Wednesday 20 July 2022

Unrequited love in Heaven? Heaven is Not just an eternal version of worldly hedonism

When I was an atheist, I used to regard the Christian idea of Heaven as just an eternal version of the hedonism of this world. 

In other words, I did not distinguish Heaven from the mainstream idea that the main thing in our lives is to be as happy as possible/ suffer as little as possible; with the mainstream 'utilitarian' notion of morality as wanting the same for as many other people as possible. 

But if happiness is made the main thing about Heaven, then this leads to all sorts of difficulties in conceptualizing Heaven - which then make it even harder to believe in the reality of Heaven. 

Many Christians already make the error of regarding Heaven as 'perfect in every way' which implies it must be a static state. However, if perfect happiness is also required then this rules-out free will (and indeed individuality) because we must be Made Happy.

And it rules out our participation in creation. 

Yet, if we want to summarize Heaven in a single concept; that concept should not be happiness by creation - taking account that creation is inseparable from Love

The idea of eternal happiness paralyses any possibility of creation - because it removes any motivation for creation. It also paralyses actual interpersonal Love as the characteristic of Heaven - replacing it with an abstract and unchanging love this just-is: going nowhere, because there is no reason to go anywhere (it being already-perfect).  

Therefore, we should - I think - take care not to place happiness or any other 'emotion' at the centre of heavenly life; but instead regard happiness, suffering and misery as being subordinated to Heaven's primary reality and goal of loving-creation. 

In Heaven we may be happy at any particular time - but we may also suffer. For example, we may aspire - we may desire change which is improvement; and in general be discontented with how things are at present.  

For example; there may be - at any given moment and for a particular individual - be unrequited personal love in Heaven. We may wish to become eternally married to someone who does not feel the same way about us. And this is extremely painful: here and now. 

But in Heaven we have discarded sin; and therefore unrequited love is a starting point - not an endpoint. In heaven, one who suffers unrequited love will live eternally; but that person will be experiencing, creating and learning - and through this will come healing. 

Also, nobody in Heaven is bereft of love; everyone will be in a loving family. And while family love is not the same as love of a spouse; it is certainly far better than the indifference and neglect that so many people experience in mortal life.  

Therefore; while Heaven is much happier than mortal life for many people, much of the time; as it ought to be on earth; happiness is best considered a motivator, a guide, a reward - and not the end-point. We will surely feel very happy sometimes, and less happy or miserable at other times. 

But we ourselves will be far better able to cope and make the best of these feelings - which will be the basis for our living and working. 

Heaven is not about happiness primarily - but about living in love, fully aligned with God, and participating in the divine work of creation.  


Bonald said...

The main point of heaven is supposed to be the beatific vision. It's entirely orthodox to believe that Jesus Christ enjoyed the beatific vision for the entire time of His incarnation, and also that he suffered greater pain and sorrow than any other man, His greater spiritual consciousness allowing him to recognize more acutely the horrors of sin. Obviously, then, the main point of the beatific vision is not being happy. I think it's better to think of it as an appreciation, an awareness, which certainly inspires love but, like any love, may or may not make one happy. The possibility of unrequited love in heaven is also one that many Christians should credit, although of course most will not be thinking of romantic love, which is generally considered not to exist in heaven. However, it is often thought that the charitable love of the blessed for the damned is unrequited, the damned supposedly being incapable of love.

Lady Mermaid said...

While it sounds utterly ridiculous now, I used to worry as a teenager that heaven would be boring. Of course, I certainly didn't want to go to hell. However, heaven seemed to be portrayed as an eternal church service. Even Dante's Inferno depicting hell is much more popular than his Paradiso depicting heaven.

Bonald words it quite well as describing the Beatific Vision as a full awareness. 1 Corinthians 13 states that we see dimly in a mirror at this time. I remember reading a point from a priest that Jesus still had the wounds from the crucifixion in His hands after His resurrection. Christ did not erase our sufferings; He overcame them. It could be said God Himself has unrequited love for those who reject Him. In fact, marriage is a metaphor to describe the relationship between God and man. Throughout the Old Testament, God frequently refers to Israel as an adulteress wife. The New Testament speaks of a marriage between Christ and the Church. Man becomes one w/ God while maintaining his own identity.

Bruce Charlton said...

Comment from Truth to Life: "The idea of unrequited love in heaven is interesting, but seems difficult to imagine, at least in a romantic sense. Christ said there is no marriage in heaven, or rather that we will all be married to Him. ... I find that comforting because Christ loves us more perfectly than any earthly spouse could. But I imagine love between people will be infinitely more fulfilling in heaven as well, because our sins will no longer create division between us."

Bruce Charlton said...

@B - The beatific vision seems to me confused between a static state - implied by vision; and dynamic development of Men.

Also confused between salvation (again a binary question) and theosis - ongoing spiritual growth. Salvation is achieved by resurrection into Heaven - but theosis continues in Heaven.

