April 17, 2016 - Heaven

For this reason, they stand before God’s throne
and worship him day and night in his temple.
The one who sits on the throne will shelter them.
They will not hunger or thirst anymore,
nor will the sun or any heat strike them.
For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne
will shepherd them
and lead them to springs of life-giving water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Revelations 7:14-17

This week’s readings are all about heaven.  Many Christians who wish to appear modern and intellectual nowadays dismiss heaven as wishful thinking.  They make heaven a moral issue by asserting that we can create heaven on earth by imitating Jesus’s good example.  For them, heaven is not a place, but a state of mind.

I see no reason for this pessimism.  Judaism and its belief in God arose, survived and thrived for many centuries without the concept of heaven.  If anything, our ancient predecessors in faith believed that at death our bodies descend into Sheol - a shadowy world where we persist in a state of semi-consciousness.  It was not something to look forward to.  But despite offering no comfort in this area, faith persisted and continued to develop.  By two hundred years before Jesus’s birth, the concept of heaven had firmly taken root in Jewish theology, relying on passages of Scripture that hinted, but perhaps did not outright assert that it is our final home.  In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were known to believe in heaven while the Sadducees continued to believe only in Sheol.  In Matthew (22:32), Jesus makes an argument against the Sadducee’s lack of faith in this regard.  Paul tries to throw his trial into confusion by playing the Pharisees’ and the Sadducees’ beliefs against each other (Act 23:6-9).

Why is pessimism treated as more inherently trustworthy than optimism?  We may not always get what we want, but sometimes we do.  Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Wisdom Traditions of other faiths are infused with extraordinary wisdom and insight into the nature of our relationship to God.  The overarching message of all is of God’s abundance, love and ability to exceed our most wildly optimistic expectations. Heaven may well be for real. 

Photo Credit: Missy Grasso