The other night, Tara and I were flipping channels on the TV, and we came across the show “Ask the Pastor” on TCT. Have you ever watched that show? It features a panel of pastors who field questions about the Bible and Christian faith that viewers send in by phone or email. Sometimes I like watching a few minutes to see what kinds of questions people are asking.
One question really caught my attention. The show’s host read an email, which asked, “Where is the third heaven located?” One pastor then spoke up and said that “the third heaven” refers to the place where God lives, the place of God’s full presence. He went on to explain that the third heaven is higher than the air we breathe and the stratosphere of the earth, which presumably are the first two heavens.
Friends, here is the truth: Above our planet’s atmosphere is a whole lot of outer space.
The only biblical passage this question could be referencing is 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, in which Paul describes his own spiritual experience of being “caught up to the third heaven” fourteen years before writing this letter. During that time, he was in the presence of God in paradise – surely an amazing experience!
But why does he even mention that experience? Take a few moments to read chapter 11 and this first part of chapter 12. The whole point is not to emphasize the greatness of Paul’s spiritual experience, but to reveal how Paul had to deal with his “thorn in the flesh” in order to keep him humble. Three times Paul asked the Lord to remove this malady (perhaps poor eyesight, malaria, migraines, insomnia – nobody knows). And God’s response to Paul?
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9a, NIV)
Brothers and sisters, God’s glory is amazing, to be sure. On this side of eternity, though, our lives are sometimes full of hardship and suffering. No matter what happens, remember that Jesus Christ loves you and that his power is made complete by guiding us through our difficult times so that we might become more like him. Let us praise God for how he is Lord of our lives in tangible ways; try not to get hung up on questions such as “Where is the third heaven?”
But remember also that I’m always open to discussing any questions you have about life, faith, the Bible, math, or anything else – and remember that I am praying for you!