This article is a sidebar to "This World Really Is Our Home."

In one of the best-known epistolary passages, Paul encouraged the church at Corinth to "look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18, ESV).

Seems like a problem for Michael Wittmer, whose new book Heaven Is a Place on Earth argues that modern Protestants have wrongly split "spiritual" matters from earthly ones.

Not so, says the associate professor at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. The visible thing Paul disdains is his intense persecution and the toll it was taking on his body (4:7-12), while the invisible thing he focuses on is his renewed depth of character that would never have been forged without it (4:16-17). So Paul determines to concentrate on redemption (inner renewal) rather than the fall ("light and momentary troubles"). There is nothing in this passage, he says, about the transience or temptation of creation.

But what about the next chapter? Paul writes:

For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (5:1-10, ESV)

"There are two things which Paul longs for in this passage: to be with the Lord and to remain in his body," Wittmer writes. "Paul is looking forward to seeing Christ (5:6-8; the only reason Paul wants to go to heaven is because Jesus is there) but dislikes the fact that, unless the Lord returns and spares him from death, he will be a disembodied soul when this meeting finally occurs. … So he laments the perishable nature of his present body and longs to receive his immortal, heavenly body which will clothe his 'naked' soul and make him fully human—body and soul—once more (5:1-4)."

Wittmer says that Paul describes our resurrection body as a "heavenly dwelling" (5:2) and an "eternal house in heaven" (5:1). He did so not to designate where we will live forever but to indicate its source in the man from heaven, Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:45-49), and the need for faith to believe in a future body which lies beyond our present perception (5:7).

In sum, unlike the incipient Gnostics prevalent in Corinth, who hoped to slough off their physical prisons and return as disembodied souls to their heavenly home, Paul longed to dwell with Jesus as a whole person—body and soul—in the place he was meant to live: planet Earth. This, Wittmer notes, is just how the biblical story ends, when, in Revelation 21:3, "a loud voice from the throne" declares, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them." God with us. Emmanuel, indeed.

This article is a sidebar to "This World Really Is Our Home."

Related Elsewhere:

Heaven is a Place on Earth is available from and other book retailers.

Zondervan has more information about the book, including an excerpt and PDFs of the first 33 pages.