Monday, August 27, 2007

What Is Heaven?

Many people have postulated on what Hell is, but I have heard fewer people describe their theories on Heaven. The classical vision of Hell, with the fire and brimstone and devils with pitchforks, has largely gone by the wayside in these more modern times. I have heard two common descriptions of Hell. Perhaps the most prevalent, and certainly the most 'spiritual,' is that Hell is an existence devoid of the presence of God. Apparently all the grace and beauty in the world, that many people take for granted, is God's gift to mankind, and the most painful experience is to live an eternity without it. Think a blind person who lost their sight in middle age, especially if they were an artist or someone that really relied on and appreciated the gift of their sight. To have it taken away, once you know the true wonder of it, is a bitter pill indeed to swallow.

Another common Hell theory I have heard is that everyone makes their own individual Hell. This is the theory that interests me the most. For example, if a person hates the cold and is deathly afraid of spiders, they would spend an eternity in a frigid wasteland beset upon by scores of vicious spiders. I think you get the point. This allows Hell to be all things to all people. The previous example would not phase someone who is both an Arctic explorer and an Arachnologist, their personal Hell would be something entirely different. I think the first theory, the absence of God's grace, is a good motivator for a person of faith. They are more accustomed to recognizing God's presence around them everyday, and would be loathe to take any action that would doom them to an eternity without it. The second example is probably more geared towards worldly or secular people. Everyone has an imagination, and it is easy to fear spending the rest of your life surrounded by the very things you hate and fear.

What, then, about Heaven? I think the classical vision of pudgy cherubs dancing amongst fluffy clouds is about as relevant in these times as the fire and brimstone version of Hell is. From the two prominent theories of Hell, it is possible to postulate two possible versions of Heaven. The first would probably consist of a more pure and encompassing existence in His presence. This, again, would appeal most to people of faith who would strive to do good in life so that they might have an even more gifted eternity with God in the afterlife. This is also sometimes seen in the Godhead theory of heaven, in which a decedent loses their individuality and actually becomes one with God. What about the secular people, what would drive them to live a good life?

I think that a possible second version of Heaven would consist of all those things that an individual loves and cherishes. Perhaps heaven for one man is a bottomless plate of nachos and an endless nail biter of a football game. I would like to think that Heaven, if it exists, is kind of a combination of both. If I was able to design Heaven, it would involve the ability to relive all the best moments of one's life, and experience different versions in which different choices were made at critical junctures. Heaven would also contain the sum of all universal knowledge, which I guess is a secularists way of defining the Godhead. In Heaven, one would be able to travel time and witness the wonders of ancient events, take a stroll on the moon, travel in an instant to distant galaxies and experience alien cultures, if they exist. Every question would be answered, from the mundane to the profound, from where in the heck the rubber snake is, to what is the meaning of life. In Heaven, a person could sit down with Plato, Gandhi, and Ronald Reagan and get their opinion of Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

There is, sadly, one possible drawback to my personal vision of Heaven. If we all maintain our individuality, then Heaven would be populated with only one copy of our individual soul. What then, if two people have differing views of Heaven? Imagine a young couple, Bob and Sally. They are high school sweethearts and madly in love. Before they have a chance to get married, have children, and live a lifetime together, Bob is run over by a bus. Sally is heartbroken for many years, but eventually moves on and meets Tom, falls in love again, has three beautiful children, and dies incredibly happy and contented of extreme old age. Sally's Heaven would most likely involve Tom, their children, all all their many other friends and family. But what about poor Bob? He ended his life completely in love with Sally and would probably expect to meet her in Heaven. If there is only one version of our souls in Heaven, then Sally would not be available to him. Would they meet, have "the talk," and then go their separate ways? That's pretty depressing. Perhaps some type of copy of Sally would exist in Bob's Heaven, but would it really be the same? What about Bob?

Therein lies the crux of faith, the great unanswerable question. What is the meaning of life, and what happens after? If I could answer that with unwavering certainty, I would probably have a book written about me, and people would talk about my theories for thousands of years. Hmm, that might just give a person pause.


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm. I got to thinking. I really like this blog posting, I would have to agree with you on the heaven thing. For some people it may be to eat a whole pan of chocolate chocolate chip brownies without gaining calories or getting a stomachache. But then perhaps this is only a worldly sensation and heaven is ten times better. Does a person's soul live on with these cravings? Perhaps to go to hell is to always feel want. and to go to heaven is to always feel full.

Anonymous said...

Of course we are going off the presumption that there is a Heaven, Hell and God. What if when we die, we simply cease to exist? Does anyone actually believe in a doggy heaven? We are, after all, just animals like all other creatures. If there's no dog heaven, whose to say there is one for us?
The Johnson Agnostic

Thomas Paine said...

Johnson Agnostic,
There are, I believe, a few major errors in your comment. First, I will certainly concede the possibility that the only thing that follows death is oblivion, no afterlife. This is of course a matter of personal belief and faith. Your first error is to state that no one believes in Doggy Heaven. This is quite in error as there have been multiple movies made that illustrate just such a place. Second, and most egregiously, you compare humans to all other animals. According to the bible Man was given stewardship over all the animals of God's creation. If, however, you do not hold such quaint beliefs, you should at least accept that mankind alone has levels of sentience orders of magnitude greater than even the smartest of the animals. Your last error is just plain silly; "If there's no dog heaven, whose to say there is one for us?" I mean come on!