Maybe descriptions of Hell are so horrific to keep people from thinking about how hellish popular versions of the Christian Heaven would be—even without Pat Robertson in the mix.
Most Westerners are at least vaguely familiar with the popular Christian version of Heaven: pearly gates, streets of gold, winged angels and the Righteous, with their bodies made perfect and immortal, singing the praises of God forever. What’s surprising is how few people have actually thought about what a nightmare this kind of existence would be.
Let me start by laying out a bit more detail about Heaven itself.
Popular Christian Descriptions of Heaven Derive from the Bible
Our familiar images of Heaven come from texts written in the first and second centuries and incorporated by Catholic councils into what we now call the New Testament. The Hebrew writers of the Torah alluded to an afterlife much like the Hades of the Greeks and Romans—a hazy underworld in which the souls of the dead neither die nor fully live. But by the time the New Testament was written, the concepts of a distinct Heaven and Hell had emerged in the Jewish culture, from whence they entered early Christianity and then, later, Islam.
The books of the New Testament were written at different times and for different ends, which means they don’t always agree. Although Paul, in 1 Corinthians, says that Heaven is beyond imagining, other writers offer concrete details. The popular version of Heaven today is a composite that comes from several texts but relies heavily on the book of Revelation.
- Heaven is a real place. The writer of John puts these words in the mouth of Jesus, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3NRSV). Some Christian leaders use verses from Old Testament prophets to pinpoint the location of Heaven, suggesting that it is somewhere beyond the North Pole.
- People in Heaven have bodies. The earliest Christian texts, the letters of Paul, suggest that the eternal body is “pneuma” or spirit, but later New Testament writers inclined toward physical resurrection of both Jesus and believers, though with renewed, perfected bodies. This view was affirmed by Church fathers and is now the predominant Christian belief. From this we get the Evangelical belief that in the “End Times” bodies of believers will rise up to Heaven in a Rapture. This belief in a bodily resurrection is even used to explain why Christian women should keep their bodies chaste and “pure.”
- Trappings of wealth abound. Many translations of the Gospel of John say that the dwelling places in Heaven are mansions, which fits with other descriptions of heavenly opulence. In the book of Revelation, the writer is taken in a vision to glimpse Heaven for himself: “And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald; The fifth, sardonyx; the sixth, sardius; the seventh, chrysolyte; the eighth, beryl; the ninth, a topaz; the tenth, a chrysoprasus; the eleventh, a jacinth; the twelfth, an amethyst. And the twelve gates were twelve pearls: every several gate was of one pearl: and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.” (Revelation 21). God sits on an ornate throne, and along with crowns, the heavenly hosts are clothed in white, a symbol of purity and a reminder that they do not need to work.
- Heaven is eternal and reserved for believers. The Bible verse that is most quoted by Protestant Christians is John 3:16, which makes both of these points: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. The author of Revelation assures that, “he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more” (Revelation 21:4). In this eternity, it is always light (Revelation 22:5) and there is no need for sleep (Revelation 7:15).
- Children who die before an “age of accountability” also go there. Despite the belief that children are born bad, thanks to “original sin,” most Christians believe that children who die young go to Heaven because the alternative is simply unthinkable. For evidence, they point to two verses in the book of Matthew: “So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Matthew 18:14). “But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14). Although Christians have disagreed over the centuries about when a budding human acquires an immortal soul, a process called “ensoulment,” many now believe that this happens in the process of conception.
- Inhabitants spend their “time” serving and worshipping God. Even though it is always light, we are told that the saints (meaning the saved) will serve and worship God round the clock. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them (Revelation 7:15). Several passages suggest that the faithful will receive crowns, which they can then offer up as gifts to God. Some take this literally and some do not.
Please note that I have made no attempt to analyze or explain what these passages may have meant in their original contexts, given the culture and objectives of the writers. My purpose here is to demonstrate where modern Christianity got the image of Heaven so often depicted in hymns, sermons, art and pop culture.
