Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Heaven. Beyond Comprehension

We think about heaven. And we think about it from a position so firmly entrenched in our earthly lives that we veer far wide of the mark, though not completely off the target.

Prophets who've seen it in vision have tried to describe it, but have only earthly terminology with which to explain what they've seen. And their hearers get mired in their earthly contexts when they envision what is described. They envision the best earthly version of beauty and glory they can come up with,

For example, T.P. Cameron was a poet and soldier in WWI, eventually killed in action at the age of 29, in March of 1918. His poem “Sportsman's Paradise” which describes a longing for heaven and celestial peace reads:

“They left the fury of the fight,
And they were tired.
The gates of heaven were open quite,
Unguarded and unwired.
There was no sound of any gun,
The land was still and green,
Wide hills lay silent in the sun,
Blue valleys slept between.
They saw far off a little wood
Stand up against the sky.
Knee deep in grass a great tree stood,
Some lazy cows went by.
There were some rooks sailed overhead,
And once a church bell pealed.
'God, but it's England!' someone said,
'And there's a cricket field'.”

There is wistful beauty in those words. And it is a good example of the human tendency to envision heaven in earthly terms of one's own treasured earthly experiences..

Another example is the notion of “pearly gates” and “streets of gold”, phrases that John the Revelator used to describe what he saw in his vision of heaven (Revelation 21). A century ago and more ago, many people took those descriptions literally. It was the most glorious translation of what John saw that they could imagine.

However, there is a pitfall. If heaven is restricted to earthly parameters, it easily becomes ridiculous.

For example, look at the Sadducees at the time of Christ who thought that thought life after death was a foolish notion. Their famous question to Jesus was about the woman who was married seven times to successive brothers under Levirate law.   “In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be?” wasn't a question about whether marriage can be a part of heaven.  It was a clear attempt to show how ridiculous the notion of life after death was. And life after death would be be an odd notion to wrap your head around if, in fact, marriage (and other) relationships in heaven are simply extensions of marriage relationships and their roles, practices, and divisions of labor as they are on earth, transplanted into a heavenly sphere.

Another example: As a teenager I had a conversation with a fellow Christian who believed in life after death, but not a physical resurrection. “You believe that people are resurrected with a physical body?” he asked incredulously. “You mean there are bathrooms in heaven???"

Or as one woman recently worried, the LDS concept of heaven sounds to her to be one of endlessly birthing new spirit children while her husband is off creating worlds.

 (All of the above, by the way, do not reflect the description of heaven in DC 76 either)

I believe its important to remember that we are just as prone to this limitation of understanding as we contemplate God and heaven as anybody else is. I believe that we stumble too much over that limitation in our need for and longing for a true vision of heaven. And sometimes we get mad or perplexed when those erroneous visions don't seem fair or right, and forget that they are simply erroneous, simply because we are, all of us, earthbound.

.I think Paul's words to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:9), “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” is not just a “we Christians know something others don't know” message, but a reminder to the Corinthian Christians that they (and we) don't really fully comprehend how it really is either.

Passages in the Doctrine and Covenants also talk about this earthly limitation, and in terms that also promise the possibility of growing slowly closer to heavenly understanding by listening to the Holy Spirit and responding to light and truth (76:1-10 and 50:24) until “the perfect day”. But it's clear that we are, none of us, there yet. This is not “the perfect day.” Those few who have seen heaven in vision say that the response when one does see heaven as it is, is, instantly, worship (Rev.22:8).

We have been taught principles and concepts that are at the core heavenly life: love, faith, being washed clean, unity, glory, light, truth, the power of God, sealing, eternity, divine intercession and atonement. These are of heaven. And they are of heaven in a way far more enlightened, far-reaching, fair, just, merciful and glorious than the very best of earthly experiences that we have or that we create with those principles here.

We need to remember that. Earth does not circumscribe heaven nor is heaven simply a lovely, light-filled perfect version of the very best on earth. Heaven and life there is far beyond our wildest, most joyful, peaceful, just, honest, charitable, equitable, loving, powerful and light-filled dreams on earth. It is better than anyone, divinely inspired or not, has been able to describe to you, including yourself

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