Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Must heaven wait?

Posted on June 21, 2008 by jimparedes

Sunday, June 22, 2008

SYDNEY — A friend told me about an interesting article he received from the Bishop of the Parramata Diocese, a shire in New South Wales, here in Australia. The Bishop was quoting a Vatican official as saying that the modern church does a lousy job at communicating what heaven is like to the faithful. He said the visions the church communicates about heaven are outdated, borne out of an agricultural era when life was hard, and so the utopian vision of heaven and its divine reward was pictured as sitting on a banquet table and indulging in good food and drink with the Lord. For those who toiled and worked slave wages, heaven was a place of plenty.

When you think about the imagery, this is hardly an unreachable aspiration in today’s world where one can experience sumptuous eating as often as one wants to, or can afford to, sans the Lord, of course.

To bring the discussion further, in response to the bigger question of how a vision of heaven can stimulate and inspire people to live good moral lives, the bishop posited the question, “Does heaven have an image problem?”

I find the bishop’s question as intriguing as it is stimulating and even entertaining. For sure, the metaphors that used to excite the faithful may have dramatically lost their appeal as times have changed. Except for farmers and those living in an agricultural base, the metaphors of vineyards and seeds may not excite too many people; many might even remain indifferent, simply because they cannot relate to the imagery.

There is also the cryptic image of St. Peter standing by the Pearly Gates with a big book where the names of the faithful are supposedly written, if we have been good. If we have not been on our best behavior, our names will not be found there and we do not get to enter heaven. Instead, we either go to some halfway house for some rehab called purgatory, or worse, if we have been really bad, we descend to hell where we will burn forever.

In the Muslim faith, there is much ado about the dozens of virgins that supposedly await someone who dies while performing Jihad. That’s the male heaven, I suppose. What’s the female heaven like?

In Hindu heaven, it is said that “there are many celestial gardens. Here sport persons of meritorious acts. Neither hunger nor thirst, nor heat, nor cold, neither grief nor fatigue, neither labor nor repentance, nor fear, nor anything that is disgusting and inauspicious; none of these is to be found in heaven. There is no old age either… Delightful fragrance is found everywhere.”

Every religious belief, I suppose, has its own take on what eternal life is like. The common thread that runs through them is that every heaven is expressed to some degree as a place or state where there is absence of pain and the onset and non-stop experience of pleasure in physical, sensual, psychological, spiritual and even sexual terms. It’s a materialist view, to be sure.

You begin to realize that a lot of what we are depriving ourselves of in the name of living good lives here on earth can actually be enjoyed without us having to die. So why does heaven have to wait? Because religion tells us that this is what it means to be moral. Why? I don’t know. To many, part of keeping to one’s faith is the unquestioning acceptance of that tenet.

One thing for sure, though, is that it is only through the limits of the human mind that we have imagined what heaven is like; and thus, we may all be way off the mark.

Nevertheless, while we are at it, let me wear my modern man’s thinking cap and imagine — in my stressed-out, burned-out, worried-sick-about-the future soul — what the divine end is all about and share with you the heavenly visions dancing in my head.

1) Heaven is a state where we can get as much good, healthy, healing sleep (complete with sweet dreams) as we can possibly want.

2) Heaven is where we feel no pain or discomfort whatsoever.

3) Heaven is a place where we have all the time and concentration and energy to be in every moment, enjoying what we do, whatever it is.

4) Heaven is a place where we are totally accepted as we are, and just as we are totally accepting of others, so are we by others.

5) Heaven is where we can have all the answers to the great questions of life, such as “Who am I?”; “What is the meaning of it all?”; and “Who is God?”

Throw in the answers to the lesser questions, like “Who really killed Ninoy?” “Did Bush actually win the US elections?” “Will Pops and Martin ever get back together again?” All these will be known. I just don’t know whether anyone in heaven will care to know the answers. The irony is, while everything unknown will be known, we will probably have lost our taste for petty concerns or even for judging others.

6) Heaven is where we experience unconditional love where we meet and radiate nothing but love. We will see everyone we have ever loved but will know how to love them perfectly this time. We will also discover that we will love everyone we meet there.