Why This Heaven Would Be Hellish
To many people the biblical description alone is enough to make Heaven sound unappealing, especially if you then add the company of noxious but professing public figures like Pat Robertson, Mel Gibson, Sarah Palin, Ken Ham, or Anita Bryant. (Why does God have such a bad marketing department?) But the problem isn’t just bad company. The closer you look, the more the Bible’s version of paradise seems like another version of eternal torture. Let me spell it out.
- Perfection means sameness. –Much of what makes life worth living is the process of learning and discovery, growth and change. We delight in novelty and laugh because we are startled by the unexpected. Curiosity is one of our greatest pleasures, and growth is one of our deepest values and satisfactions. In fact, our whole psychological make-up is designed for tuning in to change, including our senses. When a sound is continuous, we mostly stop hearing it; a static image on the eye registers as a blind spot. Even art relies on imperfection and newness to create beauty or to trigger our aesthetic sense.
By contrast, timeless perfection is static, as Christians are reminded in the traditional hymn, “Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise.” We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree/ And wither and perish but naught changeth Thee. In the book of Matthew, Jesus commands, “Be ye perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect,” and in Heaven, we are told, this ideal is finally attained. The problem is, perfect means finished and complete. It means there’s no room for improvement–for change and growth. Perfection is sterile—in every sense of the word.
- Your best qualities are irrelevant. – If everything is perfect, then many of the qualities that we most value in ourselves and each other become irrelevant. Compassion and generosity are pointless, because nobody is hurting or in need of –anything. Forgiveness? Not needed. Creativity? Courage? Resilience? Decisiveness? Vision? All useless. Sigmund Freud once said that mental health is the ability to love and to work, but in the state of perfection both lose their meaning. There is no need to create or produce, and little value in offering our affection and commitment to another person who is 100 percent perfect and complete without us.
- Gone is the thrill of risk. – In addition to loving and creating, some of life’s most exhilarating experiences require risk. Picture flying down a ski slope almost out of control; pounding a single track over bumps and beneath hanging branches; jumping out of an airplane; racing cars; surfing; or performing. The adrenaline rush—the high—and the euphoria afterwards surge only because, despite our skill and preparation, there was some chance we would fail.
- Forget animal pleasures like food, drink, sleep, and sex. – Does the risen Jesus with his new and perfect body have a penis or anus? Do angels? Eating, drinking, or fornicating–each of these physical pleasures depends on hunger of one sort or another. Ice water tastes most heavenly when you are hot and thirsty. Falling asleep is most delicious when you simply can’t stand to be vertical any longer. The reality is that our bodies and brains are made for each other and optimized for life on this planet where our pleasures are linked to survival.
To make matters more complicated, we are predators in a complex web of life. The eating that gives us so much sensory pleasure and sustenance simultaneously destroys other lives and creates waste. Christians disagree about whether there will be meals in Heaven. Some point to “feasting” in the book of Revelation and reassure foodies that eating and drinking will be part of paradise. But none dare speculate on the perfect slaughterhouse and sewer.
- Free will ceases to exist. – Some Christians explain the presence of suffering and evil here on earth as God’s way of creating creatures who would love him freely–by giving them the option to reject him. But that is exactly the opposite condition they predict in Heaven. In Heaven there is no sin, no option to sin, and so, by Christianity’s own definition, no free will. (Some skeptics point out that “love me or I’ll torture you forever” doesn’t exactly create the conditions for genuine love either. Why, they ask, would a god who wants love to be freely given threaten us with hell, even if it existed? But that is a different article.) Secular philosophers and neuroscientists debate whether free will is real or merely and adaptive illusion. Either way, in the Bible’s version of Heaven, even the illusion vanishes.
