Heaven is Not My Home: Learning to Live in God's Creation
Heaven is Not My Home: Learning to Live in God's Creation by Paul Marshall with Lela Gilbert (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998, 269 pp., $17.99 US)
Heaven is Not My Home is unlike anything else Paul Marshall has ever written. It talks the language of everyday people, not the language of the academic specialist or political activist. It breathes a spirit of adventure. It reads like a devotional in places and like a thriller in others.
Consider some of the vignettes drawn from Marshall's own life: scuba-diving through a swirling school of barracuda; kicking a soccer ball along the cliffs of Scotland's Inner Hebrides islands; eating a succulent lobster dinner in a church basement; celebrating a miraculous Easter vigil in the city of Minsk.
Sadly, Christians often give the impression that they abhor the world in which we live and cannot wait for either their own private passage to heaven, or a public Armageddon blasting the whole kit and caboodle to hell and gone. Marshall counters this impression and explains why such otherworldliness does no-one any good:
If we think that the earth and everything on it is simply going to disappear, why labour long and hard to write something, perform something, build something, create something that will only be consumed by fire? If we think that being human is only a passing and trivial phase of life, why take the present seriously? Why not regard ourselves merely as apprentice angels, stuck for the moment in an earthly waiting room but better suited to and anxiously awaiting life on some disembodied, heavenly plane?
Marshall offers a different Christian understanding of our place in the world: he argues that humanity is designed to take care of the world—to be "stewards of creation":
Caring for creation extends far beyond the boundaries of earth, oceans, sky, and clouds. We human beings, we ourselves, are part of creation. Our stewardship includes human life as well as the rest of nature. It includes Mozart as well as mountains; parliaments as well as porpoises; friendships as well as fields and forests. . . . Creation includes culture as well as nature. And although the entire creation has been corrupted by sin, it still remains the realm over which we have been given responsibility.
If this is our place in the world, how should we respond to our situation? Marshall answers this question with four short, insight-packed chapters: on learning, on work, on rest, and on play.
In his chapter on work Marshall recognizes that
when we go to the factory or the office, field or school, most of us are not in charge of the way we work. We don't set the hours, we don't divide the responsibilities, we don't establish the goals. Usually we're just supposed to fit in with what is already there, with someone else's plan and vision.
Nonetheless, argues Marshall,
those of us that can must seek to restructure work so that it can really and honestly be an expression of our service and calling. We need to shape our workplaces and organizational structures so that people can exercise genuine responsibility and be treated as God's responsible image-bearers. This means we should concentrate on good, useful work and turn away from the notion that people are simply commodities to be bought and sold in a "labour" market.
How wide does our responsibilities in the world stretch? Marshall talks about four sets of human tasks in the world: the care of the natural world, political responsibility, imagination and the arts, and creativity and technology.
Drawing on his earlier argument that human beings are designed for life on earth, and that Christians must therefore not abhor but cherish the earth, Marshall finishes his book with a grand statement of hope over several chapters. He encourages us to take our daily work seriously, since
our works, here and now, are not all transitory. The good that we have done will not simply disappear and be forgotten. This world is not a passing and futile phase; it will be taken up in God's new world. Our good buildings, our great inventions, our acts of healing, our best writings, our creative art, our finest clothes, our greatest treasures will not simply pass away. If they represent the finest works of God's image-bearers, they will adorn the world to come.
One of the endorsements on the dust jacket commends Heaven is Not My Home to "all who are bold enough to ask what life in this world is about." For anyone trying to follow a way of life guided by the Christian worldview, this book will do the same job as that first shot of coffee in the morning: wake us up, cheer us up, and get us going.
For many Christians, it will open up a whole new world of previously unimagined possibilities. And for people curious about Christianity from the outside, it will offer an intriguing glimpse of the view from the inside.