Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rehabilitating Heaven

Every so often I write about heaven, and I can hardly keep myself from waxing rhapsodic. I find the ideas and imagery of the afterlife truly inspiring. Yet I also find it difficult to keep from waning snarkily (please forgive the semantic chimera). Heaven is one of my great comforts and joys, yet for many other believers, it seems to lead only to confusion or apathy. "Won't heaven be boring?" I can hardly believe my ears.

Many people -- even many Christians -- seem to envision of heaven of puffy clouds and plinking harps and halos a la mode. Yet how many of us would willingly resign ourselves to such a life?  Why do we imagine an afterlife devoid of joy, a paradise devoid of pleasure, a heaven devoid of humanity?

As I've said before, such a heaven is a heresy. There is no room in my theology for a God who would create man, call him very good, and forcibly remove from his eternal future all that defined him as human.

For one, heaven is not somewhere "up there." Christianity promises "a New Heaven and a New Earth" (Rev. 21:1).  The Apostles' Creed insists on "the resurrection of the body." The Christian faith and the Christian future are equally and essentially Incarnational.

Our stereotype of heaven is taken from the imagery of Revelation, which speaks of an eternal choir singing for the praise and glory of God. This is quite true: life after death will be in a perpetual state of worship. Yet God's glory is not confined to the nave! Even the most devout among us would have a hard time accepting an eternal existence in the choir loft.

Just as surely as we can whistle, so we can worship while we work.

The Communion of the Saints

Rehabilitating heaven is one of my passions, and there's a lot of ground to cover. I've been waiting to do a series of notes on Life After Death for quite some time. I'll post occasionally on the topic, while continuing my exploration of Catholic dogma.  I hope you enjoy the series.

If you aren't bothered by the potential spoilers, I'd recommend Dr. Peter Kreeft's essay on Fourteen Questions About Heaven. There are some points where I disagree, but I think it's a splendid resource.

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