- Ninety eight percent of Heaven’s occupants are embryos and toddlers. Human reproduction is designed as a big funnel. Most fertilized eggs die before implanting, followed by embryos and fetuses that self-abort, followed by babies and then little kids. A serious but startling statistical analysis by researcher Greg S. Paul suggests that if we include the unborn, more than 98 percent of Heaven’s inhabitants, some 350 billion, would be those who died before maturing to the point that they could voluntarily “accept the gift of salvation.” The vast majority of the heavenly host would be moral automatons or robots, meaning they never had moral autonomy and never chose to be there. Christian believers, ironically, would be a 1 to 2 percent minority even if all 30,000+ denominations of believers actually made it in.
The theological implications are huge. Christian theologians typically explain evil by arguing that this was the best of all possible worlds, the only way to create free will and to develop moral virtues (like courage, compassion, forgiveness and so forth), to make us more Christ-like and prepare us for Heaven. But if we run the numbers, it appears that God didn’t need the whole free will—sin—redemption thing to fill his paradise with perfect beings because no suffering, evil, or moral freedom is actually required as a prelude to glory.
The ratio of adults to embryos has social implications as well. Pastoral counselors sometimes tell a women that she will get to apologize in Heaven to the fetus she aborted, which will be a fully developed person there. As a psychologist, I don’t know what this means, because the brain and mind, our individuality and identity, and the qualities that define our personhood—develop only via experience. Imagine if 98 percent of the “people” around you had never made a decision or felt sorrow or experienced anything akin to an adult conversation. The company of Mr. Robertson starts sounding not so bad.
- Gems and streets of gold define heavenly wealth and beauty. – Our desperate, goat-herding Iron Age ancestors may have yearned for the trappings of royalty. They may have heard rumors of the gold and jewels amassed by Pharaohs or kings or tribal warlords and wished the same for themselves. Both greed and inequality are timeless, and the story of King Midas has played out in countless variations over the millennia. So, the fascination of the Bible writers with gold and precious stones is understandable.
But let’s be honest. Their gem-encrusted paradise is the product of limited imagination, the challenge we all face in trying to dream beyond the arts, technologies, and mythologies of our own time and culture. The Bible’s version of paradise is like a velvet painting from a tourist shop when compared to a real alpine meadow or cloud forest or coral reef (or when compared to a world that contains all three as Tracy Chapman does in her song, Heaven’s Here on Earth.)
- Take your pick of sadism or ignorance. – One of Heaven’s dirty little secrets is that it co-exists with hell. Or maybe it isn’t a secret. Maybe it’s a perk. Some theologians have argued that witnessing the torment of the damned will be one of the joys of paradise. In the words of Puritan superstar Jonathon Edwards, who preached a whole sermon on the topic: “When the saints in glory, therefore, shall see the doleful state of the damned, how will this heighten their sense of the blessedness of their own state, so exceedingly different from it! When they shall see how miserable others of their fellow creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the meantime are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!”
If we are to believe the earnest Christian hate mail that Bonnie Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has now compiled into a book, or “love letters” read aloud by biologist Richard Dawkins (watching him struggle with the word biatch is priceless!), at least some of the faithful can hardly wait for the show to start.
Other Christians, to be fair, find this thought horrifying or even traumatic, and some teach universal salvation or that evildoers are simply annihilated. But for hell-believers the alternatives to gloating aren’t a whole lot better: Either the faithful are blessedly blissfully indifferent to the endless suffering of the damned, or their joy depends on them being unaware, meaning ignorance is a condition of their eternal bliss.
- Your celestial day (and night) job is to sing God’s praises. – What do the faithful do in Heaven? The same thing the angels do. They worship God and sing his praises. The writer of Revelation even offers us a sample song. In one passage, 24 elders “fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:10-110). As one graduate of Evangel College (Assemblies of God) observed wryly, “Having spent some time in N. Korea, where the incessant praise music and propaganda were required and all-pervasive, I sometimes wonder if the dynastic leaders there somehow lifted a page from an older playbook.”
