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A Three-Story Universe

060614 MultiMedia HARTFORDThis Sunday is Ascension Sunday. In progressive churches like ours we don’t feel compelled to take these stories literally, though we do try to take them seriously.

I suspect that, once upon a time, we all lived in the same three-story universe that Luke inhabited, with heaven above and hell below. In that world, it made perfect sense that Jesus ascended back to heaven from whence he came. Of course, even a cursory glance at a globe tells us that “up” for Jesus is a very different direction from “up” for those of us living on the other side of the world.

All of us believe that the earth is round and spinning through space … Well, some climate change deniers still seem to be a part of the Flat Earth Society, but perhaps they aren’t alone. Although we don’t technically believe the earth is flat, we go through life acting as if it is. We talk about heaven above, the “Man” upstairs, God looking down on us, etc. We don’t believe that heaven is literally above us and hell below, but almost all of the language we use to describe heaven and hell still reflects that thinking. It has a powerful grip on our culture, reflecting the belief systems that still guide our lives.

Yesterday I mentioned that Luke was the only Gospel writer to describe Jesus’ ascent. Clearly his version is the story we have bought into. Even though we know that a molten core is what is really below our feet, and that billions of stars and planets are scattered over our heads, we still function as if heaven is a place “up there” where we someday hope to go.

The problem is that part of us knows what isn’t true. I can’t help but wonder if we cling to this three-story mythology because it is convenient. Perhaps we believe things that we know aren’t true because to grapple with what is might require us to take our faith seriously even when the truth is very inconvenient.

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