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Heaven, as I understand it

Medieval people thought and think much about Heaven and Hell. Though I was born long after the Middle Ages ended, I am medieval in the way I think, so here are my thoughts about Heaven:

I understand that I do not understand, which means that I am in the dark, but I am not completely lost because I at least know that I am in the dark. I know something, which is better than knowing nothing, even though the thing I know is the fact that I do not know much. I do not know much about Heaven, for I have never been there, nor have I ever spoken with anyone who has been there, but I believe that Heaven has two important characteristics: first, GOD is there; second, people there are very happy. These two characteristics have different implications for different people. For those, like myself, who believe that GOD is objectively real, Heaven must also be objectively real. For those who, unlike myself, believe that GOD is merely a figment of their own imaginations, which they choose to believe in not because HE is real but because the thought makes them feel good, heaven is as subjective as God. As I believe in the objective existence of GOD, I also believe in the objective reality of Heaven. Though I believe that Heaven is objectively real, I also believe that there is something subjective about Heaven; I believe this because of Heaven’s second important characteristic, namely, that people there are very happy. Each person is unique, and what makes one person happy might make another sad, or angry, therefore Heaven cannot be the same for all.

About five years ago, I was in France and I heard a Roman Catholic priest tell a group of old women, who more or less regretted the sinful lives they had lived, that in Heaven there is no memory. According to him, all that they had ever done would be completely forgotten and there would be no trace of their past lives. The old French women seemed to like that, but it threw me into despair and nearly caused me to reject the Roman Catholic Church and convert to some form of Protestant Christianity. My life has not been perfect, but it is who I am. My experiences have formed my personality. The people I have known have filled my heart, and I do not want to forget them. I regret my sins, but I do not regret my entire life, and I do not want every trace of it to be washed away. If my soul goes to Heaven without any trace of anything that I have ever done, then my soul is not me, then I am not really going to Heaven, then this life is as pointless as the Atheists claim it to be. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die and nothing we have ever done will matter in the least. That is not the Heaven I want.

Norse and Germanic warriors envisioned the afterlife as Valhalla, the drinking hall of the gods, where those who die in battle go to feast and fight forever. Valhalla is a warrior’s paradise, where warriors can do forever what they most enjoy doing. For those people who are not warriors, and who dislike conflict of any kind, such an afterlife would seem more hellish than heavenly.

The fact that Heaven, though one, is yet different for different people, is indicated in chapter fourteen of The Gospel According to Saint John, in which JESUS CHRIST is quoted as saying: “In My FATHER’s home there are many mansions.” Another translation is, “In My FATHER’s house there are many rooms.” So, there is one house, but many rooms, which implies that the experience of Heaven will not be the same for all. Those who hate themselves and the lives they have lived might find the bliss of forgetfulness; those who love the intensity of struggling to overcome obstacles like warriors might find a Valhalla-like afterlife in which there are always new victories to be won; whereas those like myself, who love the lives we have lived and the people we have known, might live forever with the people we have loved and relive our past experiences.

Heaven as I image it – a reliving of past experiences with the people I have loved – might seem boring, but it cannot be, because boredom comes from doing the same thing too many times, or for too long a duration. Watching television can be boring for someone who has always had a television, but when television first came out in the 1940’s and 50’s it was exciting, even though the programming was very limited, all of it was in black-and-white, and the screens were small. Sex, if done too many times, becomes boring, but remember the first time; was that boring? Boredom comes with time as we know it, but in Heaven time is different from what we know. Eternity is outside of time. It transcends time, and there everything is simultaneous. In eternity there is no before and after; everything is. The past is alive; the future is already here. All is simultaneous. We humans cannot live that way, and we will not live that way, but we will live somewhat like that. I cannot imagine or explain precisely how, but it stands to reason that as time is linked to our bodies, and our bodies there will be glorified, our experience of time will be different there than it is here.

