Creationist heaven

One of the chief problems with creationism is a lack of consistency, not just in how they approach science, but in how they approach their own Scriptures as well. A good example of this is how they approach the subject of heaven. Having had various forms of air travel since the first balloon flights in the late 1700’s, we tend to forget that heaven was originally a physical place located in the skies above the earth (and above Palestine in particular). Nowadays, of course, science has revealed that this was not correct, and Christians have moved heaven into a kind of immaterial, spiritual realm where it can be safe from scientific prying. But is that a biblically valid strategy, according to a young-earth creationist approach to Scripture?

YEC’s tell us that the verses of the Bible, and specifically of the book of Genesis, are to be taken in their plain, literal sense unless the context indicates a non-literal usage. If science were allowed to inform this context, then the creation story would have to undergo the same sort of spiritualization as heaven has undergone. But that’s not the YEC approach. The YEC approach is to look at the Bible first, and then decide what has to be true in science, based on what “God’s Word” declares as true. So let’s have a look at what the Bible says about heaven, taking only the texts themselves without regard for what science tells us about reality.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Gen 1:1)

Right off the bat, in the very first verse of the Bible, we have our first indication of heaven as part of God’s material creation. Heaven is not some spiritual dimension in which God has always existed (thus implying that heaven itself is also eternal). Rather, heaven is a part of (material) creation, just like the earth.

Creationists, like the ones at Answers In Genesis, get around this difficulty by proposing that there are actually at least three different heavens.

In Genesis 1:1 we read that God created ‘the heavens’. In the original Hebrew, the word, which is translated ‘heavens’ in the King James Bible, is shamayim. This word has at least three meanings:

  1. The heavens, which refers to where God lives (this usage is extremely rare in the Old Testament);
  2. The heavens, which refers to everything in the universe;
  3. The local heavens, or the sky.

This, however, is a modern, extrabiblical interpretation that was only added after man went up into “the heavens” and found out the throne of God wasn’t really there. Nowhere in the Bible does it teach that the heaven where God lives is a non-physical location that is separate and distinct from the sky we see when we look up. Instead it’s rather universally true that references to God’s location always refer to Him as being “up” relative to the earth.

Nor did the Bible authors have any concept of there being any distinction between “the local heavens (the sky)” and “everything in the universe.” The earth is consistently contrasted with the heavens, and is never portrayed as being a part of the heavens (the way the planet earth is part of “everything in the universe”). These are all latter-day innovations introduced by creationists in order to justify their own failure to take the text of Scripture at face value–the very “sin” they accuse evolutionists of.

Let’s look further at the Biblical usage of the term “heaven” or “heavens.”

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. (Gen. 1:7-9)

Here we have a follow-on to the indication in Genesis 1:1. The firmament is created as a physical barrier or gap between heaven (and the waters it contains) and earth (and the waters it contains). Notice once again the clear material nature and physical position of heaven: it holds water, and it is above the earth. It’s quite plain that the Genesis writer intended heaven not only to be a physical place, but to have a physical connection with the earth as well, as we’ll see below.

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. (Gen. 1:14-18)

In contrast with the AIG claims, the writer of Genesis presents the heavens above the earth as being not only a reservoir for large amounts of water, but as the fixture for the stars, sun, and moon as well. Rather than making a distinction between the “local sky” and “everything in the universe,” the Genesis writer portrays them as the same heaven, with heaven not only holding up the celestial water, but holding the celestial bodies as well.

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. (Gen. 1:20)

In case there was any doubt about heaven being the earthly sky, the Genesis writer locates it quite clearly and specifically as being the region that birds fly in. Stars, birds, and the waters above the earth, all belong to the same heaven that God created on the first and second days.

Now at this point we ought to mention the apparent problem posed by the fact that the Genesis writer has God creating heaven on both the first day and the second day. If He created it on the first day, then how could He create it again on the second? Or if He didn’t create it until the second, why does it say He created it on the first? Creationists give us a couple different answers: he could be taking things out of chronological order, as with the second creation account in Genesis 2, or perhaps something happened between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, and God had to create things a second time (the so-called “Gap Theory”). Or we could suppose that God actually created two heavens, one on the first day, and a different heaven on the second.

The problem with that is that the second heaven contains birds, stars, sky, and water. If that stuff all belongs to the second heaven, then what was in the first? Did God create some other material heaven in connection with the earth, but separate and distinct from the heaven we see when we look up, and which has all the stuff of the universe in it? If so, whatever happened to the first, empty, created heaven? We’d have to assume that Genesis 1:1 is talking about a heaven that God created for some reason and then abandoned it, a heaven that is never mentioned again by the Bible, and is a complete waste.

Now, as we were saying, the heaven that was created in Genesis 1 is physically located above the earth, and physically connected to it, by water. The rain, you see, is water from heaven. When God opens the door in heaven, rain falls down (because heaven contains physical water and is physically located above the earth).

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights. (Gen. 7:11-12)

The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained; (Gen. 8:2)

But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven: (Deut. 11:11)

And then the LORD’s wrath be kindled against you, and he shut up the heaven, that there be no rain, and that the land yield not her fruit; and lest ye perish quickly from off the good land which the LORD giveth you. (Deut. 11:17)

The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow. (Deut. 28:12)

When heaven is shut up, and there is no rain, because they have sinned against thee; if they pray toward this place, and confess thy name, and turn from their sin, when thou afflictest them: (I Kings 8:35)

I’ll stop there for now, but there are many many references to “the waters of heaven,” as created in Genesis 1, being portioned out by God to the earth as rain. Next time we’ll look at some of the so-called “rare” references to this heaven as being the abode of God.

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One Response to “Creationist heaven”

  1. No True Scotsman, anyone? « Evangelical Realism Says:

    […] heaven is physically located up relative to the earth, and hell is physically down. That is, the heaven where God dwells is a physical place up in the sky over the earth: the “core beliefs” of Christianity, as defined in the […]