It has been said that the only god worthy of worship is one who neither wants nor needs it. What are we to think of a deity who creates the earth and her inhabitants – in fact the entire universe—so that a crowd of bipedal primates, most of whom were never born, can spend an afterlife in this posture of praise and adulation?
- This Heaven goes on forever. – Most of us would prefer to live longer than the time allotted to us. Aging sucks, and losing a loved one is one of the most painful wounds we can experience.
But forever? Forever is infinity. It never ends. Think of the best possible experience you can imagine—your favorite symphony or rock concert, the most beautiful place you’ve travelled, the most intimate or intense sex ever, holding your child . . . . Any one of them, stretched to infinity becomes unthinkable.
Fiction writers who seriously explore the idea of immortality rarely treat it as something to be desired, and for good reason. Even kids grasp the problems, for example, when they read Tuck Everlasting. Author Edgar Shoaff put it bluntly: Immortality—A fate worse than death. The movie Groundhog Day is a comedy. But part of what’s funny for viewers is the insane array of suicide attempts Bill Murray makes in order to stop living the same day over and over. What might an inhabitant of the Heaven I’ve just described do to cease existing?
Could an omnipotent god create an afterlife that was actually some form of paradise? Perhaps. And without a doubt pained Bible believers who read this article will insist that their God has done just that. Some will fall back on the words of Paul and claim, on biblical authority, that they (and I) have no idea what Heaven will be like—other than eternally wonderful.
But the fact is, Christians for centuries have claimed that they do have an idea of what Heaven will be like. New Testament writers, Church Fathers, monks, iconographers, crusaders, inquisitors, reformers, conquistadors, missionaries, priests, nuns, Sunday school teachers, pulpit pounders, faith healers, televangelists, internet wonders . . . . For almost two millennia Bible believers have sought to entice small children, the desperate poor and the vulnerable or trusting by promising the kind of tawdry, debased everlasting life described above. They still do today. Selling shares in this Heaven is a multi-billion dollar industry.
Crowns and white robes and streets of gold and angelic choruses have long been Christianity’s carrot, with the threat of eternal torture as the stick. Millions of people have lived and died, fearing one and anticipating the other, never noticing the sleight of hand—that they are two versions of the same thing.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.
An impressive and thought provoking article. Sometimes we have been so brainwashed with hymns and stories while we were in the womb, we just stop thinking and presume everything is the way it is. It is wonderful to think and be challenged. Thanks for writing such a phenomenal explanation of how heaven would be hell, yes indeed with some of the people in the mix who are marketers for this so called Gods.
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Astute article. Well thought out. I will include it at the bottom of The God Murders website – the “Heaven” page.
Things made of gold, with wealth trappings all around, sounds like the Midas touch and something that Wasi’chu (to borrow a Sioux word: http://dickshovel.com/wasichu.html ) would only want. The whole Biblical and Xian view of a “heaven” sounds like nothing more than greed and extremely inhumane. Such descriptions do sound like hell to me, esp if one is forced to continuously worship one who is greedy, selfish, self-centred, baby killer (yes, I said baby killer, which is in there too, because said deity isn’t pro-life at all or even pro-choice anything), who allows various abuses to happen to others without stopping them.
I cannot resist sending you this,especially the comments on Heaven….
Could Pat Robertson Be Mormon?
| | | | | | | | | | | Could Pat Robertson Be Mormon?I always thought that it was the Mormons who received planets to manage in Heaven. Could it be that Robertson is, and always has been, a closet Mormon? … | | | | View on http://www.huffingtonpost... | Preview by Yahoo | | | | |
I’m sold. Hell or annihilation sounds better than eternity without chili dogs, sex, and loved ones who I just KNOW probably won’t make it into heaven… They’re the most fun in my life… :)
I love science fiction, and this depiction of heaven would make a fantastic sci-fi movie. I would follow a somewhat similar “script” as used in “The Invention of Lying” which I find hilarious and quite to the point. “Inventing Heaven” might be a good title. I would go off a bit by having some hell-bound trouble-maker somehow being assigned to heaven and after a short time, begin to make the zombies there aware of their condition. Which would lead to an interesting show-down, which would remind people of the God versus Lucifer war in heaven of ancient times. Which, of course would make the thinkers think, how could there have been war in a perfect heaven, which would make them look it up in the Bible, how “sin” was found in the heart of Lucifer: the sin of pride, no less, and he had to be punished because the only One in heaven permitted this sin is, of course, God.
