Polishing Halos and Tuning Our Harps

There is a FarSide comic by Gary Larson that depicts a man with wings and a halo sitting on a cloud looking unamused, bored, and with no one else in sight.  The caption has the man saying, "Wish I’d brought a magazine."  The reader gathers quickly from the man’s garb and location that he is assumed to be in Heaven.  In Heaven and bored to wits end.

As humorous as a cartoon Larson gives us, it is telling as to how the modern world views Heaven.  Heaven is a place where no fun is allowed and where the dead spend their time polishing their halos, tuning their harps, and sitting around doing nothing.  That is, heaven is boredom incarnate and is something not to be desired and sought after; instead, it is a place to be tolerated after one dies.  After all, how can a person not be bored without a cell phone, Internet, TV, computer, mp3 player, and the drama of college football?

Though Larson gives us a peak into the modern condition and view of heaven (a place of abysmal boredom), it hardly conveys the reality it is.  The modern mind fails to realize that heaven isn’t so much about doing as it is about being, and through this failure heaven has become undesirable to many people.  Why should a person want to live forever in a state of complete boredom?  If heaven is boring, many would rather burn out now then live in heaven.

So what is heaven about?  Why should a person desire it?  In short, heaven is about Love, Caritas .  Heaven is about Being in Love.  Every person who has ever been in love knows that love is exciting, vigorous, life giving and desirable.  It is so exciting and such the antithesis of boredom that lovers find themselves not bored in situations that others find boring, like watching paint dry or watching grass grow.  This is because love is intensely focused on another and lovers have each other, and when lovers are together they are satisfied.

So, What Does the Catholic Church Teach About Heaven?

It is important to note that "no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him" (1: Cor 2:9).  So in order to talk about heaven the use of analogies must be made, so we cannot have a perfect grasp of the mystery that is heaven, but there are some points that we can know about that mystery.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (§1024) teaches that Heaven is:

1.  Perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity

2.  A communion of life and love with the Trinity, Mary, the angels, and all the blessed.

3.  The ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings.

4.  The state of supreme, definitive happiness.

Let’s consider these one by one:

1.  Perfect life with the most Holy Trinity.

As this point suggests, heaven is about a life of perfection — an impossible task on our own accord but an infinitely possible task for God, for in scripture Christ says, "be perfect as your Heavenly father is perfect."  Upon reaching Heaven, our life and our person will be perfect.  It is a stark contrast to this life in which we all already think we are perfect.  We blame others for our own imperfections, foibles, and short comings when we should be blaming ourselves.  In the next life, we will have God to blame – that is to say, thank — for our perfections and life with Him.

2. A communion of life and love with the Trinity, Mary, the angels and all the blessed.

Communion.  A common union.  What is that common union of life and love?  In short, it is the work of the Trinity which is Love – that is the work we do now in worship.  An example of this is found all throughout the book of Revelation where the angels and saints are praising God in a common union, in a community.

3. The ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings.

Our ultimate end: To know, to love, and to serve, are three things that humans long and desire to do.  According to Aristotle, all men according to nature desire to know, that desire and longing to know spurs on nearly every human discover and invention.  The desire to love and be loved is fulfilled perfectly in heaven.  God loves us perfectly without stipulations and we in turn can love without the fear of being hurt by sharing our love to others.  The desire and longing to serve is linked to man’s original call to be rulers over creation.  The best rulers and kings are not those who bark orders but are those who serve their people.  So in heaven that desire will be fulfilled for we will be serving God perfectly in some way and in doing so we will in turn be like princes participating in God’s Kingship.

4. Eternal Happiness

Happiness that is eternal.  This is not the happiness that we think of when we normally think of happiness: happiness that is fleeting and arises in one moment and is gone in the next.  This happiness just happens and is dependent upon happenings.  The kind of happiness that is in heaven is not fleeting and it does not just happen. Rather than being dependent upon things that happen, heavenly happiness is more akin to a state of being: something you are as opposed something that is outside of you and only happening to you.

Getting away from abstract terms and ideas, we can look at Christ and what Christ did on earth to get an idea as to what Heaven might be like, for wherever Christ is so too is God’s kingdom, and His miracles make real and present the kingdom that is to come.  So what did Christ do on earth?

1.  Jesus healed people of sufferings cause by the fall of man.  So it might be said that in heaven their will be no suffering from physical abnormalities: no cancer, no sickness, no muscular dystrophy, diabetes, etc.

2.  Jesus fed the hungry.  It is reasonable to believe that in heaven all needs are fulfilled.

3.  Jesus raised the dead.  So in heaven there will be none that are dead.  Remember, the God of Christianity is God of the living .

