Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 26, 2009
Heaven: A place with no Clocks
Peter Kreeft has written the book on heaven, but he still says he's no expert
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
Born a Calvinist, Peter Kreeft converted to Catholicism following a visit to New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral at age 12.
He wondered why, if Catholics got everything else wrong - as he had been taught - they got beauty so right. How could falsehood and evil be so beautiful? Being in the cathedral felt like heaven.
Since 1965, Kreeft has been a professor of philosophy at Boston College, and has authored over 45 books, including Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven. His ideas draw mainly from religious and philosophical tradition, most notably Thomas Aquinas, Socrates and C.S. Lewis.
"I am not an expert on heaven - nobody is. This is not rocket science or cell biology or something that a certain class of experts has inside knowledge about.
"What we know about heaven comes completely from what God has told us, and Christians believe that the supreme revelation of God is Christ. Christ fulfills a whole huge tradition, so the basic Jewish-Christian Bible is the basic source of what we know about heaven," Kreeft told the WCR.
Any literal description of heaven would turn out to be disappointing, whether it's golden streets, contemplating the face of God or singing with the angels, he said. Since no one would want to do these activities for all eternity, heaven must be beyond words to explain.
Kreeft argues that we cannot make a parallel between the time before death and the time after death. For example, if you ascend to heaven after death and meet Abraham, he's not going to say, "I've been waiting 4,000 years for you."
Similarly, people who have seen the blessed in heaven often say that they seem to be old and young simultaneously. Children will see the image of their grandmother who died last week and say that she looked like an old lady and a little girl at the same time.
"Time changes when we die because the time that we experience now is a function of matter and the body and the universe. Once the soul is out of the body and is no longer anywhere in the universe, we're on spiritual time, not material time, and clocks are irrelevant to it," he said.
Purgatory is a reasonable expectation for most Catholics because of two doctrines in the Bible that both Roman Catholics and Protestants accept.
"Number one, we are sinners. Number two, in heaven we'll be perfect. There's a great big difference between those two states, so God has to do something after our death - perfect us to get us ready for heaven.
PRICE IS PAID
"Christ paid the price and that's complete, but we're still not free from all our bad habits and ignorance and all the other stuff that's got to be cleaned up."
Equating purgatory to "taking the band-aid off the wound", he's not sure whether purgatory is instantaneous or takes a long time.
Another debate is whether a person who kills himself can enter heaven.
"Suicide is a serious sin. But God can forgive any sin. There is no sin beyond God's mercy, so there is hope even for suicides, but it's a terrible risk," he said.
Will everybody be equal in heaven? God loves everybody equally here on earth. But everybody still varies in age, strength, intelligence, dexterity and various aptitudes.
"That's good because we can all learn from each other, so there's no reason to think that is going to stop in heaven. One of the greatest pleasures of life on Earth is to look up to somebody, your teacher or your hero, and learn from him. I think that will continue to exist in heaven," said Kreeft.
Christians believe in the resurrection of the body. Heaven is not a purely spiritual state, and we will have bodies, and those bodies will not be in a vacuum or dead like the moon - it's going to have life on it, including animal life. So it stands to reason that our family pets will be in heaven.
"Animals don't have immortal souls by nature. Our souls survive the death of the body and the soul of an animal doesn't. But God made the animal in the first place, so he can remake it too. By the grace of a divine miracle, God will give us back our animals," said Kreeft.
Jesus' disciples asked him a question that many people still ask today: How many will be saved?
"They must have been thinking, let's get the statistics before he goes away. His answer was not it's less than 50 per cent or it's more than 50 per cent. His answer was, 'Strive to enter in.'
"In other words, he's not telling us. It was the wrong question."
Gaining entry into heaven falls at the very core of Christianity.
That is, Jesus is the saviour and the only way to get in.
"Well, it's not what you know; it's who you know," he concluded.
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