Why, Lewis asks in Miracles, do we always speak of God and heaven in negative terms? We are corporeal, we say, while God is non-corporeal. Earth is physical; heaven is non-physical.
The truth, as presented in Scripture, is quite different. The God of the Bible is not non-corporeal but trans-corporeal. He is more than the creatures he made, not less. We are personal, conscious beings, not because we were created by an impersonal, unconscious force but because the One who made us is both trans-personal and supra-conscious.
In the same way, heaven is not non-physical but trans-physical. God’s dwelling place is more than, not less than, our own. Heaven is not earth with all the “stuff” taken out, but ultimate reality. Though Plato was wrong to speak of our world as an illusion, as an insubstantial imitation of an imitation, Lewis was right to suggest (in the final chapter of The Last Battle) that compared to the thundering reality of heaven, our earth is but a shadow-land.
Our misunderstanding of heaven rests in part on our misunderstanding of our own human nature. We are not, as Plato thought, souls trapped within bodies but enfleshed souls: not half body and half soul, but 100% physical and 100% spiritual. And when we die, that duality will persist.
Though I love the film It’s a Wonderful Life, I’m afraid it has led many Christians astray. Let me state it clearly: we do not become angels when we die. Angels are fully spiritual beings, even as animals are fully physical. But we, the great amphibians of the universe, were created to be enfleshed souls and will remain so in heaven.
Even so, Jesus Christ, who assumed our nature in the Incarnation—becoming fully God and fully man—will remain incarnate for eternity. Rather than return to heaven as pure spirit (as the First and Third Persons of the Trinity are pure spirit), Christ rose in a Resurrection Body with which he will be clothed forever.
When the last trump sounds and the old earth and old heaven pass away, we too shall be clothed in Resurrection Bodies and live upon a new earth that is more, not less, physical than our present planet. Indeed, in The Problem of Pain, Lewis suggests that there will be animals in heaven—not because Lewis thought animals had souls, but because he could not believe that heaven would be robbed of the physical glory of the lion, the bear, and the elephant.
In The Great Divorce, Lewis imagines what might happen if the souls of the damned were allowed to board a bus in hell and ride on it to heaven. In keeping with Lewis’s firmly biblical view of a trans-physical heaven, when the shrunken souls of the damned (Lewis compares them to greasy stains on a window pane) step off the bus, they find that the grass of heaven is so physical, so substantial that they are unable to bend it. In fact, in a bravura display of heavenly irony, Lewis depicts the damned as being able to walk on the water—not because they are Christ-like, but because the water is too solid to allow their ghostly bodies to penetrate it.
Yes, our world is real, but its temporal reality offers us but a glimpse, a faint foreshadowing of the greater reality that is to come.