4.  Jesus forgave sin.  There will be no sin in heaven.

5.  Jesus worshiped and prayed to God the Father.  It is safe to say, even from reading the book of Revelation, that in heaven there is a heavenly worship of God with the saint and angels.

6.  Jesus accepted all who repented and followed Him.  In heaven there will be a multitude of people from every culture and of every origin and from every time.

7.  Jesus was not a jerk, he was not self-centered, bitter, malicious, and other unpleasant things.  So it is safe to say that in heaven there are no people who are jerks, self-centered, bitter, malicious, and more.  No Gossip TV Shows.  No raunchy narcissistic reality TV.

But Isn’t Heaven Just a Made-up Human Convention?

First, this question assumes a number of things:

1.  That man made heaven or invented it or dreamt it up.

2.  That it is something that humanity wants to be true.

3.  That heaven will conform to human sensibilities, desires, longings, and imperfections.

Second, there is no amount of information or evidence that will convince the skeptic that heaven is real, for there is enough darkness for those who are not interested in seeing and enough light for those who wish to see .  Yet, some of the above assumptions simply cannot be proven, in the scientific sense, as one cannot measure heaven, see it, touch it, or taste it.  However, there is a compelling argument that responds to the assumptions one and three.

After reading the above information on heaven, hopefully you have some idea of what heaven might be like and what it most likely absent from heaven.  Keeping that in mind, let us do a thought experiment.  Be honest in this exercise.  Do not answer how you think you are supposed to answer.  Now, ask yourself, "If I were inventing, designing, or creating heaven, what would it be like?"

If you are anything like me, you have just constructed a heaven in which you are the center of attention.  Perhaps your heaven is one in which you have servants waiting on you hand and foot.  You have decadent meals all day.  You eat only the best and most flavorful of food at every meal and never an ounce is gained.  To top it all off you are the greatest at all thing you attempt: sports, public speaking, cooking, etc.  You are a celebrity, a humanitarian, and everyone loves you.  This list could easily continue to infinity depending on how you constructed your heaven.

The point is this: When comparing your imaginary heaven and the heaven that the Catholic Church teaches as the heaven of God, it becomes apparent very quickly that the heaven made by man is quite contrary to the heaven made by God.  Whereas our understanding of heaven likely did not take into account justice, love, worship, goodness, and other divine things, God has taken those things into account.  Plus the heaven that you have so proudly constructed is likely only a minuscule better than the world in which we live.

Therefore, when comparing a human ideal of how man would create his own heave to the Divine reality about which we know snippets, it is apparent that not only has eye not seen and ear not heard, but also mind has not imagined or contrived.  This demonstrates that heaven cannot be a mere man-made convention.

In short, heaven is not a state or place of abysmal boredom, but it is a place of never ending joy where the heavenly develop their appetite of infancy, like a child who never tires of saying "Again!  Again!" to God’s love.  The heavenly continuously discover God’s love anew every time they encounter God. Heaven’s occupants are in love with and loved by God and love is never a boring experience. Christ manifested that love while present on earth by means of miracles that point us to the divine reality of heaven — by no means a man-made concept, for when man creates heaven for himself it the resulting product is in no way corresponds the real heaven.  It is that real heaven — the heaven of Scripture, the heaven of God, and the heaven the Catholic Church proclaims — not some cartoonist’s caricature, that is the true hearts’ desire of all men.

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  • http://justacatholic.blogspot.com/ Shane Kapler

    “it is a place of never ending joy where the heavenly develop their appetite of infancy, like a child who never tires of saying “Again! Again!” to God’s love.”
    Excellent line. I think this article is spot-on. Through conversation with others, I can testify to this relativistic “heaven will be whatever I want it to be” outlook among peers, as opposed to seeing it as another facet of reality – a reality that we did not create but have been graciously brought into.

  • plowshare

    I like the part about “we will be serving God perfectly in some way”. Popular pictures of heaven never seem to have its inhabitants doing something about intercessory prayers being addressed to them, yet devout Catholics here on earth say intercessory prayers a great deal — including the Hail Mary if not much else.

    Intercessory prayers generally only ask the one addressed to pray to God for us — but that is only because our knowledge of heaven is so fragmentary. They may be doing all kinds of things on our behalf besides just praying to God, like asking the advice of others as to just what is best for the one asking them to intercede.

    I think that a lot of our serving of God will be in totally unimagined ways. Who, for instance, would have thought up the saying in one of the Epistles, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” unless there were some divine inspiration behind it?

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