But want to really know what heaven is like? I have been taught by non-earth entities to think thus when considering the cosmos and my place in infinity: as below, so above. Earth is not special. There are better places out there, and worst ones. Notice I said “infinity” – not immortality. We are not immortal, we are infinite (that of course applies only to someone who has figured out the little secret that one’s “life” is not dependent upon physical birth or death.
Great read – excellent piece of work.
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I was tracking with you until, “Want to really know…”
Yes, those comments I drop about alternate realities do throw a lot of people off. Earth is a finite and duality-operating world (or so it is meant to appear) and if an alternate option is brought in, the programming kicks in and… the tracking stops! I used to be in that groove long ago. A lot of individuals have toyed,. and toy, with the possibility of other alternatives to heaven/hell or annihilation, but can’t get a grip on it because they have been brainwashed to believe “others” by whatever superior criteria: educated, religious leaders, famous dead guys, the Bible, holy books, anything other than trusting in your own horse sense. It’s always a question of personal choice. Outside Matrix programming which gives us duality exists a whole cosmos of infinite choices. Any personal choice any self-empowered person makes is just as valid as any “choice” offered by the Matrix. I choose not to go to either heaven or hell when I leave my body. I choose not to believe in deities yet as a mind-being (as consciousness) I choose to go on living because I, as yet, don’t know anything better than experiencing what we call life. In order for the Matrix programming (the hustle) to work all other possibilities are blocked from the normal “Earthian” mind. No “tracking” possible without self-empowerment which allows for creative imagination to take over and create new realities.
Do you believe oblivion is a possibility for somebody who wants it? If we continue to exist consciously after our physical bodies die, I for one don’t want to continue on existing forever. I think I would prefer to have my consciousness and entire existence obliterated, never to return, as if I never existed.
Excellent article Valerie. “Heaven” as Christians conceive it seems a ghastly place. Who, in their right mind, would want to go there? Yet so many do. The descriptions give me chills.
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Really enjoyed this article. Insightful and very, very true.
How about if I’m a masochist and that it’s what makes me happy?
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Number 6 alone makes hell sound better, lol!
heaven according to the “reports” sounds so…….urban…and crowded …yuck…the picture of people bowing on knees forever and ever all placed together beneath someone who just loves all the ceaseless praise …shudder…THAT’S a scary picture.
And By the way if Satan is SUCH a great deceiver..I wonder whether Christianity itself isn’t his biggest deception he’s created. However if you have a mind to see the clues, notice the problems and escape with your life—you pass the test!..maybe a heaven of our own making is awaiting ?
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The 98% of heavenly residents being NOT PEOPLE was definitely the creepiest part.
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Excellent piece. I really enjoyed it.
The concept of “free will,” at least as maintained by fathiests is simply that one can choose to obey the “will” of an omniscient god or not. But I never tire of asking: if god knew what decision someone would make in any situation eons before that person was even conceived, how could one do anything except that which conformed to god’s knowledge of the future? If we are to accept the notion that god knows all, we must also conclude that we can do nothing more than what god already knows will be done and this demands that we conclude “free will” to be nothing more than a delusion.
The “free will” issue should be settled already using this simple logic, shouldn’t it? There can no such thing as “free will” under the doctrine of supernatural omniscience.
Is it possible that we’ll find neurosurgeons, materialist philosophers and theologians in agreement on this issue?!
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As you say, I don’t think most Christians have really given a thought to what they will be doing in heaven forever. They get bored after a one hour sermon. Imagine singing praise songs on end and no sleep. They will be asking to be killed again or sent elsewhere
What’s the traffic like there? It’s already hell here.
