November 19, 2017

iMonk Classic: What Is Heaven?

Heaven: An interesting topic. Basically, I think we look at it entirely backwards, and really, the Matrix and Capon on Genesis have been extremely helpful to my own thoughts. I am not looking forward to going there. I think I am there.

The idea that there is a place where God “is” as opposed to God filling the universe itself always and everywhere with his glory is problematic. In fact, creation existing in any way actually separate from the existence of God is problematic. C.S. Lewis said that Hinduism was far more appealing that atheism for that very reason. It makes more sense to say that God=all things than it does to speak of God separate from all things in any sort of spacial-temporal way. “In Him we live, and move and have our being” is about as profound a Biblical statement as I know of. I don’t believe the universe=God, but I also do not believe the universe is anything short of “filled” with the “fullness” of God and his glory at all times. God is transcendent and imminent, not removed or at a distance.

Therefore, the idea of heaven as a place “up there” or “over there on planet Q” is nonsensical in many ways. Far more likely to me is that we are constantly in the presence of God, constantly surrounded by spiritual “beings,” constantly surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses” because we are about as much “in heaven” as we can be…..two matters being excepted.

1) We exist in a physical plane that limits and restricts our awareness of reality. Before sin, this affected us less than it does after sin, but the physical universe is not identical with the fullness of God’s glory. That glory is mediated through it and is never separate from it, but physical existence- especially as mediated through the senses, the body, etc, is always a restriction of our participation in the full dimension of God’s presence and existence. (I believe this limitation will still be there in the new creation, and is a basic difference between God and any creature in any form.)

2) Sin has perverted our awareness of God and reality to the manner of self-centered, blind existence we currently live in. Though the glory and presence of God are everywhere, we are blinded to it by our fallen condition. At times that glory and reality creeps in around the edges, but we are utterly opposed to accepting it. This does change with conversion, and eventually, with glorification, as the effects of sin are removed. (Sin is, basically, a way of thinking and seeing reality.)

3) Therefore, “heaven” to me is a return to the full experience and awareness of God that surrounds us always. This happens in three ways: 1) Salvation, 2) death and 3) resurrection/new creation.
When Denise’s Uncle Ben died, I believe he lost the limitation that separated him from much of the enjoyment of God’s presence. Suddenly, he was with the Lord. As a Christian, I think he entered into an intimate experience of that fullness through the life of Christ, and now sees us as those who are actually “dead/dying” while he is fully alive in the Lord’s presence. In the coming resurrection and new creation, I think he will enter into a physical existence in the fullness of God’s presence here on earth, like the existence of Adam before sin.

So think about the last chapter of Screwtape, where the patient dies and suddenly God’s presence is immediately revealed for him in this world. “Oh…it was you all along.” The barrier falls away, and the truth is revealed. We were the ones who did not/could not see. We don’t “go somewhere,” because it’s all right here. Now. People don’t go away. They become fully alive in the present, unlike this shadowy existence.

When scripture talks about heaven, it talks in the language scripture uses. Pictures. Poetry. Cultural understanding. Please put away the physics books. (Who are these people literally calculating the dimensions of the New Jerusalem? Good grief.) It’s great stuff, but it’s communicating with us on a level different than literal.

Jesus is the traveler from reality to the shadow. He takes on the limitations of the flesh but lives fully in the presence of God. He says the Kingdom of God is here. Now. With him. With us. We are in it. If we believe in him, we never die. I believe that completely. I think when we “die,” it is death that falls away and we simply “fall” into the resurrection of Jesus, whose life allows our disembodied existence to continue until resurrection again gives us a spacial and temporal existence. If we follow him, to death and beyond, we are right there all the time.

Two thoughts. Some of the paranormal is the bleedover from this situation. I am convinced of that. And “Field of Dreams” had it almost perfectly right. The door is in the cornfield.

Comments

  1. Iain Lovejoy says:

    “Therefore, “heaven” to me is a return to the full experience and awareness of God that surrounds us always.”
    Might I also suggest that this might be seen, in the context of someone who is determined to reject God, a pretty good answer to the less popular question “What is hell?”

  2. “It makes more sense to say that God=all things than it does to speak of God separate from all things in any sort of spacial-temporal way.”

    Maybe it’s just because I’m a lifelong D&D player (what with its vast cosmology of planes of existence), but I’ve never had a problem with the “God separate from all things in any sort of spacial-temporal way” idea.

    Now, “heaven” as the full restoration of communion between God’s plane and the Prime Material Plane… THAT I’m fully on board with. 😉

    • Kind of the opposite of how mortals ascend to godhood in classic D&D lore. =)

    • If God does not make space for other things to exist, it’s hard to see how they could have their own existence instead of merely being appendages or extensions of Godself. No matter how you define that space, as inner or outer, in psychological or ontological terms, it has to be a place of openness to eventualities over which God does not have total control, or else the created existent does not actually exist in its own right, but merely is a kind of marionette through which God works God’s purposes. This ability to open a space in which other things can exist is one of the qualitative differences involved between human creativity and God’s creativity; it’s part of what is meant when theology talks about creation ex nihilo, and it marks God’s creativity as utterly different from the creativity of any of God’s creatures.

  3. peregrin365 says:

    I’m a word nut, so you can’t imagine how excited i was to read that the iMonk thought that “when we ‘die’, it is death that falls away and we simply ‘fall’ into the resurrection of Jesus…”, as I’ve been struck recently with the difference between death/necrosis and death/apoptosis. Look ’em up, it’s fascinating if you’re nerdy enough.

  4. As someone who struggles with wanting more certainty to my faith than we actually get, Point #2 is something of comfort to me. The things that are hidden when I’d like them to be obvious aren’t going to stay that way forever.

  5. Rohr stresses the differences between pantheism and panentheism. “Cosmic web” images illustrate the connectedness of everything.

  6. Christiane says:

    the imagery of ‘falling into the Resurrecton of Christ’ reminded me of this from an Orthodox liturgy:

    “Today the Lord enters the Jordan and cries out to John: / “Do not be afraid to baptize me. / For I have come to save Adam, the first-formed man.”

    Prepare, O Zebulon, / and adorn yourself, O Naphtali; / River Jordan, cease flowing / and receive with joy the Master coming to be baptized. / Adam, rejoice with our First Mother / and do not hide yourself as you did of old in Paradise; / for having seen you naked, / He has appeared to clothe you with the first garment. / Christ has appeared to renew all creation.”

  7. I like the imagery of falling into the resurrection of Jesus. It helps to imaginatively apprehend a quality of resurrection life that other metaphors might not help as much with. To to able to fall into something means that, in some respect, you are currently outside of it, and that it can be both present and absent. The same is true with God and “heaven”. It seems to me that what theology means when it talks about God creating ex nihilo is exactly God’s ability to make Godself absent in some real way, so that other things can exist.

    • In order to create ex nihilo, there must be the ability to create nihilo, a void, an emptiness, a free space, in which there is room for the created to exist.