What does “as it is in heaven” mean?

brunerWhile I didn’t have the opportunity to work it into last Sunday’s sermon, the following insight of Frederick Dale Bruner about the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” was helpful to me:

The expression “as in the heavens” teaches us that God has some kind of lively enterprise going on with angels and spirits and that the earth is not all there is to history (cf. 2 Kings 6). There is some kind of exciting invisible world at work in perfect obedience to God, where God’s name, kingdom, and will are treated with the respect they deserve. Moreover, this phrase asks us to believe that something like heavenly worship and obedience can also touch earth—the bold “as” permits us to think so. We are not to inquire too curiously about the nature of the heavenly activities; we are simply to pray that the name, kingdom, and will of the Father shall come to rights here on earth.

Do you believe in this “lively enterprise” of an angelic realm as he describes here? I do (although I confess to my shame a time in my life when I didn’t)! And I believe in the flip side of this realm—one in which angelic beings who, like human beings, rebelled against God are exerting a destructive influence in our world. (I don’t see how it’s possible to believe in one and not the other.)

In my sermon on Sunday, I dealt briefly with the age-old question, “Why does an all-good God allow evil and suffering?” In the interview I cited in my sermon, physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson seems to grant that God’s desire for human beings to have free will answers the question of human-made evil (which, indeed, accounts for most suffering in the world). But what about so-called “natural evil”—like natural disasters, pestilence, and disease—which seems to have little to do with human freedom?

I say “little” because in a world free of sin, in which human beings are living in perfect harmony with God, with others, and with their own bodies, who knows how differently we could respond to these threats, granting that, in a pre-fallen world, they existed at all. Remember that humanity in the Garden of Evil wasn’t inherently immortal—at least according to most scholars. There was, rather, a tree of life of which they could avail themselves to enable them to live. Could it heal them of disease and injury? It seems likely.

(In saying this, I’m not insisting that we treat the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2-3 strictly literally. But even if you say the tree of life is figurative, it still has a literal, concrete meaning in the physical world with which we must contend, right?)

All that to say, given that spiritual warfare is our gravest threat in the world, I believe that the demonic realm can and does play an important and underappreciated (as in, hardly appreciated at all) role in creating or fostering natural evil. Even when Christian apologists tackle the question, I’ve rarely seen them resort to the devil as one explanation for evil. But why not? If we believe in Satan, evil, both human and natural, makes so much more sense!

Michael Green, in his magisterial book I Believe in Satan’s Downfall, makes this point emphatically.

I believe the Christian doctrines of God of man and of salvation are utterly untenable without the existence of Satan. You simply cannot write him out of the human story and then imagine that the story is basically unchanged. At the beginning, at the mid-point of time and at the end, the devil has an indelible place in Christian theology. The fallen nature of man and of everything he does, the self-destructive tendencies of every civilization history has known, the prevalence of disease and natural disasters, together with “nature, red in tooth and claw” unite to point to a great outside Enemy. I would like to ask theologians who are sceptical about the devil how they can give a satisfactory account of God if Satan is a figment of the imagination. Without the devil’s existence, the doctrine of God, a God who could have made such a world and allowed such horrors as take place daily within it, is utterly monstrous. Such a God would be no loving Father. He would be a pitiless tyrant.[†]

Michael Green, I Believe in Satan’s Downfall (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), 20-1

2 thoughts on “What does “as it is in heaven” mean?”

  1. Sorry to go off subject. Some time back you mentioned In a blog about people who believe the rapture has already occurred. I can’t find that post. Please tell me what the word is to describe this thought.

    Lynn Swann Cell 828-215-6967


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    1. I’m guessing I referred to “preterism”? That’s the belief that Jesus’ words in Matthew 24-25 and Mark 13, for instance, which seem to point to the imminent fulfillment of the Second Coming, actually refer to events surrounding the destruction of the Temple in and the siege of Jerusalem in 70. So that solves the apparent problem of “this generation won’t pass away before these things come to pass.” The orthodox version of preterism still looks forward to a literal Second Coming at the end of history.

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