Valeria I want to thank you for taking the time to put cogently what has been rolling around in my head for years. I will be printing this and asking my father to read it the next time he hands me a book or pamphlet on why I should believe.
Twilight Zone had an episode: petty criminal dies and finds himself in a swanky hotel. His host tells him he can gamble, race cars, enjoy the company of beautiful women, do all those things he enjoyed while alive. The crook does, but wins every hand, wins every race, never gets rejected. Eventually he is very frustrated by the lack of risk, and says to his host: “I didn’t know heaven would be so boring.” His host says: “What makes you think this is heaven?”
The Christian vision of heaven sounds exactly like the kind of thing poor, illiterate goat herders would’ve pined for -saturated with imagery of rewards only relevant to people who have never experienced them. That bit about gloating certainly speaks to the baser human origins of the entire concept (positional goods, anyone?).
Eloquent and well written :)
Heaven and hell are what you make of it in your life. With the description of a heaven or hell “out there” like this one, who would want to go?? Thanks so much for shining a light!
Living in Canada style Bible-belt I know quite a few Christians (was one meself even :) and I have asked what they plan on doing in heaven since “the good book” doesn’t say anything about anything much happening there. Answer: Oh well, I’m sure God has a plan and he’ll make it interesting. Think of all those people we’ll be able to meet, greet, talk to, etc.” In other words, it’s “make it up as you go along” after death, same as here. Hence my understanding of life is, “As below, so above.” Nothing changes until I change myself. Then everything changes.
Another point, in the gospels, the only time anyone asks for a position in heaven was from, I think the disciples James and John who asked Jesus if they could sit on his right hand or left hand (and wouldn’t his hands go numb after a while being sat on with no break?), something like that. No one else asked for any specifics as to what would be going on in their mansions, or what they’d be doing there. At least in the movie, “The Invention of Lying” the “visionary” does try to explain the mansion thing! So, were these people certifiable? Of course I know the gospels are fiction, but still, the writers could have made a little effort to make it entertaining if not actually believable. No curiosity, from anyone as to how they were going to spend their eternity? They knew they would have bodies, same as now only perfected, but what do you do with a perfect body when there’s nothing to do or everything is pre-programmed? Even Middle School or watching a golf game is more interesting than that.
This reminded me of being at a Southern Baptist funeral for an extended family member, when the pastor was talking about how my relative was now in a place where “everyone had a job and everyone was provided for” and my atheist father asked me if Heaven was communist. We had to fight really hard not to laugh out loud in the middle of this funeral.
This was an excellent read though. I’ve had similar thoughts, though more about what my personal “Heaven” and “Hell” would be like (it’s beautiful landscapes + infinite time to learn versus being stuck in a room with people spouting the same thing that I already know over and over again, respectively).
Fun related animated short. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MV5w262XvCU&x-yt-ts=1422579428&x-yt-cl=85114404#t=10 Biorn seeks to die in combat so that he can join the gods in Valhalla and escape the eternal boredom of hellheim. But he makes the mistake of saving some nuns. :)
Valerie, honestly, your words make me think of an ant who is struggling to understand the concept of a skyscraper. And that’s giving the ant more credit than she’s due, since they lack even the ability to even attempt to understand anything larger than their little ant world. That’s us trying to comprehend omnipotent divinity. (Not meant as a slam against you personally at all.)
Spacetime is a construct that God is not constrained by. (He can’t be constrained by a Universe He created.) Therefore words like, “beginning”, “eternity”, and “forever” are words WE use to describe as best we can whatever it is “outside” spacetime where God “is”.
Also, the Bible describes God as the potter, and us, His creation, as the clay. Since He is the potter, He can decide what He wants to do with His clay, as He sees fit. Just because we don’t understand the big picture doesn’t mean that big picture isn’t glorious.
