Last Updated: Wednesday - 01/05/2011
October 29, 2001
In search of heaven
Christians have more questions than answers about our final home with Christ
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — From Dante to Milton, poets have tried to answer the question: What is heaven like? Indeed, heaven is a topic as inexhaustible as the mystery of God.
When you ask a child like Nathan de Leon, 5, he would say, "Isn't it the sky, the clouds where Jesus is?"
If you asked him, if he wanted to go to heaven, his quick reply would be, "No. I am going to miss my mom."
"What if Mom goes with you?"
"Then it would be fine, we will play with the angels," Nathan said.
For children, heaven is where God lives with Jesus, Mary, the angels and the saints.
Jahlayna Geneblazo, 6, is in Grade 2 at St. Elizabeth School. She believes that good people go to heaven to be with God.
"I think they play guitar and trumpet and the angels sing in heaven," Jahlayna said.
Jeanine Marte, 7, volunteered, that "it is good to go to heaven because they pray there a lot with God."
"Some people go to heaven, after they said 'sorry' to God," Jeanine said.
"Then they live with God and they live in peace because they are nice people," she added.
As people mature in their faith, what they believe about heaven changes.
In 1990, Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston College, wrote a book entitled, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven.
He tried to answer questions like: "What will we do in heaven? Will we have our bodies in heaven and what will it be like? Is there sex in heaven? Is there time in heaven?" These and many other questions that arouse people's curiosity are discussed in the book.
Kreeft tried to come up with educated answers. But the inexhaustibility of the topic bred more questions.
Kreeft himself admitted that his uncle tended to believe that he should not write a book on heaven due to the limitation of the human mind and the vastness of mystery that shrouds heaven.
But then he thought that the mystery of God is another topic that is absolutely difficult to fathom. "Yet that fact has not stopped us from writing millions of books and billions of words about God," Kreeft wrote.
And so we continue asking.
WHAT WILL HEAVEN BE LIKE?"We don't know exactly what heaven would be like," said Newman College professor Father David Norman.
"We know from the First Letter of John that we will see God as God is and that we will be known as we are known but we don't know what heaven is like."
Heaven is participation in the Trinity, is what it comes down to for Norman. "If we really are members of the body of Christ, we are one with him in his relationship to the Father and the Spirit."
"Being members of the body of Christ, we are going to be in a love relationship with the (Trinity)," he said. "After we say that, it is pure supposition what heaven is going to be like."
Norman noted that if one finds any concrete statement on what is going on in heaven or hell one can be sure that it was pronounced by Pope Benedict XII. In the papal bull Benedictus Deus, written in 1336, Pope Benedict waxed eloquent on the beatific vision.
"He also expounded on condemned souls - those that die in mortal sin experience the pains of hell," Norman said.
For Norman those teachings of the Church handed down through encyclicals are not infallible teachings.
Deacon Mike Mireau, 28, of the Edmonton Archdiocese, said, "heaven is a state of existence, it isn't just a place."
"Underlying the whole thing is the fact that heaven is probably beyond human comprehension," he said.
Full-time homemaker and volunteer Kathleen Lewanczuck agreed.
"Heaven is unfathomable as God is unfathomable," she said. "We try to attach physical dimensions to it, so that we can understand but it does not always work."
Teacher Sean Fleming of St. Francis Xavier High School said, "The word heaven is something we use because it's a common accepted term."
"I believe it's somewhere better, where we will be with God after we've done God's will, with all our successes and failures and so on," Fleming said.
Danielle Hee, 17, said it's a place we go after we die. "I guess the body is in the ground but the spirit keeps living," she added.
"I believe heaven is a place where we'll see everyone but in spirit form and you could just live eternally with God," Hee said.
Hee believes it's a place, but does not think it's a physical place. "I think of it more of a spiritual place," she explained. "It's not like a mall where you can walk up and meet your friends and say 'Hey what's up?'"
Like Norman, Mireau believes "the most important factor about heaven is communion with God."
For him, heaven will be like seeing God and knowing God. "All of the filters that are in between us and God now in our earthly existence will be gone and we would be totally one with God and with one another."
Every obstacle that we have between us and the obstacle that we create will no longer be there as we see each other as we are and God as he is, said Mireau.
To relate to this thought, Anglican Deacon Jane Alexander, 42 said that she needed to use analogy to grasp this reality.
"Heaven is a state of being in a relationship . . . one that we've longed for . . . with Jesus Christ and with others," she said.
"I have to think in terms of the best relationship that I have here, so within my family, with my husband and my children," Alexander said.
Mireau said that once in heaven "we will be totally awed by what we see, particularly by God. And that will illicit a sense of worship, a sense of mystery, a sense of devotion."
WHY DO WE BELIEVE IN HEAVEN?Having dealt with a lot of death in his family, Fleming said he believes in heaven because it helps him deal with death.
"If I think that those persons I love dearly are going six feet under the ground and if that was it, I would find it difficult to handle," he said.
Lewanczuk pointed to Scripture. "I believe in God and in heaven because it was revealed to us and we have the Scriptures to verify that revelation."
Teenager Hee said "it is part of our religion." "Heaven is a better place where we go after we're done with our work in the world."
From Mireau's point of view, "It all comes down to a meaningless life if it is not directed towards total communion with God."
"In saying why do we need to believe in heaven, we're saying why do we need to believe that we can know God?"
"And I think we have to believe that we can know God because that's what redemption is . . . the opportunity of knowing God."
Norman said, "It is unproductive to talk about heaven."
We don't have to believe in heaven as a place, he said. "From a Christian point of view, the important thing is to realize that we have eternal life in Jesus Christ."
Eternal life means we are saved and given a share in the person of Jesus, said Norman.
"Our goal is to be with Jesus. We are one with him in his death, we are one with him in his resurrection and we are one in him with the way we walk in the newness of life," Norman said.
The unity that exists between Jesus and the believers, the ones who are baptized, meant that this eternal life begins in Baptism and carries through in our witness to Christ and carries through our death, said Norman.
"So death is the last stage of the fullness of life in Christ," he added.
THE POWER OF IMAGES"Words about heaven, like words about God are neither univocal nor equivocal but analogical: partly the same, partly different," Kreeft said in his book.
He went on to say that "they are neither nonsense nor photographic reproductions, neither simple lies nor simple truths, but they are symbols, metaphors, images of the real thing."
This is why in trying to understand concepts impregnated with mystery, people use images.
Banquet, wedding feast, paradise, mansion with many rooms, pearly gates with angels singing, presence of saints among others are but some of the popular images that help people understand what heaven is like.
"When I think of the Biblical image of wedding banquet, I don't have the image that we're all sitting around a table," said Alexander.
These images can work, but mostly as germinal thoughts from which one's faith can grow and be nurtured.
Norman is convinced that the important thing is not heaven. "'How am I loving as Christ has loved me?' is the important thing," Norman said.
"It is an impossible task to fulfill, but with the presence of the Spirit, with God's grace, Christ can do in us what we cannot do ourselves," he ended.
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