Love also means we are welcomed and accepted by God regardless of how we have lived our lives. What is “unconditional love” if not that? Anything else would be exceptions, stipulations, conditions or “fine print” and therefore not unconditional.

7) Heaven is where we can indulge in every known and still unknown sensual, physical, mental, spiritual, heavenly pleasure without any guilt whatsoever.

8) Heaven is where we experience ourselves in the biggest, most wonderful God-like way and where we realize we are One with everything and that there is nothing outside of the Oneness.

9) Heaven is where we are in a state of bliss, where we lose all identity of ourselves totally and thus have no need to worry or defend ourselves, or attack anything or anyone. It is the state where all causes, missions and injustices that used to attract, concern or arouse our attention have forever ceased.

10) Lastly, we will knock ourselves on the head when we realize that heaven is a place we may have already sensed and enjoyed but had forgotten while we were on earth. During our more awakened moments, we may have intuited and taken great joy at the wonder of a few waking seconds and thus discovered God’s little hiding places right in the center of our daily lives on earth.

By the same token, during our sleeping state, we may have, more often than not, discovered hell.

A wise Buddhist put it so well when he said, “The wise man makes his own heaven while the foolish man creates his own hell here and hereafter.”

And so I ask, must heaven wait?

9 to “Must heaven wait?”

  1. anamarie says:

    Hello. Your article made me ponder on what i try to tell and show my children what heaven is.. happiness in the form of laughter is is my closest feel to what heaven is like.. it’s not a place we go to when we expire as religions try to put it.. When we feel happiness without an agenda our identities and issues diminish and everything is so grand and wow..
    perhaps it is possible to remember what we’ve forgotten how its like..

    keep humming.

    Stay wonderful


  2. jimparedes says:

    Aanamarie–Happinness without an agenda is a wonderful way of putting it. It is unconditional happiness. That’s heaven.

  3. desertfish says:

    Hi Jim:
    I agree quite strongly on the dominant theological image of heaven that religion continues to preach – the agricultural image. But my hunch is the banquet arrangement would still be very much a part of heaven’s grandiosity granting that Heaven envelopes all past, present, and future possibilities.In our age of advanced communication, I wonder if blogging-as-loving-unconditionally is also in the menu? Definitely, I guess.This gets a little corny but the point is, every era contributes its own dominant ethos in Heaven. By then, all the judgmental rants will not be moderated but simply absorbed into a blinding, terribly loving Presence. Before this Presence, the Meralco Board of Trustees could only say: “okay, Presence, You are great. Now, I see these are the extraneous charges and customers need not be burdened for the kind of luxury I have.” Heaven is for them to realize it NOW!

  4. donG hO says:

    wow! it’s my first time to visit your blog and lucky enough with such great topic in your post.

    the way you see heaven reflects who you are and who you believe your creator is. very nice!

    i so much appreciate your way at seeing God and his kingdom.

  5. Great weekend article. My mother-in-law died June 8, 2008. From her last hours, these we learned about heaven: 1) it is a state and place, 2) it is where God reigns with his angels and saints, 3) it is a place of bliss, 4) dying souls get a chance to reunite with loved ones in Heaven, 5) souls in Heaven fetch the departing soul, 6) it is a beautiful place.

    PS Can you send me your email address? I’ll send you a write-up on Mommy’s last hours? My email address is socenter@gmail.com. Veredigno Atienza

  6. Hi Sir Jim!

    Heaven is relative?

    Just a thought: if that’s so, then there must be 6.7 billion heavens. That would be an interesting movie plot, i think. 🙂

  7. jimparedes says:

    Chai–exactly! heaven is something we make up. And I don’t say that lightly.

  8. Hi. I just noticed that your website looks like it has a few code problems at the very bottom of your blog’s page. I’m not sure if everybody is getting this same problem when browsing your site? I am employing a totally different browser than most people, referred to as Opera, so that is what might be causing it? I just wanted to make sure you know. Thanks for posting some great postings and I’ll try to return back with a completely different browser to check things out! London,UK

  9. jimparedes says:

    You’re the only one who has pointed that out so far. Thanks

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