The heavens of faiths besides Christianity are specific. For example, we’ve all heard of the Islamic paradise for the martyrs, with 70 virgins and green-cloaked cushions, fruit, and four rivers of wine/milk/honey/water forevermore. The Mormon idea has the option for the very faithful to get their own universe and be God for the new people they will create; they believe our God was once a man. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe there are only 144,000 who will live in heaven, but everyone else will live on a refashioned perfect Earth. The Jews mostly believe that you live, you die, you go into the ground but God remembers you. The Catholic idea of Heaven is Christian (since they have Christian beliefs), but there is also a steep hurdle to first get over: Purgatory, which is Hell but only for a limited period of time.
These are the monotheistic types of Heaven. If you are a pantheist (god is all things -- you are god, and so is this blade of grass) you probably believe that things keep recycling and eventually will combine. If you are an atheist (no God), you believe that nothing happens after death.
In contrast, the Christian heaven is nonspecific. When you read through the Bible’s descriptions of Heaven, they sound either strange (Elijah’s wheel) or, let’s face it, not too exciting. In Revelation and other places, Heaven just seems to be an ethereal praise-fest to God, without much of a world. You have gates that are pearls, and the foundation of a city that is made of 12 layers of stones, and streets that are transparent gold (whatever that is). The city itself is a cube about 12,000 stadia/1375 miles on a side. There is no ocean. There doesn’t seem to be much to do or to see or interact with here.
Well, I am a Christian, and a scientist (but not a Christian Scientist, smile). There are good objective reasons to believe in God, and furthermore in the Christian interpretation of God. You can check out my website if you want to read about my faith journey to see how I reached this conclusion. The question I ponder today is, why does the Christian Heaven seem so vague when other ideas of Heaven are concrete and frankly so attractive and inviting?
The first thing I notice with the heavenly descriptions of other religions is, in general, there is a fulfillment of Earthly desires, Earthly pleasures, things that we already understand on this Earth, whereas the Christian Heaven can’t even be articulated. Many of the other descriptions don’t even talk about God, but simply about what the people will do when they get there.
But think for a moment about WHO IS GOD? Many people pray to God to do XYZ for them, but they’re not thinking about anything but themselves. God acts like a genie in a bottle; sadly not a reliable genie since many prayers go unanswered. They are like the cat in the old joke who says: You feed me, you pet me, you give me toys, I must be God.
Contrast this with what the dog says: You feed me, you pet me, you give me toys, YOU must be God.
As we spiritually mature, and specifically as the Holy Spirit works within us, our focus turns away from the inward, the self, and outward to God. God is a Spirit, not a man made of flesh and blood (except when Jesus came to Earth). Doesn’t it make sense that God’s focus is on Spirit things, not Earthly things that WE as people crave?
Christians believe that God gives His people a new character molded through His Spirit; we become conformed to His image. However, we cannot understand these things beyond the barest inkling until we move beyond our sinful nature that pulls us down, and we cannot be liberated from our nature’s influences until Earthly death.
Thinking about this, then, I would expect Heaven to be something beyond what I can understand. I would not expect it to be focused on Earthly pleasures and life and ambitions, but rather focused in a new way on the God who is truly worthy of worship. My sin nature does not find this attractive, but once I am liberated, it will be my entire Heart’s desire.
People often rebel at the thought of God calling people to worship Him. While you wouldn’t want to say this, it may seem self-centered and power-grabbing of God to require all creatures to worship HIM. However this view stems from the self-centeredness of our own human spirit. We cannot understand in this life just how beautiful and Holy God is, how worthy He is for our praise. Heaven is simply this: an ongoing recognition of who He is. As Paul says, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV).
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