Is God in Paradise?

That’s a silly question, don’t you think?  Isn’t God “our father in Heaven”? In the traditional Greek dualistic way of looking at the world, God infinitely far away from us, “up there,” in the realm of everything good and beautiful. Down here is the squalid, sinful earth that is going downhill rapidly and one day will perish.

Looking up the word “paradise,” (paradeisos in Greek), we do find that in Luke 23:43 Jesus tells the thief on the cross that he will be with him in paradise. In 2 Corinthians 12:4, Paul describes being caught up in paradise and hearing inexpressible things. So yes, it’s correct to say God is in paradise.

But interestingly, the Greek word paradeisos actually means “garden” or “park.” It’s a loan word related to pardes, a Hebrew word for garden. Solomon said that he planted himself gardens using that word. In Genesis, the Garden of Eden is “gan aden” in Hebrew, but was translated as paradeisos in the Greek Septuagint.

When we read “our father in Heaven,” in the Gospels, the Greek word is uranos, which means “sky.” I think there the contrast is between our earthly father and our heavenly Father, not really about how he is in paradise. It is to say that God is our “heavenly Father” – he truly is a loving father to us, even though we have a human one too. The word uranos, or shemayim in Hebrew is often spoken of as the realm of God – the sky is his throne, while earth is his footstool.  But the idea is not that we will go to shemayim when we die.

In Hebrew, the word they use for Heaven in that sense is Gan Aden. Another phrase they use is olam haba, meaning “the world to come.” There, the sense is that God has promised to redeem this world, so it looks forward to a perfected world, in contrast to olam hazeh, which is the present (corrupted) world. I think that it is more hopeful to speak of Heaven as olam haba, looking forward to what God is doing to restore creation, to “make all things new,” as it says in Revelation.

All that being said, I love what Isaiah 57:15 says:

I live in a high and holy place,
but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, 
to revive the spirit of the lowly 
and to revive the heart of the contrite.

There, it actually says that God also lives with the one who grieves, the one who is crushed by the burdens of life here on earth. He really dwells here too, but the place you find him most is in the squalor – the depressing places that no one wants to go.

This actually changes my perception of God. I used to think of God as happily disconnected from us here. I would ask God why we all couldn’t be happy like he is. But then it hit me that if I genuinely love someone who is hurting, I don’t live a happy life as long as they are in pain. If God is truly empathetic with his people, he really doesn’t dwell in paradise. If our goal is only to be happy, we’re asking for something that even God doesn’t have, until he brings healing and redemption to the earth. In that sense, I think God yearns for olam haba just as we do – it’s not here yet for any of us. (OK, maybe since God is eternal, he is already there. But he is also really here, where life isn’t so great.)

In Isaiah 63:9, it says, “In all their affliction, he was afflicted.” God suffers as long as his people do. He is both on his heavenly throne, but fully with us here, and the place we can most join him is in healing the hurts of others.

Published in: on September 20, 2007 at 6:37 am  Comments Off on Is God in Paradise?  
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