Heaven: Most people think of heaven as a place to which they will go after they die, if, of course, they meet the requirements for getting there. Of great interest is, what is heaven? Is it really a place or state of being? Do we get the answers we want there, and from whom? Are there other things in heaven? For example, will other members of the family be there and at what stage of their lives will they exist? As you can see the questions begin to mount up in just a short time. Why is this? Most people seem to have a fairly clear idea of heaven so that answers should be readily forthcoming. But, do they have clear ideas?
First of all, what is heaven? The Bible seems to say that it is an atmospheric condition that resides somewhere around the ionosphere. And that means that heaven has a location. When astronauts go into space they must pass through heaven. Given that they do not acknowledge doing so, we may conclude that although heaven has a location, it is a mystical place that requires special permission to enter.
Ok. We know that heaven is close to us, but must be reached spiritually or through some mystical means. How do we get there?
Some say that being a true Christian believer is a sufficient condition for entering heaven. However, Jesus warns us that very few will enter the kingdom, especially those who profess to have belief in God, yet practice belief in another god, money. Remember, only those who follow Christian practice by giving all, by being the Good Samaritan, have a chance at heaven. So, I suspect that at your death, if you cling to your riches and leave them to your friends and family instead of giving to aid the poor and suffering, the door is shut, no matter how strong a verbal or mental commitment you have to God.
But letís suppose that you make it in. What would heaven be like? Most of us think of it as a wonderful place in which there is no evil, suffering or frustration. The pain in your shoulder from the car accident is gone. There are no robbers or murderers. And heaven is a marvel of beauty. Moreover, God or his angels explain to you as much about the world as you can comprehend. Life is an eternal bliss.
There are some conceptual problems, however. How is it that there is no evil in heaven? If we are there as persons, then surely we will have free will. And we all know that free will leads to bad consequences. But nothing bad happens in heaven. So, it looks to be the case that in heaven, people have free will (freedom to choose) but not freedom of action (there is a limited range of alternatives to choose from.). What this means is that in heaven, we may make free choices, but only among good alternatives. I may choose to play golf with you, but I may not choose to hit you over the head with my nine iron. God stops me before I can do anything and convinces me that my action would be wrong.
About suffering and frustration. It is debated whether or not we will have a body in heaven. Some say yes, some say only a spirit (or mind with a spiritual body Ėwhich seem to amount to the same thing). Well, letís suppose that we have bodies. They will be perfect in their nature. Hence, no pain or frustration over tasks. Iíll be able to play the piano without any problem and even without the frustration of going through all the practice of doing scales. I donít have to worry about eating too much inasmuch as I wonít get fat. Iíll be able to have sex without worry of getting anyone pregnant. Everything will be perfect and non threatening.
But, whatís wrong with this picture? Well, if thatís the way heaven really is, then we could be mistaken about its desirability. What fun would it be to always do everything perfectly? Not much. What virtues would we retain by wallowing in the perfections of heaven? None at all. And how much of a good thing is enough? Five hundred years of living in pure pleasure would be nice, but if heaven is eternity, just think of living that way for a million years, two million years, a trillion yearsÖ. How could we even be the same person after a million years, much less a thousand?
So, our ordinary concepts of heaven do not portray the real thing, but something of a disaster. But, what is the real thing?
Ok. Hereís where we leave the beaten path.
What clues do we have to form a conception?
Obviously, our first clue is what heaven is not. It is not the "Hollywood conditions" that we have encountered above. Thatís not to say that it isnít a place, that there are not perfections in it that are antagonistic to our free will, that we will not have freedom of action or that there will be no experience of eternity. What is does mean is that heaven and what we are in it are radically different from our everyday experiences and conceptions and yet, so intrinsically bound to them that we overlook the aspects of or clues to heaven that are revealed to us in those experiences.
To get a clue as to what heaven really is, we must first find the elements of it here. And that is to say that we must create or reveal those perfections in us that would bring heaven to earth. The experience of perfecting oneself and the world, to bring oneself into a harmonized being and through that harmony make the world better for all is a mystical experience. The joy, the mystical experience, of those fleeting moments when we are able to do something involving that harmony of self in and of the world transcends ordinary experience. Now imagine doing this in communication with other persons and finally with a guide, God, who would be part of this process. And the process would be complete at every moment of its ongoingness, thus being in time and yet eternal. One would exist in an experience that was the perfect end of a process which was that very experience. An experience of harmonic bliss in time, yet eternal.
This conception of heaven is neo-Platonic. And in ways, it reflects A. N. Whitehead's concept of how God would work in the world. But, remember, that god is not a Christian god in terms of ontological status. Whitehead's god is one substance among many other substances; in other words, Whitehead's god is a "demiurge" not a creator. However, this concept allows us to transgress to gnostic gospels where early Christian thought put god in a Greek perspective; that Heaven was achieved on earth during one's life. There was no guarantee of an afterlife of the kind where one would necessarily survive the death of the body.
More about this later.
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