“Is this heaven?” John Kinsella asked. His brother Ray looks and smiles as he responds, “It’s Iowa.” This short exchange is iconic and ironic. Most people would agree that Iowa is the farthest thing from heaven. Especially those who live outside of the Midwest, they view Iowa and the surrounding region as a friend of mine once side “The armpit of America.” Sure, Iowa is flat. Has a lot of cornfields. Stretches of highway without a gas station for miles and miles. The most exciting scenery might just be the windmill fields that pop up from time to time. Yet, John and Ray have a more poignant theological exchange than they might first think. What if heaven and Iowa are one and the same?
This brings up a common misunderstanding in the church as well as the perceptions of what happens when we die. This is the question that everyone must reckon with, and many people have. What does the church believe, teach, and confess? “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” We confess it every week in the creed, yet my observation makes me question what most people think of when they die. Do they long for the resurrection? Or instead, do they long to be up in heaven as spirits? I would argue, based on experience that most hold to the latter. To be clear, this is not an argument against heaven. Heaven is real, biblical, and it is the hope we have. The issue is how we talk about and view heaven.
Pop culture, the media, and so many other voices and influences have crafted a depiction of heaven that misses the point entirely. Heaven has been imagined as a place that rests on the clouds in a bright array. People are dressed in all white with halos above their heads as their skin glows. Or maybe it is more like “The Good Place” as depicted in the popular sitcom, where everything is pleasant all the time. Heaven has been turned into an idyllic paradise for all the wrong reasons. The word “heaven” has become misconstrued and misrepresented. It has become a place where only souls float upon clouds.
Funeral sermons are an example of the point that I am trying to make, as well as the response of those who are grieving. You have heard it, maybe you have even said it. “I just know that (enter name) is in heaven.” Or the preacher talks about being reunited with your loved one again in heaven.” None of these are bad or wrong in and of themselves. Yet, it is how heaven is depicted and defined that turns into the issue. Heaven has become an ethereal concept. The language that is used so often implies that when we die our bodies will lie lifeless covered by 6 feet of dirt while our spirit ascends into the illuminated clouds of heaven where we will stand at a pearly gate. End of story. Yet, this is not the end, nor is it the goal of the Christian. The Christian hope is not dying and going to spiritual heaven in the clouds. Instead, the Christian hope is heaven on earth, which will only be found on the glorious day of the resurrection.
At the resurrection, we will be in the New Creation. Those who have fallen asleep awaken and will rise from their graves. We will have holy bodies, whatever that might look like, we won’t know for certain, but it will hardly matter for we will be in the presence of God forever. Yet, until Christ returns, we can find comfort knowing that our loved ones rest in the care of the Father while their bodies lie sleeping. But we do not look forward to being reunited with them in some ethereal heaven, no we look forward to rising with them in the resurrection when heaven is on earth. So, sleep well. Resurrection day is drawing near. Until then, be at peace. Christ is making and will make all things new. All of this to say, in the new creation, Iowa, in all its mundane beauty will indeed be heaven when Christ returns and makes all things new. So, is this heaven? Yes. Is it Iowa? Yes.