Tuesday, 8 January 2019

What is Heaven like? What is your personal intuition?

A genuine question - hoping for a personal answer. And something that we, our culture, urgently needs to know. What is your understanding of what Heaven is like?

Note added later: The supposedly-childish idea that Christians are people who 'want to go to Heaven after they die' is actually, literally, true - or at least it should be true. That is the core message of the Fourth Gospel. But there are serious (and often deliberately-induced) misunderstandings about what Heaven entails, and how people get there. 

13 comments:

ted said...

We are raised to a higher pitch of transfigured existence within the transcendent dimensions of Reality. I would gather as aspect of this is contained in space and time, and part of it is not.

Seijio Arakawa said...

I have strong intuitions about the pre-resurrection Heavenly state, and separately about the resurrection body. The combination of these two things into the society of Heaven remains a bit hazy for me at the moment.

When a long-distance friend died (suicide, cocktail of psychiatric diagnoses including DID and "bipolar", probably pharmaceutical-induced despair) I dreamt myself to visit a cold, foggy version of the city he lived in, and within that city was something like a hospital where I saw his shattered psyche being wired together. I did not see anything more, getting the sense that I had barged into the middle of something delicate where my involvement was not helpful. All of this was intuitively-real -- the kind of experience most people have and subsequently deny as 'wishful thinking' failing to fit into their metaphysical assumptions.

I followed the thread of that intuition, as well as my reflections and questions about the sort of afterlife given to people who have done evil. I found that pre-resurrection, the spirits of the dead are given a role or a job which they can creatively fulfil (i.e. the why of the work is non-negotiable, the what and how is open to interpretation). This role has concrete effect, either in our world or in other world. It is a person's choice which determines whether this role is perceived as a punishment or a gift. If a person did evil unintentionally, or if a person repents of it, of course they would accept the chance to make up for it by working as a supernatural spirit with different and new capabilities, even if diminished ones. (For example: an author can put pen to paper directly; a Muse can see things more clearly, but must find and persuade an author, and take direction from him. If a Muse was once an author, the Muse would certainly have cause to regret any work that was left unfinished in the flesh.) On the other hand, if a person fails to repent and denies the evil of what they have done, they would perceive work to unmake that evil as humiliating drudgery.

Thus far is intuition. The following is my philosophical conjecture.

I must acknowledge that my view of things is somewhat at odds with the synoptic gospels. In the synoptic parable, Dives requested that Lazarus come and bring water to him; but he had better inquire if he were allowed to do something to make up to Lazarus.

Logically, it's not a given that a person who has died will accept to labor as a spirit. The alternative -- rejecting focus and determination -- corresponds to living in the swamp of Hades as an incoherent ghost. Although Christ may make a personal appearance and a direct offer, it is more typical to meet with familiar and unfamiliar people, both dead and still-alive (through dreams and prayers), making requests in the name of Christ. These are the people who will provoke a response from one who has died, and whose communications provide the grounds for a decision.

The spirit-body of the unresurrected dead is a dream-body, malleable and vulnerable to the perceptions and opinions of others, and requires an external source of focus. Thus relationships to other people are crucial and refusal to relate to other people entails incoherence.

The resurrection-body, on the other hand, I have a clear and vivid image of, but more on account of thought-experiment. Attempting to express the intuition logically yields a mess of Steinerian possible-but-wrong details, which are besides the point of the basic idea. So in the long run it is probably easiest to express in the context of fiction.

(I have not yet demonstrated an ability to write compelling fiction....)

Mark Clifford said...

