Heaven Is Coming

This is too long to be a blog. So, if you like, print it out and pretend it’s something else. A log maybe.

This is my gleanings from chapter 8 of The Spirit of Early Christian Thought by Robert Louis Wilken. This chapter deals with Augustine’s masterpiece, “The City of God — probably the most influential book aside from the Bible in Christian history.

This blog (log) reflects some of my thinking of late regarding the church, the state, politics and the Blessed Hope.


The City of God can be read as a Christian response to Plato’s Republic. One might have expected Augustine to outline his ideal city, contrasting the city of God with the kind of commonwealth envisioned by Plato. But Augustine does not present a model city, a society human beings should strive to build in this world. His city of God is not an ideal but an actual city, a living community to which one belongs. In a telling phrase in one of his letters, he refers to the city of God as a city one enters, that is, a society of which one becomes a part. Though the life of the city of God is oriented toward the future, it is a social and religious fact. In the very first sentence of the City of God Augustine says that he has taken upon himself the task of “defending the glorious city of God against those who prefer their own gods to the Founder of that city.”

The City of God, then, is not the defense of an idea or a set of beliefs, but rather a defense of a community that occupies space and exists in time, an ordered, purposeful gathering of human beings with a distinctive way of life. The most characteristic feature of the city of God is that it worships the one true God. Augustine never defines the city of God outright, but it is closely identified with the church. The city of God is more than the church because it includes the angels and the saints who have gone before, but there can be no talk of the city of God without the church.

His aim in the City of God is to interpret Christianity to the Romans, and with that goal in mind to explain this new community, this other city. Christ’s coming joined people in a more enduring fellowship than the institutions or associations of civil society. Hence Augustine rests his argument not on political theory but on an understanding of the nature of the community whose founder is Christ.

The Life of the Saints Is Social

Christian thinking about the city of God begins with the Bible. To introduce the theme of his book Augustine cites three passages, all from the Psalms: “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God” (Ps. 87:3); “Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God” (Ps. 48:1); and “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of our God” (Ps. 46:4). All three of these passages are speaking about Jerusalem, the ancient city of Jewish history, and the city where Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead, a place one can locate on a map. But for Augustine the phrase “city of God” in the Psalms also carried another meaning: it designated a company of men and angels who are united in their love of God. His book is about this city; yet to depict this city Augustine speaks of another city, “the city of this world,” the earthly city, the social and political community that exercises dominion over human beings. The two cities must be discussed in tandem because “in this present transitory world, they are interwoven and mingled with one another.” The citizens of the city of God are also citizens of the earthly city, and conversely, many of the citizens of the earthly city belong to the city of God.

In book 2 he cites Cicero’s De Republica, in which Cicero defines community not as just any association of human beings, but one “united in association by a common sense of law and a community of interest.” The end toward which all human life is directed is peace. “Anyone who joins me,” he says, “in an examination, however slight, of human affairs, and the human nature we all share, recognizes that just as there is no man who does not wish for joy, so there is no man who does not wish for peace.” Even when men go to war their aim is to achieve peace. All our “use of temporal things,” he writes, “is related to the enjoyment of earthly peace in the earthly city.” Peace means order within society: it presupposes law, and it requires justice. Augustine writes, “Peace without justice is not worthy even of the name of peace.”

This peace for which the city of God yearns is a “perfectly ordered and harmonious fellowship in the enjoyment of God, a peace of enjoying one another in God.” Notice that Augustine’s language is social, and not individualistic. He does not say “fellowship with God,” but enjoying one another in God or “mutual fellowship in God.” Augustine’s controlling metaphor for the new life that God creates is not, for example, being born again, but becoming part of a city and entering into its communal life. Augustine said, “You unite together citizens to citizens so that all are joined together not simply as a social organization but as a family.” Christianity is inescapably social.

Peace can be realized only in community and enjoyed only when all the members of the community share in that good. As always, Augustine rests his discussion on an apt scriptural text, the one found from the Psalms: “Happy is the people whose God is the Lord” (Ps. 144:15). In a thought-provoking passage late in the work he says that “when the city of God reaches the peace of God there will no longer be enmity, no longer discord, and there will be such mutual trust that the thoughts of our mind will lie open to mutual observation.”

Things Pertaining to This Life

Everything that Augustine says about the heavenly city and about the earthly city is related to peace. But peace, as Augustine understands it, can never be fully realized in this life, for the peace that human beings are able to build among themselves is always fragile, unstable, ephemeral. Accordingly, the Scriptures offer no promises concerning peace on this earth. In the Bible, peace is always a matter of hope, and the peace for which the city of God yearns can only be the work of God, not of human hands.

Christians belong to a community of hope whose end lay outside of history. As Saint Paul wrote, “It is in hope that we are saved,” and Augustine commented, “It is in hope that we are made happy.” And as he was fond of putting it, “the church is the city of God on pilgrimage and it lives on the basis of faith.”

A Just Society Serves God

Like other early Christian apologists, Augustine realized that it was not enough to make abstract appeals to transcendent reality, to the god of the philosophers, to a deity that takes no particular form in human life. For Augustine, defense of the worship of the true God could only take the form of a defense of the church, the city of God as it exists on pilgrimage.

The church is a social fact as well as an eschatological sign. It draws its citizens into a shared public life with its distinctive language, rituals, calendar, practices, institutions, architecture, art, music, in short, with its culture.

The church is not an instrument to achieve other ends than fellowship with God. It serves society by being unapologetically itself. The greatest gift the church can give society is a glimpse, however fleeting, of another city, where angels keep eternal festival before the face of God.

The City of God is a book about the church and the God of the Bible. It is only in relation to the church and its destiny that Augustine takes up questions concerning the earthly city. At the end of the City of God Augustine writes:

How great shall be that happiness, which shall be tainted with no evil, which shall lack no good, and which shall afford leisure for the praises of God, who shall be all in all! True peace shall be there, where no one shall suffer either from himself or any other. The reward of virtue shall be God Himself, who gave the virtue, together with the promise of Himself, the best and greatest of all possible promises. For what did He mean when He said, in the words of the prophet, “I shall be their God, and they shall be My people”? Did He not mean, “I shall be the source of their satisfaction; I shall be everything that men can honorably desire; life, health, food, wealth, glory, honor, peace and every blessing”? For that is the correct interpretation of the Apostle’s words, “so that God may be all in all.” God will be the goal of all our longings; and we shall see Him forever; we shall love Him without satiety; we shall praise Him without wearying. This will be the duty, the delight, the activity of all, shared by all who share the life of eternity. There we shall rest and see, see and love, love and praise. This is what shall be in the end without end. For what other end do we propose to ourselves than to attain to the Kingdom of which there is no end? Amen.


Amen! Heaven is Coming!

That’s what I’ll be preaching on tonight…Heaven Is Coming.

My friend from England, Steve Parsons, has a song called Heaven Is Coming. The first part of the song goes like this…

All around the world
There’s a guilty feeling
It’s in the way we live
And everybody knows
As all creation groans
Something’s gotta give

We serve the money man
We give him all we can
But he’s got feet of clay
Well every tide will turn
And only then we learn
That temporary things get washed away

Hold on, Heaven is Coming


Thy Kingdom come
Thy Will be done
On Earth
As it is in Heaven


The yearning to escape the noise and smog and madness of modern life
And lose ourselves in a pristine wilderness
Is the echo of Eden resounding in our soul
The grand culmination of Christian faith and hope is
Heaven is Coming!

And our happiness lies in that hope.

Be happy.

Heaven is Coming!