I’m reading N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian with a small group at church. It’s proving to be a little heady, but most are liking it. (While many on the theo-blogosphere might not find it so, it’s worth remembering that even Wright’s popular writings are far denser than the drivel that is typically mass-marketed to literate believers.) He does a great job of mapping out three different ways of relating heaven and earth, or, if you like, the physical and the metaphysical. The Bishop says they are either the same (pantheism), overlapping and mysteriously interlocking at various and sundry places (the Jewish/Christian view), or they are utterly distinct (gnosticism and its cousins). The last of these views is held by many in the West who believe in a vague, uninterested and uninteresting god – the one Pacino/Satan in The Devil’s Advocate calls “an absentee landlord.” Wright correctly notes that such a God would motivate few if any people to do anything worthwhile; even something as simple as getting out of bed for such a deity would seem rather pointless.
In fact, many people in the Western world assume that when they talk about “God” and “heaven” they’re talking about a being and a place which – if they exist at all – are a long way away and have little or nothing directly to do with us. That’s why, when many people say they believe in God, they will often add in the same breath that they don’t go to church, they don’t pray, and in fact they don’t think much about God from one year’s end to the next. I don’t blame them. If I believed in a distant, remote God like that, I wouldn’t get out of bed on a Sunday morning either. (Simply Christian, 62-63)
For a great introduction by Bishop Wright, check out his lecture from a few years back at the National Cathedral over at their site.