I feel strongly motivated to respond to this question, because I had an experience that I want to share, which absolutely no one cares about. You all might not either, but at least someone asked. As a frame for this intuition, I should disclose that I am a Latter-day Saint, and so my experience is an LDS one, but that could be okay herebouts.
So, I developed an interest in the topic of the fulfillment of the Covenant that God made to Abraham (Isaac, Jacob, and by extension…us) and how Isaiah was seeming to respond to that covenant, and particularly how Nephi and Jacob reflected on this. I was reading (and reading over and over for some reason) 2 Nephi 6-10 – which is Jacob – and noticed that his use of Isaiah’s discussion of the Covenant culminated in a discourse on the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (in 2 Nephi 9 and 10). I wondered why? Given that the Isaiah passages he (and Nephi) were using emphasize a literal inheritance in a literal land where those inheritors would have literal offspring and live real lives of peace, creativity, and sociality.
Then is struck me with some force that this is what the Covenant promises, and so what the Atonement and Resurrection of Christ promise. Not a fake life in some spiritual sphere where we stare at God all day in rapture, but a real continuation of life – a fullness of life – and that this depends on a resurrection to a real life. A life, if you will, with the “ceiling” removed. That life including children, raising children, loving people, doing real things, participating in the ongoing work of Creation on a personal and Cosmic level.
The spiritualized heaven of the Tradition is horse manure, and not even biblically justified, really. It is just faithless spiritualized mumbo-jumbo.
I also was overwhelmed with the realization that the countless billions of lives that do not come to fulfilment – children unborn, songs unsung, creations unmade, relationships unredeemed – are what the fulfilment of the Covenant promises to us (and to those who will follow Christ into Life).
I recognized that this is the only way to read Isaiah coherently. This means that those who do not believe in embodied life after death in a real world with families and Eternal increase (that is LDS speak for “children”) do not take either the covenant or Isaiah or Jesus seriously.
For me, this kind of reading of Isaiah (and the Book of Mormon, and the Covenant, and the work of Christ) equips me to endure this life. Because Jesus actually promises us Life, and this is the Life He always promised, and the one the Covenant foresees.
For me, that is Heaven.

Lucinda said...

One of my favorite phrases from scripture is "without compulsory means". For me the essence of a heavenly existence of relationships is the freedom from various kinds of compulsion (fear is the big one) and a true understanding of reality, the way it actually works.

Just today I decided I believe very strongly in ownership in a heavenly eternity. I suppose this is just an aspect of Justice. It doesn't seem desirable to live without boundaries, sharing everything, which seems to be something many think is an important part of the scriptures talking about having "all things in common". This is part of why I feel that I really do worship a totally different God than many who supposedly share my religion.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

I think our intuitions on this subject are likely to be about as accurate as a three-year-old's intuitions about what adult life will be like. "It doth not yet appear what we shall be."

a probst said...

No idea. I only know that I am utterly unmoved by the notion that any pastime or situation I might wish to achieve in this life would be mine in heaven-- not success as an artist, not time and space travel, etc. Churchill's quote from Painting As a Pastime comes to mind, the one about spending his first million years painting. Not I, I think.

But now that I pull up the complete passage, I see it differently:

"I cannot pretend to feel impartial about the colours. I rejoice with the brilliant ones, and am genuinely sorry for the poor browns. When I get to heaven I mean to spend a considerable portion of my first million years in painting, and so get to the bottom of the subject. But then I shall require a still gayer palette than I get here below. I expect orange and vermillion will be the darkest, dullest colours upon it, and beyond them there will be a whole range of wonderful new colours which will delight the celestial eye."

In our context painting here becomes a metaphor, whether or not intended by the author, for the "higher pitch of transfigured existence" as Ted puts it above, and for the participation in the work of creation that Bruce often speaks of.

EDFree said...

Ha, I like to think about this all the time...especially after losing loved ones in the past couple of years. Well, I imagine Heaven to be the experience of pure fellowship with God and others without the influence of sin to taint our interactions...which might cause us to hold back and lose touch with the most authentic part of ourselves due to mistrust, suspicion that others might gossip or pass negative judgement, or use our words against us some other way if we express our real thoughts. Everyone would be genuine and have each other's best interests at heart, sort of like a very large and happy family, though that is becoming rare and difficult to imagine these days....

Bruce Charlton said...

Great comments, thank you very much.

One of the aspects I noticed recently is that we seem to find it easier to know the 'context' of Heaven, the 'stage setting' aspect - than we do to predict what we will actually Do in Heaven. It seems hard, perhaps, to say what 'everyday life' would be like.

Some people perhaps infer from this that we don't Do anything much, that heaven is abstract, static or cyclical, a kind of passive state of glory, adoration and so on. But perhaps that kind of description is a result of trying to capture in a few generalities what is actually an extreme, open-ended, variety of detail?

