Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Going to Heaven

"Will there be x in heaven?"

"Will Uncle Bill be golfing (or bowling, or watching football) in heaven?"

"Will Aunt Verna be playing bridge all day in heaven?"

If Christians don't ask these questions it's often the case that they believe them in the affirmative. Sometimes they cross into blasphemy, imaging that old Yvonne will be gossiping about her neighbors in heaven, or Cousin Ralph will be cursing the mosquitoes and lack of DEET.

People ask those questions because they know that Bill and Verna are not gone, that their awareness is not destroyed. They ask and wonder these things because they believe people continue to experience phenomena but cannot imagine what the phenomena are. Who could possibly imagine what the afterlife is like? St. Paul saw the the "third heaven," and said this about it (speaking in the third person), "he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (2 Cor. 12:4 NKJV).

But Scripture speaks little about Paradise, as it terms it, preferring to speak of the Day of the Lord, the Great Day, the ambiguous "in that Day" when there will be no tears, when the deserts will be transformed, when all nations will stream to Jerusalem, when there will be no Sun nor Moon, when all thirst will be quenched and all diseases healed. These prophesies and promises do not describe a bodiless, spiritual existence, but the bodied life of the resurrection. Scripture almost always speaks of the resurrection of the dead and the "world to come" when it speaks of our salvation. It is therefore appropriate to call our future life in the resurrection "heaven," if it is shorthand for "Kingdom of Heaven" which implies resurrection. But it is unchristian to suppose our afterlife is an eternal separation from our bodies. That is what Plato believed, not St. Paul.

However, we must be careful about how we imagine the resurrection life to be. I cannot imagine bridge in Paradise. How could you hold the cards? Your hands are resting in the grave, after all. But in the resurrection we will have our hands and feet and they will be beautiful and perfect, glorified in an inexpressible way.

But will such things as bridge and golf be that important? How could we drag ourselves away from the presence of the Most High God, from Love Itself, Himself, to whack a ball around? I'm not suggesting that we will stand in one place worshiping eternally; I do believe that there will be Things To Do, the most important things for which we were created. St. Paul casually mentions, "Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?" (1 Cor. 6:3 NKJV). This is a mystery, but a mystery which suggests activity alongside the eternal praise and worship of the Uncreated Trinity. Asking whether that activity involves sports or cards (or sex) is akin to asking if sex involves watching football or eating steak.


  1. Doorman-Priest said...

    But there will be chocolate, right? Otherwise I ain't going!!

    Also will my dog be there?

  2. Anonymous said...

    Okay - if he gets chocolate AND his dog, then I get a spider-free environment.

    All jokes aside, my point is that "heaven" for me will be perfect peace.

    What joy and rapture.

  3. Christopher D. Hall said...

    Everybody's a comedian.

    We'll tell jokes in heaven, right?

  4. Jolene said...

    In "The Weight of Glory", C.S. Lewis wrote, "Heaven is, by definition, outside our experience, but all intelligible descriptions must be of things within our experience." I'm fine just knowing we will be with Christ. As Rev. Lovejoy would say,
    "It's all good."

  5. Steven Craig Miller said...

    My former pastor and I are planning to meet at Luther's place for beer and a Pauline seminar. You are all invited to come along. Bring your Greek New Testaments (everyone will be able to read ancient Greek in heaven).

  6. Dixie said...

    I heard a (LCMS) preacher once say there would be sex in heaven. It creeped me out to listen to that. I think I know why now. The communion of the saints isn't about being gratified. I think we can't understand heaven because we can't imagine what it is like for our wills to be perfectly conformed to Christ's. Here on earth we still want what we want and this colors our imagining.

    However...if heaven were about satisfying selfish desires I would like to be able to spend some time with CS Lewis' and his contemporary contemplatives, smoking cigarettes without fear of cancer and without the stench...drinking wine and discussing "what were you thinking when you wrote...." Later I'd like to meet up with John Michael Talbot and play guitars and sing--because in heaven I will have the glorified voice I do not have now!