Thursday 4 July 2013

What is Heaven like?


The analogies are drawn from our own best experiences - but each points to a qualitatively different Heaven, an essentially different Heaven.

1. An endless timeless moment of ecstasy; to be blissed-out with empathic love, aesthetic arrest, sudden deep insight - always now but infinitely prolonged?

2. A perpetual adventure, a cornucopia of infinitely various pleasures of mind and body - always fresh; love in praise, in thanks, in song?

3. The perfection of perfect family life, in God's family; as Son or Daughter, as Brother or Sister, as Father or Mother; Aunties and Uncles, Nephews, Nieces and Cousins (by blood and by adoption): eternal growth of love in relations?

4. Perpetual triumphant war - courage, comradeship, excitement, alternating with rest and recreation, feasting and celebrating and planning the next campaign: to be God's warrior?


The main distinction is Heaven as a perpetual state versus Heaven as a perpetual process; Heaven as being or Heaven as becoming


Which do you most desire?

Which is truest? 

Or/ And: are there other Heaven's, essentially different; more true?



Arakawa said...

I think the most difficult thing is thinking about Heaven in a way that does not pull in Universalism, or at least extreme leniency as regards salvation.

Something like this:

... makes it impossible to think of this life and the next as related except in the sense of a test of conduct, so many of even the best experiences in this life are primarily temptations or distractions from God, rather than a forestaste of Heaven. For me, actually believing the testimony about numbers and proportions is also a problem, as being fatally damaging to charity. (Why love your neighbour if he's almost certainly going to Hell? It can be understood as a test on the intellectual level, but the heart is a different matter; indeed, different people may not react to this doctrine in the same way.)

I think this is why Mormons profess (as far as I understand) a near-Universalism, where those who do not take the opportunity to grow closer to God through joining the Church in the ignorance of earthly life, do not really lose the blessings of eternal life already present in the pre-mortal state (save for a very few who are in a position to know God and yet betray Him in such an active sense that they are cast out as Sons of Perdition). This makes it easy to see Heaven as a perfected continuation of this life, as opposed to a completely discontinuous mode of being.

But it's also unsatisfying. Whereas imagining near-pervasive damnation can (sometimes, not always) harden the heart, Universalism can (again, not always, but often enough) soften the head; it does not explain why we are in a battle against monstrous Evil, much less what is at stake, so it is dangerous for people who naturally tend to ignore that dimension of existence.

Arakawa said...

... continuing my earlier comment, with something I am far less certain about:

I'm personally inclined towards a 'composite' view of the soul and salvation, for various non-scriptural reasons (knowledge of malleability of the personality through such things as Dissociative Identity Disorder in other people, the notion that the entire world is resurrected and re-made, not just a few people from it, personal experience, etc.). But this is complicated to understand, and I don't think I even understand it fully myself, much less know whether there's a Scriptural refutation of this view.

Suffice it to say, if in Pride I was to fix on a definite idea of myself -- this idea would very probably not be the same person that those around me saw as worthy of loving, and would definitely not be the same person God had intended to make of me. I would esteem traits of myself very highly that were worthless to God, worthless to the people close to me; making these traits part of me and binding that into the whole with an application of Ego, would certainly ensure the whole was damned.

Yet, if in Pride I were to find myself in Hell, I might be very surprised and shocked to look up and see that the people close to me were not deprived of the person I'd been unconsciously been fighting against -- the person God wished to make of me, and whose hesitant and few impulses that pleased God and helped my neighbour could sometimes break through the outward shell of sin and drive my actions. This, I would note, when everything is cleanly judged and separated, is the only person in me that could come across as human, whose proper habitation could be discerned as being elsewhere than Hell.

If damned, I might not have the satisfaction of the Tragedian in CS Lewis, who was thinking (and it is a demonic thought) that at least he has robbed his wife of the satisfaction of having her family intact in Heaven. (Lewis' solution to that dilemma was to treat the relation of the characters as utterly expendable in Eternity, which is -- again! -- directly contrary to how we are intended to treat it in earthly life!)

Discerning in day-to-day life where the fault line lies between the person God is trying to make of me, and the person I am trying in self-will to make myself into, is obviously the difficult part to this view.

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - The tone of the New Testament is one of great Good News for Man - from this I infer that Salvation is (more or less) given us IF we but accept it.

The special peril of these times is that there are many (I suspect) who will reject salvation, actively reject it.

So there is no fixed percentage of saved at all times and places - it is quite possible that fewer are saved in the modern West, as a proportion, than anywhere ever before.

Beyond this, Heaven has many mansions, and presumably many levels - nonetheless, I think the matter of whether Heaven is conceptualized as essentially Out-of-Time/ Timeless/ Static (all times present in one time), or a process and progression occurring in endless serial time is worth thinking about.

Then there is the matter that the saints will dwell in a New Earth and a New Jerusalem...