It struck me recently that to ask what we Do in Heaven is perhaps not qualitatively different from asking - in detail - what a Man does on Earth, in mortal life? In other words there is not one answer, but there are seven billion different answers, corresponding to the number of people.

(The question 'what do we Do in Heaven' is ill-formed; because it presupposes there will be a simple general answer; yet we know - by analogy to mortal life - there is no such answer.)

Since (I think) Christianity entails that we remain our-selves in Heaven 9and are indeed More our-selves), a similar situation would presumably prevail - in other words, what specific people will specifcially do, in detail, will vary according to person.

In broad tersm I think we can be sure that everything is covered by 'participation in God's ongoing creation' - but what exactly that is will vary according to the strengths and motivations of individuals - and each individual will bring a new possibility to the totality.

Therefore, each additional individual who joins Heaven will increase its scope in an unique way. That conclusion seems intuitively right to me!

Shaun F said...

I don't know what heaven is. But the afterlife, which comes after God's Judgement - will see us healed, and reunited with friends and family. And the affliction and paid of this life will be gone. So I am more in like with Ben Franklin and Aristotle as opposed to organized religion. And just to clarify I don't buy into the doctrine of hell. I'm sure the priests would want us to believe there is a hell - otherwise Christians wouldn't be the good guys. I figure God's judgement will be painful enough that hell won't be needed.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Shaun F - Looking around - don't you see an awful lot of people who (unless they change their minds) will certainly choose Hell - and reject Heaven with disgust? I do. Hell is precisely what many people want and ask for - although, of course, it will not work-out the way they suppose. But they are revolted by Heaven, loathe the very idea.

Shaun F said...

Bruce - What I see is a lot of people blinded by their pride and can't see the difference between right and wrong. As God sent his Son to die for our inability to see clearly - I think God will be quite just with people during judgement. For example it's not the ignorant peasant farmer Buddhist in Sri Lanka that is going to "hell" cause he never knew Jesus like some Christians think. He'll get an easier pass than Christians who will be held accountable to a higher standard.

HofJude said...

For my adult life from roughly aet. 30-60, I thought that Alec Guinness rendered heaven perfectly in the 1953 Anthony Kimmins fillm "The Captain's Paradise." In my middle sixties, partly prompted by your post on WD Hamilton, partly by my parents' deaths and detailed new revelations about their ancestors' lives in Germany in the 18th and early 19th centuries, I became interested, then deeply engaged in the idea of ancestral voices within me. I thought I was writing about it, but really it was an interior reenactment of the lives and feelings of my ancestors on the left and right banks of the Rhine, and their comings to and goings within America - and somehow the notion of an afterlife as an ingathering of such familial connections. This intuition was coincident with the achievement in my young son's life of the age - 8 years old - which entered a stage in my own childhood in which I suddenly begin to remember every single day - coincident but no coincidence. (Perhaps Jews have a sense of relationship with God which is transmitted precisely genetically - from our being the offspring of the offspring of those who were gathered at Sinai -- though I find this consciousness of relationship nearly absent among the fellow Jews I happen to know).
But I realized very recently - in my later sixties - that I could not live in such a world that it was an experience that was to be passed through, and in some ways I had passed through. But I am not sure.
And now, I am in a mist - but at times the impression comes to me that I am reawakening to the experience of English romantic poetry that came to me without warning and as an explosion at the age of 18, and which I chose at that moment to determine my life - though it was a determination which faded in me as I attained the lofty heights of the EngLit professoriate - well, assistant-professoriate -- in real life. When I earned my bread by being able faintly to reproduce the effects in my students that Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge produced in me when I was their age - my facility that seemed more and more mechanical to me when I reached my 30s, and the sense of participation more and more faint.
I shall see what emerges from the mists which at the moment immure me. I'm sure I'm not alone among your readers in being very glad you are (still!) around.

Bruce Charlton said...

@HoJ - All that resonates with me as a feeling; but the big question is whether it is more than (just) a feeling - because feeligs are temporary and (for a materialist) sooner or later utterly obliterated by time. Do these feelings correlate with eternal facts, relevant to me specifically, and forever? - *That* is what we need to answer - And, if the answer is Yes; perhaps we also need a metaphysical scheme to explain to ourselves *how* such feelings can be eternal facts.