My favourite Radio 3 programme is Late Junction. Last Thursday, on the last programme of the year, they played the Carter family singing “No Depression in heaven”. This song from 1936 is suddenly relevant again in our current economic gloom, and depicts the great depression as a sign of the end times and heaven as an alternative to hunger and want. The chorus goes:
I’m going where there’s no depression
To a lovely land that’s free from care.
I’ll leave this world of toil and trouble.
My home’s in heaven. I’m going there.
You can hear it in a number of places, including here.
Heaven, God’s space, is imagined as a glorious place where there is no recession, no investment scandals, no crisis in banking, no defaulting on loans, no large-scale redundancies. Heaven is shown as quite separate from all of this.
Though it is — in some way — a theological reflection on economic crisis, I suspect it is not the reality check that the Archbishop of Canterbury was looking for.
There is an otherness of heaven, but it doesn’t stay “out there”. The message of Christmas is that heaven comes here and enters in to our space. Heaven doesn’t remain apart from the toil and trouble. Rather God breaks in to all the mess and is born as a vulnerable baby in the middle of it all.
Heaven is what happens when we let God in. It’s not that God is going to wave a magic pantomime wand and sort out the problems, but God will stand with us in the misery, inspire us to help those who are in depression because of the Depression, and give us the tools for making the moral and economic choices for remaking our world.
We need to start again, with the baby in the manger.