Why just one miraculous world?
Q:What is your vision of heaven? What images - from Scripture, tradition, culture or your personal experience - best describe heaven for you?
Can we imagine heaven? Mark Twain quipped that people assume heaven will be green fields and harp music - an eternity of activities no one would enjoy for five minutes while still alive. When we try to picture perfection, our imaginations stall: music, seeing loved ones, eternity staring at the stars. Sooner or later, heaven gets, well, monotonous.
Surely if there is a heaven, it is nothing like what we imagine. We would not have imagined this world, after all, before we entered it. Who would have guessed mountains and eyes and tuna fish and tables and fossils and crock-pots and libraries and clouds? Heaven is, quite literally, unimaginable.
Is it also unbelievable? Having stood by the bedside of many who are dying, I have often asked "what do you believe happens after death?" Some are convinced of the eternity of the individual. Others are equally persuaded that we go into the ground, rot and disappear forever.
The human experience is powerfully physical. Can we suppose that our physical brains, distorted or disabled from minor damage while we are alive, will miraculously be resuscitated after being obliterated by death? If we are materialists, believing that what we can touch or see is all that exists, heaven is a childish fantasy. Still...
An old rabbinic parable asks us to imagine twins lying together in the womb. Everything they need is provided. One brother believes "irrationally" that there is a world beyond the womb. The other is convinced such beliefs are nonsense. After all, the womb is the only world they have ever known. The first tells of a world where people walk upright, where there are mountains and oceans, a sky filled with stars. The other can barely contain his contempt for such nonsense.
Suddenly, "the believer" is forced through the birth canal. Imagine, asks the author, how the brother left behind must view this -- a great catastrophe has just befallen his companion. Outside the womb, however, the parents are rejoicing. What the brother left behind has just witnessed is not death, but birth. This is a classic view of the afterlife -- it is a birth into a world that we on earth cannot begin to imagine. Believers may take comfort in the thought that whichever way it goes, only they have the possibility of experiencing themselves proved right.
I am a believer. I have faith that the intangible is the greatest reality. I cannot know what heaven would be like, but in the end, the question is not about heaven, but about God. If there exists a God who created us and keeps faith with us, then we have a bit of eternity planted inside us. God willing, one day I'll see you there.
Posted by: Schaum | March 25, 2010 3:40 PM
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