As far as gemstones and streets of gold are concerned, the Biblical writers put down in writing using words at the time that best described what they were seeing. How would a 16th century peasant describe a light saber or even a television? So, it’s possible that they lacked the vocabulary to even express what they were seeing.
That’s enough for now, to get a dialogue going…
Thank you. You make several of my points beautifully. If our ability to grasp God is comparable to that of an ant trying to understand a skyscraper, even with the accumulation in knowledge of creation’s intricacies it is sheer ludicrosity to give credence to the words of our Iron Age ancestors who thought they had sufficient words and knowledge to describe Reality. The structure of a cell or cellulose, germ theory, neural networks–each of these was beyond their grasp, as was their ability to grasp that slavery is wrong. And yet millions of people assume that their descriptions of divinity and an afterlife are somehow useful. In fact, vast tracts of humanity take their moral map and description of the afterlife as perfect and complete revelations from the power that created the universe. To illustrate, you quote the Bible as if it’s metaphors were authoritative, and then in the next paragraph acknowledge that a 16th century peasant wouldn’t be able to describe even modern technologies.
I say we stick with attempting to understand the intricacies and wonders of natural revelation, which taxes the limits of our accumulated intelligence, and yet which, over time has gradually revealed the structure of creation and hence the creator.
The other point you make for me is the ridiculousness of a sentient skyscraper wanting or needing praise and worship from ants.
Everything in the universe, that we know of, has a beginning, a middle, and an end… everything. The probability that somehow we are the exception to that rule is so minimal, it is improbable. The Bible, the Koran, and every other religious books were written by people who were afraid of non existence after this life ends. And as Valerie beautifully point out they wrote stories to make themselves feel better, not realizing that both heaven and hell make absolutely no sense at all. An ant may not understand the complexities of a sky scrapper, but they do share one thing in common. Both of them will cease to exist one day.
A friend of mine once quipped, “So you get to spend eternity singing praises to Dear Leader? Sounds like North Korea.”
Once thing you did not mention that always puzzled me was meeting your loved ones. So, my first husband and my second husband and… and my kids would be the age they were when I died or 94 year olds when they died, thus making them older then me? Just the concept of ones family sounds more hellish than heavnly.
… and when everybody gets to meet their ancestors (like “…turtles, all the way down”), how big exactly is the family you’re going to meet “up there”?? Some of those ancestors ought to be sea bacteria.
Jim Jefferies said it best.
Yes. You are precisely correct. Heaven and hell are existential or ontological realities. They are subjective interpretations or perceptions of one and the same objective reality: the Kingdom of God. Perhaps you are already familiar with Mark Twain’s “Letters from the Earth”. If not, I’ll link here the following passage:
There are many things to be said, but you didn’t exactly ask me for my opinion, so this comment ends here.
#6…now there’s a picture, lol! On the same note though, here in the Philippines, there is a belief that all unbaptized babies become demonic monsters called ‘tiyanaks’. And I know some cultures have something similar as well. When I was a churchgoer many ages ago, that gave me serious problems as our parish priest once said all babies go to heaven. I asked him about it and just answered me quite nonchalantly “You shouldn’t believe in such nonsense”. Funny guy, hehehe.
#6…now there’s a picture LOL! On the same note though, there is a belief here in the Philippines that all unbaptized babies become demonic monsters called “tiyanak”. When I was a churchgoer many ages ago, our priest once said that all babies go to heaven. So that really gave me something to think about. I asked him about it and he just nonchalantly answered me “You shouldn’t believe in such nonsense”. Funny guy.
• Gave it a good read and it has much of what I happened to say last evening. The god’s watch us with envy, as we perform on the stage of life, suffering, loving, struggling, succeeding, being without to later indulge in great pleasures. They envy since they have to live forever in boredom. Seems to me heaven and hell are right here on earth, and are all apart of the time continuum. Could be good deed are rewarded, like good karma, of for even having a good heart. I should not go further on this as it gets complicated. Do some people suffer as a people, just because the made to many babies in a place where man should not live in great numbers? Then one must ask if desperation is a driving force necessary to make people wish for a better life, and work harder.
