C had to be for Christianity, really. Growing up in a Christian household, although we only really ‘practiced’ while we were young, many of my own personal views of Heaven have been influenced by this religion. However, what do I really know about it outside of pearly gates and angels? I learnt as I grew up that you went to Heaven if you were good, Hell if you were bad. Heaven is beautiful, peaceful. Hell is a burning fire of torture. Simplistic child views and as I have grown up I have started to look beyond that to find my own definition, figure out my own beliefs. I still have a long way to go; no doubt I will be searching forever.
But, I am rambling. This post is about how Christians view Heaven.
The site http://www.christianity.org.uk describes Heaven as ‘a place in which sadness, pain and death itself end once and for all’, a place where they can enjoy the love of others, and of God, forever. Beyond this, the Bible only hints at what is to come.
However, who will be welcomed into Heaven is something that different Christian denominations are divided over. Some believe that God will welcome and forgive every single human on earth into Heaven because Jesus died for us all, whether we believe or not. Others believe that a human must seek God’s forgiveness on earth in order to be forgiven and welcomed into Heaven. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, believe that only 144,000 faithful followers will be resurrected to Heaven. But despite these things, Christians will face death knowing that God is just and endlessly loving and they will suffer the fate they deserve.
But when we enter Heaven is also something that denominations are divided over. Some believe that we will enter on the moment of death, but others believe that there is a day of judgement which will not come until the form of the world has passed away and Jesus has come again. Seventh Day Adventists, for example, believe that Christ will come again and resurrect the righteous and gather them to Heaven. After a thousand years Christ and the Angels will judge the unrighteous and rid the universe of all sinners, at which point Heaven will be established on the new earth.
So what does a Christian Heaven look like? Popular belief, especially in the Middle Ages, is a physical place far above the clouds where God and Angels watch over us. However, Early Christian writings, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) suggest that Heaven has levels. This is something that has particularly intrigued me – the series of books I am writing implies different levels of Heaven, hence the theme for this month – but it is not something I had ever come across in Christianity before doing this research. For example, Papias a Christian Bishop in the 2nd Century divided Heaven into three levels – Heaven, Paradise and ‘The City’ for the quite logical reason that some humans did more in life than others and this should be reflected in the afterlife. Similarly, Mormons believe that Heaven is divided into four levels – the Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestial Kingdom, the Telestial Kingdom and Perdition. The first three represent the sun, moon and stars respectively and indicate the closeness to God and the power and glory a person deserves based on their life on earth. Perdition is reserved for Satan, his angels and those who have committed unpardonable sin. However, this structure of Heaven also takes account of what happens prior to the day of judgement – initially, Heaven is divided into Paradise and Spirit Prison and this is where the dead go while awaiting judgement.
But the suggestion of the form of the world passing away implies something quite different. In Catholisim, Heaven is considered more of a physical state and is considered a living relationship with the Holy Trinity. This is described in the following quote by Pope Benedict XVI, on which I will end this post because it is rather beautiful.
‘We all experience that when people die they continue to exist, in a certain way, in the memory and heart of those who knew and loved them. We might say that a part of the person lives on in them but it resembles a “shadow” because this survival in the heart of their loved ones is destined to end. God, on the contrary, never passes away and we all exist by virtue of his love. We exist because he loves us, because he conceived of us and called us to life. We exist in God’s thoughts and in God’s love. We exist in the whole of our reality, not only in our “shadow”. Our serenity, our hope and our peace are based precisely on this: in God, in his thoughts and in his love, it is not merely a “shadow” of ourselves that survives but rather we are preserved and ushered into eternity with the whole of our being in him, in his creator love. It is his Love that triumphs over death and gives us eternity and it is this love that we call “Heaven”: God is so great that he also makes room for us. And Jesus the man, who at the same time is God, is the guarantee for us that the being-man and the being-God can exist and live, the one within the other, for eternity.’