In honor of All Saints Day, this post is a bit of a break from the Theology of the Body posts I’ve been working on, but it’s not unrelated. The last post reviewed some thoughts about heaven in light of Jesus’ teaching that there is no marriage in Heaven. This post is some of my own thoughts about heaven especially in light of the resurrection of the body. Note that this is not from St. John Paul II!
Angels and Harps
What do you think of when you think of heaven? Many people imagine a bunch of angels sitting on clouds playing harps. Maybe that’s a nice image for you, or maybe, like me, you find it a bit uninspiring. The problem is, if your idea of heaven is uninspiring, what is your motivation?
I think that many people find the idea of angels and harps cheesy, and so they translate that into the whole idea of Heaven being cheesy. Maybe they still say that they want to go to heaven, because it sounds better than sitting in a fire while a red devil pokes at you with his pitchfork, and it’s supposed to be nice, or something. But it’s cheesy. Maybe even a bit unrealistic, undermining the whole idea of Christianity.
I don’t think the early Christians imagined Heaven this way. Their idea of Heaven was so inspiring that they were happy to be imprisoned, mauled to death, stabbed, burned, crucified, knowing that they would soon be in Heaven. Maybe if more of us had a really awesome idea of heaven, an idea so inspiring that we were willing to suffer for it, it would be a little step toward some less wimpy Christians.
I’ve thought about Heaven a lot. It’s probably my favorite subject for meditation. Of course, I have no idea what it will really be like – “eye has not seen, nor hear heard, nor has the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him.” But that doesn’t mean we can’t imagine it, does it? Let me share some of my reflections, and you please disregard anything you find unappealing.
The Resurrection of the Body
Most of my ideas about Heaven come from thinking through the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, and what that might entail. In Heaven, I will have a body. A human body. A female body. A glorified body. A spiritualized body.
Bodies are physical. That means that they exist in time and space. God is outside of time, yes, but can physical people ever really be outside of time? So while we will be living in eternity, we will still be changing from moment to moment and place to place.
God has promised us “a new heavens and a new earth.” I don’t know what the new earth will be like, but I imagine that it will at least be related to the old Earth – probably better than the garden of Eden would have been, a glorified earth for glorified people. I imagine that there will still be grass, trees and flowers, mountains and beaches, sun and snow, fish and birds and animals large and small. Will there be seasons? Will the animals eat one another? Will we eat them? Will there be hunting in heaven? Will there be pets? Will your pet live forever?
Do you think we will eat in Heaven? I doubt that we will be hungry, so maybe we will eat just for enjoyment or maybe we won’t eat at all; perhaps we will eat only the eucharist like some mystic saints. Will we wear clothes? On the one hand, we didn’t “in the beginning,” but what about the white-robed army of martyrs? Will we sleep in heaven? “Night will be no more,” so maybe not, but perhaps it is essentially human?
Where will we live? Will we have a home at all? “In my Father’s house, there are many rooms.” Symbolic, or real? Maybe we won’t need shelter from the elements, but maybe we will still have our own little domain where we belong and reign sovereign. Would it be like a house? Made of a material we know, or a new one? Who knows what kind of new materials with amazing glorious properties there could be in heaven!
Work in Heaven
God told Adam to “fill the Earth and subdue it.” Well, in Heaven there will not be new babies and we will not be “filling the Earth” with humans. What about subduing it? Will there be work in Heaven?
My idea is that work, something creative and productive, is essentially human. Creativity is one of the major distinctions between people and animals. It is an essential part of being made in God’s image and likeness. I imagine that we will all have some kind of creative, life-giving work to do for eternity.
Adam was made to struggle against the earth for his living because of original sin, so work will not be a struggle for us. Our efforts will not be fruitless and our skills will not be lacking. So what kind of jobs might there be in Heaven? Will we all have the same jobs? Will we each have different ones? Will they be related to what we did on Earth, or what we would have liked to do? Will we all have time to do every kind of thing?
