Does this world that we live in really matter at all? What about the universe in all its power, vastness and complexity? What about life on our planet, implausibly rich and abundant? Or human experience: birth and children, and family life, and death and pain, and marriage and sex, and music, and joy and bliss, and pain and suffering, and freshly baked bread and rich, red wine?
Many religions say that this world only matters inasmuch as it has something to do with some other ultimate existence, another life, perhaps a paradise after death, or Moksha or Nirvana. Indeed, many religious people experience a tension between what they profess to believe and their experiences: If this life doesn’t ultimately matter then why does it feel so important?
For some non-religious people this devaluing of the real world can be the most repugnant thing about religion, distracting people from what is real and diminishing common human experience in favour of something esoteric, invisible and intangible. Religion seems at best as meaningless as belief in unicorns, and at worst uniquely dangerous in its power to enslave and distort, leading otherwise good people to do wicked things.
In the first article of the Apostle’s creed we find that for Christians, matter matters. All the stuff around us that we’re made of, visible and invisible – is good because it is made by God. The physical world is a life-giving torrent of blessing and beauty that profoundly shapes our souls, hearts and minds and leads us toward God. It is God’s intention that through his Creation we come to know about God and to know Him.
But the goal is not to find God and then leave all this physical stuff behind. Rather, when we acknowledge God as the source of our lives, and live in such a way as to give him praise, all of life is transformed, enriched and raised up to be something akin to what we already know but even better. Like water turned into wine. Thus, the heaven that Christians hope for is not something totally other, disconnected and intangible. Rather, it is a resurrected life, one which is continuous with the life we already know, but where death is defeated, evil is conquered and goodness, truth and beauty flourish unhindered. Importantly, we don’t have to wait to begin experiencing this, but through faith in Christ that resurrection life flows into the present: cleansing, healing, preparing, transforming, enriching, fertilising and vivifying us in a way that both affirms the now and points to the life to come.