Gooder 90This lucid and concise biblical overview of heaven might help to de-mist the popular fog around this subject.

Paperback, 144 pp.

I was at a small, indoor seminar at the Greenbelt Festival a couple of years back where Gooder tackled what heaven is not. In her words, it “is neither postponed, nor privatized,” meaning that it is does not start when we die and neither is it just our own future. Rather, it embraces the fullness of being God’s dwelling place and has been from the start (the phrase, ‘In the beginning, God made heaven’ might ring bells…).

It seems that I was not the only one to be highly impressed with the talk, which has led to this book. She returned to Greenbelt this year (to the largest outdoor speaker venue) to add a complementary session about what the bible does tell us about the afterlife. It was so inspiring, that it made me want to re-read the whole New Testament when I got home.

This book is different to the talks in that she traces the full development through the bible of our understanding of heaven, beginning with Old Testament cosmology, the links between heaven and earth, and God’s throne-chariot. She continues with the “weird” parts of faith that we sometimes like to put aside, such as heavenly creatures, angelic messengers and being caught up into heaven.

On one hand, this is very true to what the bible says about heaven and it is important to emphasise the connections between earth, heaven and the kingdom of God.  On the other, as it means that we only start dealing with the afterlife 27 pages from the end, some people may consider this a little lop-sided if they want to satisfy their curiosity about the future.

Throughout the book, Gooder uses her skills as a lecturer to make her points lucidly and systematically, treading carefully between worlds: she often draws on apocryphal writings and background worldviews at the times the bible was written to give her word pictures a higher resolution for those with academic interest; yet she never patronizes or confuses the armchair reader.

There are surprises, too. Once the popular misconceptions are stripped away and we are left with the biblical skeleton, we may find that we know less about heaven than we think. Even the bible has parallel ideas about the after-life (hell only gets a brief excursion here) and Gooder tries to put these into threads.

She ends with ‘Epilogue – so what?’ where she considers the implications for life here and now. “Believing in heaven should mean that we live more fully and more responsibly on earth now,” she writes, continuing with the importance of worship, and a plea to consider how we express our understanding of the topic in our imaginative language and our wonder.

While I would have appreciated a slightly different balance of material, this well-pitched and clearly-written book is recommended for those who want to de-mist the popular fog around this subject.


Derek Walker