Opening a new book by Paula Gooder is a bit like opening a box of chocolates: you just know there are going to be wonderful things inside. And this slim volume is full of wonderful things. Given how little anyone can claim to know about heaven with certainty, she helps us try to make sense of the many, often contradictory, ways it has been described, stirring the mix of ideas to encourage readers to re-imagine the rather nebulous (sorry!) heaven of popular culture in a manner which “takes seriously the reality of God and the reality of a realm beyond our own.”
But not that far beyond. Heaven and earth were created together, bound together and will be transformed at the end of days. Paula Gooder suggests this means that heaven was created as somewhere closely associated with earth for the transcendent God to dwell alongside humanity. Celtic spirituality talks of the “thin places” which bring heaven closer – and in Christ, all places are thin, or sacred, because all are potentially doorways to heaven. And that’s only chapter one – her style is so engaging and her enthusiasm so infectious, you just have to read on. Help yourself to another chocolate, so to speak.
Like all the best boxes of chocolates, the contents of this one are varied: language, imagery, worship and the history of ideas packaged alongside questions about life after death, judgement, angels and resurrection. If you wish, you can read it purely on an academic level (and the excellent notes will give you guidance for further study), but how and, perhaps, when we see heaven affects how we live our lives on earth. If it is somewhere distant in time and space, that posits a very different response than if heaven is close at hand. But what if heaven is actually here and now? Should we live today as we would hope to live in eternity? And pastorally, we need to know as individuals what we think about heaven if we are to offer real hope to the dying and the bereaved. I know I’m going to find this book really helpful, and I hope you do too.
Reviewed by Norma Fergusson.
Published by SPCK, “Heaven” is normally priced at £9.99. Mention this review to order a copy at the special price of £8.99 and POST FREE from Sarum College Bookshop until March 31st 2012. Cheques should be made payable to ‘Sarum College Bookshop’.