God made a world that was other than himself, because that is what love delights to do. And, having made such a world, he has remained in a close, dynamic, and intimate relationship with it, without in any way being contained within it or having it contained within himself.
This God appears to take very seriously the fact that his beloved creation has become corrupt, has rebelled and is suffering the consequences. (I am not sure Wright ever really explains the origin of this corruption and rebellion. I will deal with this more fully elsewhere).
Here Wright will examine what he calls the rescue operation which, in both Jewish and Christian tradition, the true God has mounted. What happens when the God of Option Three decides to deal with evil? He will then discuss Israel and its role in redemption.