Let’s play word association. When you hear the word heaven, what do you imagine? And when you hear secular, what comes to mind? For most people, when they hear heaven, they think of clouds, far away places, harps, and singing. The word secular makes people think of the Internet, TV, movies and – get this – cities. These answers – and how we perceive and imagine spiritual and secular – accounts for why most of us have difficulty connecting Sunday to Monday.
That’s because the Bible pictures cities as spiritual places and heaven as beginning at your feet. Not what you imagine? Then turn to the Lord’s Prayer.1
Jesus begins with “Our Father who dwells in the heavens…” Whoa, that’s a typo – heavens. No, the Greek heavens is plural. In Jesus’ day, it was believed there were three heavens and the “first heaven” is the atmosphere or air that surrounds your body. It begins at the bottom of your feet and tops off at your head. As Dallas Willard points out, “it is precisely from the space immediately around us that God watches and God acts.”2 This is why Jacob – awakening from a dream about heaven and the Lord standing beside him – exclaimed, “God lives here! I’ve stumbled into his home!”3 The first heaven occupies all the space you inhabit all day – including your work. “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has come near” was John’s message while Jesus declared, “The kingdom of the heavens is now available.” We too offer this kingdom while praying “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on the earth…” Heaven starts in our soles.
So what does this mean for us? It means the first heaven is like a wad of gum stuck to the bottom of our work shoes. The gospel ought to stick to everything we do everyday. It’s hard for us to see that God is here, right now, wanting to make heaven on earth a reality if we imagine heaven as clouds and harps. The same goes for “secular” cities.
Jesus’ gospel points us to “a new heavens and a new earth” that the Bible consistently pictures as a city.4 Our story begins in a garden and winds up in an urban setting.5 Since God is spirit, everything he created is spiritual. He didn’t wake up on the fifth day and say “Today we’re going to make secular stuff.” In fact, the word secular refers to present day activities. Aren’t we supposed to be involved in the here and now? It’s ironic that so much religious artwork depicts God’s glory as soaring mountains and pristine streams. Where are the cities with people? Cities are spiritual. In fact, Jesus holds them out as rewards for good work: “Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.” 6
There’s an old Far Side cartoon depicting a man sitting alone on a cloud in heaven. He’s thinking “…wish I’d brought a magazine.” Most business professionals imagine heaven as boring. People of faith don’t help matters by imagining heaven as being for harps and cities as secular. For over two thousand years, the Christian gospel was understood as a “four-chapter” story starting in our soles and moving toward a metropolis.7 That’s the story that connects Sunday to our urban, workaday, Monday-through-Friday world.
1 Matthew 6:9-13
2 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God, (San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1998), p.68
3 Genesis 28:12-19
4 Isaiah 65:17ff
5 Revelation 21:2
6 Luke 19:17
7 The four chapters are: how life ought to be (Creation), how life actually is (The Fall), how life can be made better (Redemption) and what it will be one day (i.e., the final Restoration).