Friday, 14 December 2012

14th December 2012

Heaven, in mythologies ancient and modern, is a place or state of delight and satisfaction, the opposite of hellish suffering. What makes people happy varies remarkably. It's expressed in culturally determined ways - dancing, tasting the best food, feasting, singing together, pampered like royalty, ectatic love-making, absorption in exquisite music or sublime worship, beauty and harmony, leisure and recreation - where everyone's value, freedom and equality are expressed and honoured.

These are just a few examples of what conveys sensual pleasure, a sense of intimacy, or a sense of beauty truth and goodness, touching upon physical and mental, social and spiritual dimensions of existence. Everyone has an idea of enjoyment that makes them feel completely alive and fulfilled, embracing every aspect of our selves, not just as individuals but in relationship to others.

The Scriptures describe heaven where worship and celebration occur continually, modelled on an oriental royal court. Jesus has little to say about it, aware that images can give a misleading impression and arouse false expectations. In response to a theoretical dispute about the post-mortem status of a woman married serially to seven brothers, he remarks "in heaven people neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they are like the angels". Normal social bonds and conventions applied to ordering relationships in life do not exist. They serve no purpose. 

Jesus doesn't say there's no intimacy in heaven. In the story of Dives and Lazarus the poor man is consoled for his suffering 'in the bosom of Abraham' - an image of security and comfort. The prophet of the Book of Revelation speaks of heaven "where there is no more death, mourning, sorrow or pain". The new order is a just and true society, in which all who belong to God inhabit a perfectly beautiful city, not ordered according to flawed human imagination, but by the divine mind: "coming down out of heaven from God". 

Nothing of the flawed and failed sinful dimension of human existence on earth belongs here. No more suffering. It's where relationships between humankind and God flourish as intended, no longer subject to the challenges and pressures of passing time. These images represent our deepest longing to be right with God and each other.

It's in moments of life when, for whatever reason, time seems to pass slowly or is suspended, that we experience "peace which passeth all understanding", and gain some finite sense of what eternity might mean, as a state where longing ends and complete fulfilling joy is found, in communion with God and all humankind. 

Is this an immersion in the depths of the common unconscious? What of our present consciousness and self is present? Or is this the state where ultimately all sense of self can be safely relinquished to receive something infinitely better? The End remains a mystery in which "All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well". Where God is "All in all".

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