Maybe we will work the land – farming, or gardening, or just tending to the wild earth. Maybe we will care for animals, wild or domesticated. Maybe we will build things – homes? Churches? Cathedrals? Monuments? Perhaps we will be painters or sculptors. Will there be intellectual work, as well? Will we philosophize, or will we know all the answers? Will we do science? Engineering? Math? Will we have history to talk about? Will we remember our current history, or a new history, or both? What about service to one another? Will we wait on one another in some way? Will we need each other? Will we need anything?
Relationships in Heaven
Ultimately, Heaven will the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb, our marriage to God. As discussed in the last post, we will be completely absorbed in love of Him, we will give our whole selves to Him, and He will give Himself entirely to us. “We know that we will be like Him, for we will see Him face to face.” Surely we will spend many hours talking with the Lord. What will we talk about? Will He delight in telling us the secrets of the universe? Will we make one another laugh? Will we be able to walk for hours, hand in pierced hand? Will He be able to talk individually with all of us at once? Can Jesus be in two places at once, physically? (If he can in the eucharist now, surely he will in Heaven!) Will we be in two places at once?
Of course, we will also spend time with our Blessed Mother. I imagine that we will be delighted to bring her flowers and sing her praises, to sit at her feet and talk about Jesus. We will meet all of the saints – those who have walked with us and prayed for us in this life, and those we’ve never heard of yet. Do you think we will have a personal relationship with every single person in Heaven? The same kind of relationship? That seems impossible, since we are all different people. Will we have some closer friends? What will we do together? Talk? Work together? Play games together? Travel and enjoy the scenery? Will we reminisce about the good times we had in this life, or will our new life be so wonderful that they won’t be worth talking about? Surely we will have a special recognition for our earthly parents, children, siblings, best friends, and spouses. “When we’ve been there ten thousand years,” will there still be new people to meet? New conversations to have? New things to do? Or will the same things we do all the time be always like new, never losing their novelty? I’m sure there won’t be boredom in Heaven.
Will there be games in Heaven? Will they all have to be cooperative games so that no one ever loses? Will there be chance or “luck” in Heaven, or will everything always turn out the way that we want? Which of the laws of Physics will we still have in the new Earth, and which will change?
In Heaven, our bodies will perfectly communicate our souls to one another – much more perfectly than they did before original sin. We will be ourselves, even more than we are here on earth. What will that look like?
We will know the angels in Heaven, but angels do not have bodies. Will we somehow communicate spirit to spirit? Will they take on physical appearances for us like they do on Earth? Or will we actually still not know one another much, keeping separate but harmonious spheres of worship as we do now? I suppose that we will know God the Father, who is spirit, “face to face,” so that will not be a problem. Will we have a special relationship with our guardian angel?
Liturgy in Heaven
Mass is the closest we get in this life to Heaven. For all I know, all of my previous thoughts are a moot point because Heaven is nothing but the Heavenly Liturgy! I know that we will all worship God together in Heaven, and that Jesus will continue to eternally offer Himself for us. Will there be some kind of glorious presence of the crucifixion? Priests will still be priests in Heaven – “you are a priest forever.” (Baptism and Confirmation also change our souls eternally.) How will they exercise their priesthood with Christ? Will there actually be some form of the Mass? Will we have readings, or will Jesus just speak to us directly? I feel confident that we will sing, in perfect pitch and perfect harmony. Will there be one giant Mass with everyone present at once? Will it be a gigantic church? A gigantic field? Will we all somehow mush together so that we’re all close to the Lord and it isn’t gigantic at all? Will there be many smaller Masses going on at one time? Will we receive communion, or will that be unnecessary when we’re in physical face-to-face communion?
Will there be a particular time when everyone worships? Will there always be communal worship, and we come and go as we please? Will we do nothing but communal worship? Will each of us have a feast day?
Please share your own thoughts about Heaven, or where you think I’m totally crazy!