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Wednesday, November 10, 2010


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).


Kat Heckenbach said...

IMHO, the vagueness may be because Heaven will feel different for each of us. Not so much getting our earthly desires, but we are all individuals. I think people get a little nervous about Heaven, thinking we're all going to be made the same, like a bunch of drones. But God made us all different for a reason--why would He suddenly change that?

Also, the idea of "worshiping" God non-stop brings to mind a human king strutting around with arrogance, puffed up over his subjects lowering themselves before him. I think it's very different with God. I believe "worship" is more akin to fellowship, in the sense that it will be us showing God our love for Him and receiving His love in a more direct way than we do here on earth. We'll finally get to see God for who He truly is, and we will want our focus to be on Him.

Cool post, Amy. I love how you approach things so scientifically :).

Philangelus said...

Since we're going to have a bodily resurrection, it makes sense that Heaven would have a physical aspect. I can't imagine God would plan out Heaven and forget to, say, feed us for all eternity.

Have you seen the Simpsons comparison of Protestant Heaven and Catholic Heaven. ;-) Not that theology comes from the Simpsons, but the difference between Protestant cerebralism and Catholic mind-body spirituality was very funny.

BTW, that's not the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.

Amy Deardon said...

Philangelus, missed the Simpsons' explication, sorry. (I only saw one episode where Bart was repainting the lines of a parking lot six inches closer together -- very fun). The body is absolutely intrinsic to the Christian heaven, simply that in the Christian descriptions of heaven, not that much is talked about what the bodies do. Paul talked about being "naked" if he were to be there in soul and not flesh -- this gets into questions about what happens to those who die in the faith before the second coming, and I'm not going there, at least not today.

I would appreciate some education on Catholic Purgatory? What I know comes from reading sources; I am not, nor have ever been, a Catholic :-)

Amy Deardon said...

Hi Kat, I like your idea of "fellowship" as worship. The Bible talks often about "knowing" his people, with an extremely intimate connotation for this verb. We can't imagine what Heaven is like (eye has not seen, nor ear heard...) but to me it makes sense that it should be so and that we cannot understand. These other Heavens described in other belief systems, that describe earthly realities (or in Mormonism's case a self-ambitious reality that is earthly), seem that they MUST be missing the point. God is way beyond what we, as humans, understand.

Philangelus said...

I'm not going to start a Purgatory discussion in the comments and you know I have no desire to convert anyone else to belief in Purgatory. I'll email something to you later on after I've collected children from the bus. :-)

Elijah and Enoch were taken bodily into Heaven. Moses' body was collected by Michael and taken into Heaven (Jude) and Jesus, of course, is in Heaven with his body. That makes four people at a minimum who are embodied in Heaven right now, before the final judgment. So there's got to be some kind of physical aspect to paradise. (Were you around on my weblog for the discussion of whether there are toilets in Heaven? LOL -- man, that was....wild.)

I'll see if I can find the Simpsons video online. That was wild too.

Philangelus said...

Found the simpsons' heaven video:

Anne Lang Bundy said...

If I take all the best days of my life, all my best experiences, all the greatest and most intense pleasures, then imagine that God has planned Heaven to be a place immensely more satisfying than Earth, I can live with assurance of utter contentment in Heaven.

Fully knowing the Lord—His life and light and amazing love—will be enough.

I really like what you did with this, Amy. :D