I find it all difficult/ impossible to hold in the mind simultaneously.

Anyway, despite whatever complications and uncertainties - we do need to think about Heaven, because it is the source of Hope in the triad of Faith, Hope and Charity.

Samson J. said...

But it's also unsatisfying.

You've definitely nailed the problem(s). I find the only real solution is not to think about it, and just focus on doing what we're supposed to do. Not a terribly intellectual answer, to be sure...

Christian in Hollyweird said...

I think of it like a new level of a video game, a new adventure on a different plane of existence. Eternal theosis with Jesus as our head. Interruptions to stasis, challenges and trials, but different in their manifestation than on earth. Still a dynamic eternal process with failure/falling as an option, moving towards or away from
the Father.

An eternal stasis frankly terrifies me but I know God is a good Father and knows what's best for me and I trust Him no matter what Heaven turns out to be.

baduin said...

Supernatural character of heaven and the beatific vision

In heaven the just will see God by direct intuition, clearly and distinctly. Here on earth we have no immediate perception of God; we see Him but indirectly in the mirror of creation.(...) That the blessed see God is a dogma of faith, expressly defined by Benedict XII (1336):

We define that the souls of all the saints in heaven have seen and do see the Divine Essence by direct intuition and face to face [visione intuitivâ et etiam faciali], in such wise that nothing created intervenes as an object of vision, but the Divine Essence presents itself to their immediate gaze, unveiled, clearly and openly; moreover, that in this vision they enjoy the Divine Essence, and that, in virtue of this vision and this enjoyment, they are truly blessed and possess eternal life and eternal rest" (...)

To enable it to see God, the intellect of the blessed is supernaturally perfected by the light of glory (lumen gloriae).

Although the blessed see God, they do not comprehend Him, because God is absolutely incomprehensible to every created intellect, and He cannot grant to any creature the power of comprehending Him as He comprehends Himself. (...) The blessed comprehend God neither intensively nor extensively — not intensively, because their vision has not that infinite clearness with which God is knowable and with which He knows Himself, nor extensively, because their vision does not actually and clearly extend to everything that God sees in His Essence. For they cannot by a single act of their intellect represent every possible creature individually, clearly, and distinctly, as God does; such an act would be infinite, and an infinite act is incompatible with the nature of a created and finite intellect. The blessed see the Godhead in its entirety, but only with a limited clearness of vision (Deum totum sed non totaliter). They see the Godhead in its entirety, because they see all the perfections of God and all the Persons of the Trinity; and yet their vision is limited, because it has neither the infinite clearness that corresponds to the Divine perfections, nor does it extend to everything that actually is, or may still become, an object of God's free decrees. Hence it follows that one blessed soul may see God more perfectly than another, and that the beatific vision admits of various degrees.(...)

There are various degrees of beatitude in heaven corresponding to the various degrees of merit. This is a dogma of faith, defined by the Council of Florence (...) The various degrees of beatitude are not limited to the accidental blessings, but they are found first and foremost in the beatific vision itself. For, as we have already pointed out, the vision, too, admits of degrees. These essential degrees of beatitude are, as Francisco Suárez rightly observes ("De beat.", d. xi, s. 3, n. 5), that threefold fruit Christ distinguishes when He says that the word of God bears fruit in some thirty, in some sixty, in some a hundredfold (Matthew 13:23). (...)

Samson J. said...

I think of it like a new level of a video game, a new adventure on a different plane of existence

Glad to hear you say this; "think of it like a video game" is exactly the advice I received on a forum a long time ago and I have held that conception of heaven ever since. More or less what I was asking, which prompted that response, was this: what is the meaning of a virtue like "courage" in a world where one can't be hurt and thus doesn't really risk anything? What is the meaning of "adventure" in a world where nothing is dangerous? And so my friend said: think of it like a video game.

An eternal stasis frankly terrifies me but I know God is a good Father and knows what's best for me and I trust Him no matter what Heaven turns out to be.

Me too!

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

I think the best way to think about Heaven is St. Teresa de Jesus' way: I want to see God. At 5 years of age she tried to go and be martyred by the Mohammedans in order to see God immediately.

I was reminded recently that the most fundamental desire of man is not happiness (this is just a consequence), it is to see God, to be in His presence and know Him as He knows us.

Kristor said...

Eternity is not stasis. It is an adventure. There is not therefore any conflict between the various visions of heaven you propose.

How can we know that eternity is not static? Because it is the context of all being; all being occurs in eternity. If there were a conflict between eternity and processes, then, eternity being prior to processes in the order of logic, there could be no processes. Thus there is no such conflict. Thus also all steps of all processes are instances of eternity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Kristor - At a high level of abstraction what you say is true (although I still believe there is a fundamental distinction between an unending process and a perfection in state. But ordinary people, children, the most devout Christians have a more simple analogy.