I would regard the 'end point' conceptualized by the BV as being that full communication between a Man and God, which is the aim of theosis - happening when a Man has (like Jesus Christ) attained to the same level of spiritual maturity as The father: *grown-up* Sons of God.

But this would presage the fullness of a Man co-creating with God; within God's pre-existing creation: a Man would therefore take up his proper role, and become a true friend to God (the mortal human analogy being the ideal of a son growing up to full maturity and becoming a friend of his Father - while always remaining his son).

Bruce Charlton said...

@LM - Heaven as depicted is often indeed boring, in the same way that most people would be bored by the idea of permanently spending their lives in continuous meditation. Many people find meditation too boring for five minutes - let alone eternity!

I think that ancient ideas of Heaven are incomplete - too passive, too static, too receptive. We want to do, as well as to contemplate - except when we are immiserated and exhausted, when the idea of mere painless (even better - blissful) *rest* has appeal... But in practice the appeal of 'rest' is always temporary.

From my focus on the Fourth Gospel - I regard Jesus as telling us a good deal about life in heaven, which is natural since the Gospel is 'all about' eternal/ everlasting life through Jesus; but tells us in what strikes us moderns as analogical/ symbolic ways.

And what the IV Gospel tells us, bears near zero resemblance to the beatific vision or any such contemplative state. I regard the BV as largely a red herring, and confusing - probably a later interpolation by Classically trained philosophers/ theologians, importing to Christ's Christianity alien aspects from Platonism.

Bruce Charlton said...

@B and LM - It may be worth considering what God wants from Heaven - why God should have made such a place, and Jesus given us access. The idea of Heaven as merely for passive (albeit blissful) contemplation does not seem to require resurrection - why bother with bodies? Indeed, if heaven was to be just that kind of place, why bother with mortal creation at all - why not just have humans as spirits born directly into bliss?

My understanding of God's motivations focus on that he wants to raised Men (as many as will consent and are capable) to his own level - to make Heaven a family rather than a hermitage - Jesus being the first addition to begin to create the community.

Lucinda said...

"unrequited love is a starting point". This is a great point. In some ways it seems that a main life lesson for most, if not all, is the reality and unavoidability of unrequited love. We love our parents, then we have criticisms that need addressing. We love our spouse, then we learn about their love limitations compared to our fantasy. We love our children, then they grow up and have criticisms that need addressing. We love life, and it will betray us to the grave. But if we can come to understand this unrequited-ness as merely the beginning, and let our love endure, and grow, then we find true love.

God loves us. Do we love him back? Probably not really. We all have our conditions that He be one way or another that is obviously out of step with His Creation. I'm not exactly opposed to this situation, we are the children who must find our way through the criticisms we have of His Creation. I don't think God is opposed to this situation either. It seems obvious that He wants our love to be freely given and based on reality, across time. We are at a starting point, and faith moves us forward. I'm of the persuasion that God will reveal His true nature to us a coherent bit at a time. Some bits are harder to take, according to the individual.

To clarify, from the human perspective, it is God who doesn't return our love. Much like the alienated adolescent, our criticisms of His Creation prevent us from seeing His love as love. Does it bother God that we don't really love Him back? I don't think it does, except that He knows it's bad for us and will prevent happiness. Is it really necessary for Him to be mournful in accepting our decision to reject parts or even all of His love? I find it hard to believe, and yet it may be the case. It strikes me as unhealthy, but maybe that's one of the problems of my generation!

AnteB said...

I have problems with both the idea of a static heaven and a dynamic, creative heaven as you describe.

That last image solves some problems but create others (for me). To be forever engaged in creation together with others, in harmony with God, but to what ultimate end? Better things? Maybe creating is its own end. But to always strive and aspire and perhaps never experince profound or lasting contenment. That heaven answers the problem of death but not the problem of yearning or want. I don´t really feel the "pull" of that image, to be honest. But I suppose what we hope for and what we think about heaven is something each of us has to work out.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AB - I find it important to understand that creativity of the Heavenly kind is an aspect of love. And (as I have written all over this blog) creativity in this context means final participation, which means the originative thinking of the real-divine self.

At a more mundane level, the only thing I personally do not soon get bored with in this mortal life, is creative activity in the context of loving family life. This never repeats, is always new, goes from delight to delight. I can easily imagine this raised to a Heavenly level.

jana gatien said...

To my understanding (biblical and intuitive), heaven is not a permanent abode, but rather a temporary place where Christ reigns (now) with the saints who exist with him in their spiritual bodies. When the earth classroom is done and all who are destined to choose God/Christ (and whatever that may entail) the earth is made anew, without death, decay or corrosion. Eternal life is thus spent in a new earth with Christ as king. With God, who is creating a family now by testing our fidelity and trustworthiness in this temporary classroom.