Only GOD lives eternally; in Heaven we will not be GOD, but we will be with HIM and similar to HIM, so our lives will be almost eternal, though not completely, because to be completely eternal we would have to cease being human, which would mean ceasing to be ourselves. If we cease to be ourselves, then Heaven would be like that proclaimed by the French priest who almost made me fall into utter despair. He said that our souls go to Heaven, but our souls are nothing like who we really are. So too would it be if we lived eternally by ceasing to be ourselves. Aristotle wrote wisely when he wrote that none would want to become a god if to do so meant ceasing to be himself, for if a man ceases to be himself, then though some part of him might be divinized, he would be destroyed. I am not some part of me; I am all of me. What, then, of sin? Can sin follow me into Heaven? Is there evil in Heaven? Metaphysics has an answer to this question. Evil is essentially an absence of good; it has no positive substance. Evil does not exist in Heaven; neither does it exist anywhere else. Sin is the choosing of evil. Evil is largely an illusion, and sin is the choice we make when we decide to live according to the illusion instead of according to reality. In Heaven, everything is real; the illusion of evil is no more. Will we remember our past sins? I want to remember the truths that I learned from my sins; I want to remember the good times that I had while sinning. The sins are to be forgotten, because they were never substantial in the first place, but the good that happened in the midst of sin will be remembered. To illustrate what I mean, I recommend the movie “Leaving Las Vegas”. In the movie, a prostitute played by Elizabeth Shue falls in love with an alcoholic played by Nicholas Cage. She tries to make him happy – not just giving him pleasure like any prostitute would, but actually make him profoundly happy. She loves him, and does all that she can for him. If she had been a real woman rather than a fictional character, then she might be in Heaven now, and if she were in Heaven now, the sin of her prostitution would be erased, but the true love she had for Nicholas Cage would remain. Her love and her sin were linked; she met Cage when she was working, and he paid her for sex; but not everything about their relationship was evil. The true love that existed, though it grew out of a filthy sexual encounter, was good. Fruit trees might be fertilized with manure, but the fruit they produce is not manure. Good grain sometimes grows in the midst of weeds; the grain is not burnt because of the weeds, rather it is separated from the weeds. Many of my experiences were in some way connected with sin; I want my sins to be forgiven, and I want my experiences to be remembered. I believe that JESUS CHRIST is able to separate the two, preserving all that is good, and allowing all that is bad to fade away, which it does naturally. Evil is essentially an absence of good; it has no being of its own, so when separated from good, it just disappears.

There are two passages from the Gospels which should be considered. The first is the parable of the day-laborers hired to work in a man’s vineyard. Some of them work all day, whereas others work for only one hour, yet in the end every worker is paid the same amount. Some use this parable to claim that in Heaven all are equal. Peter Kreeft denies this vehemently. He wrote in one of his books that in Heaven we are even more unequal than we are now on this earth. If this parable does not say that everyone in Heaven is equal, then what does it say? The answer is in the first sentence of the parable: JESUS CHRIST said that “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the Owner of a vineyard.” HE did not say that Heaven is like the money that the workers receive as their pay at the end of the day. HE said that Heaven is the Owner. GOD is the Owner of the vineyard; Heaven is life with GOD. Those who work all day are blessed to have had the whole day spent with GOD, whereas those who worked for only one hour are less blessed, because they had less time to spend with GOD.

The other parable that cannot be ignored when considering Heaven is the separation of the sheep from the goats in The Gospel According to Saint Matthew. In this parable, the sheep who go to Heaven are those who have done good deeds during their lifetimes. The goats who go to Hell are those who have not done good deeds during their lifetimes. The goats are not people who have done sinful deeds; they are people who have not done good deeds. This relates to something written the The Book of Revelation, in which JESUS tells the members of a particular church that, “I would that you were either hot or cold, but you are neither hot nor cold; you are lukewarm. Because you are lukewarm, I will vomit you out.” I interpret this as a Nietzschean morality beyond good and evil, as good and evil are usually imagined. Evil is essentially an absence of good, but that is not the way it is usually imagined. Most people imagine evil as some type of immoral act. The goats in this parable do not seem to be guilty of having committed any immoral acts. I interpret this parable as telling us that some people do good deeds, and their lives go wholly into Heaven. Other people do bad deeds, and their sins are erased, so not all of their lives go into Heaven, but all that was good in their lives, though somehow connected to sin, is preserved and enters into Heaven. Nothing good is lost. The only ones who are denied entrance into Heaven are those who never did anything. They are so close to nothing that there is nothing to save. How can GOD save what is not? How can a life be raised into Heaven if it was never lived on earth? If a person never had any experiences, because he or she never did anything either good or bad, then what is there to preserve? If a piece of cheese if moldy, I can cut out the mold and eat whatever cheese is left. I cannot, however, eat cheese that does not exist. An empty box has no mold, but it has no cheese either. I would rather have moldy cheese, and a knife to cut out the mold, than not have anything at all.