There is no kingdom of God without God himself. So, when Jesus announced “The kingdom of God is near” he also stated “God is here.”
The form of prayer Jesus taught us accords with this: “Our Father in heaven.” First, to address God simply as “Father” seemed a radical departure from the customary “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God.” At the very outset of the Lord’s Prayer is the message: “God is near. God is here.”
Second, to address our Father as “in heaven” was to address him as “at hand.” Our theology of heaven has become contrary to what Jesus taught. When Jesus spoke of heaven, he did not speak of it as something far away, up high, for which we needed to wait. He spoke of it as “near”, “at hand”, and “here now”. With the advent of Jesus heaven had come to earth.
To address God as “in heaven” is to address him as “ever-near”.
To be sure, there is a second life, another world we experience beyond death—but it is closer to our life now than we often think. We are like pre-born babies on the verge of birth. The pains we experience here and now are like contractions. On the other side, we will find final deliverance from pain.
Though heaven seems far off, it isn’t. We can take heart that it is near, so very near. In fact, the analogy of birth breaks down for Jesus taught that heaven is so near we can experience it in part right here, right now. We needn’t wait at all, though we still may have to experience pain mixed in with it.
Both “Our Father” and “in heaven” carry transcendence and immanence.
On the one hand he is “Our Father”, the One who is Wholly Other.
On the other hand he is “Our Father”, the one who is near as our Papa.
To say he is “in heaven” is to say God is found in a different place but it is also to say he is in the space immediately surrounding us, within and without us.
The philosopher Peter Kreeft speaks of history as “cosmic pregnancy”. We are in God’s womb. Though the world awaiting us is surely another place, we are in it already, in some sense. In fact, it surrounds us even though we are unaware of it. Though God is Wholly Other, we are in him. His life defines our lives.
Let us simply abide in him until the day we can see him face to face, smiling and smiled upon.