For one of the most bizarre interpretations of the heavenly city described in the book of Revelation see the teachings of David Berg, deceased founder of the infamous Children of God cult, perhaps best known for its sexual doctrines. See this ex-member website:
David Berg believed and taught that this “Space City” (or Heaven) existed within a pyramid that measured 1500 miles long, wide and tall and was either travelling through space towards earth or was located inside the moon. Simple mathematics demonstrate that a quadratic-based pryramid with those dimensions exceed the boundaries of the moon. When this fact was presented to Berg, he maintained that astronomers could not possibly obtain an accurate measurement of the moon, given its distance from the Earth.
Current Family leader Karen Zerby has reiterated both of Berg’s theories on Heaven’s location, and has stated she believes both are true simultaneously. Berg claimed to have visited the heavenly Space City during a “spirit trip”, and described his vision in detail to Family artists to share with other group members.
They are numerous posters at that link depicting life in heaven according to Berg, where people do not need to eat, drink, sleep, have sex, etc,. but they can if they want to.
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If you’ve felt God’s presence through worship, from a personal view I could be in his presence and worship him forever, I’ve worshipped so long that I got sore and after I wish it had never ended, from my experiences I feel like he’s so much bigger and greater than me but once I feel his presence I feel more loved than any love I have ever received that I know I can’t imagine anything to receive that love fairly. Haha anyways if you want to talk about anything negative or not please do, I absolutely love conversations like that.
Thank you for sharing your experience. It is a very powerful one, shared by devout Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, and one of the very beautiful parts of life for many people.
I am a Christian and I find great joy in being with Christ someday. Life is filled with unsatisfying goals, you accomplish them and something else is still missing, a void that is incomplete. In the bible Solomon says Everything under the Sun is Vanity but I feel Christ fills that void. Something you failed to mention is Christians believe in a new world after heaven, we don’t just go to heaven forever. Also we don’t quite understand perfection or the joy of perfection because we are not perfect. I feel like your complaining about equality, which is what our earth wants to achieve but will never.
this is a free and wild imaginations about something what (I dont know), but exactly not “heaven” described by the Bible. Bcoz, for everybody who still enjoy the fun of the world, they will never enter heaven. So, it’s accepted they will reject christian heaven, just like u. And mam, you forget to describe what is Hell about. Grilled and roasted by eternal fire, etc… Hmm, I am not coming there!
So enjoy the eternal torments of hell ..unless you repent , .that’s where you’re going whether you believe it or not.
Thank you, Pastor Chukwuemeka (I assume you are a pastor since your email is firstname.lastname@example.org). Your comment is a better example than I could give of how Christianity corrupts the moral emotions of Bible believers, in this case by creating satisfaction at the idea of other people being tortured forever, built on the belief that this is somehow right and just and deserved. Medieval Christians burned heretics at the stake because after all, if their god could burn people for eternity, burning them to death was a small thing.
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This article does not address the heavens or hell described in Scripture. At best it approaches the subject, and scripture, from a position of complete unfamiliarity.
It’s a lot like Archaya S. take on history.
Well, given that hell belief and the idea of the righteous dead all living in heaven appears not to have emerged in the Hebrew religion until after the Old Testament texts were written, I’d have to agree with you about the article not addressing the heavens and hell in scripture. That is not my concern, which is rather to challenge the derivative beliefs that plague our society, which are legion. If the article doesn’t address any concepts that you yourself hold dear and feel a need to defend, all the better.
When I first heard it, I did not think it eternal paradise. What bugs me is that if there are parts of Heaven you don’t like, you have to cope with it forever. Or as Rat in Pearls Before Swine said: “…can I punch them. (PEOPLE IN HEAVEN)”
You have magnificently enunciated my own thoughts on the matter of heaven.
Thank you. :)