What is heaven?
Heaven is blessed mystery
The Rev. Lew Hinshaw, associate pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.:
In the words of a traditional African-American song: "Everybody talkin' 'bout heaven ain't a goin' there."
To rephrase: No one talking about heaven has ever been there.
In the Jewish and Christian scriptures, heaven means many things, for example: the space "up there"; the firmament, or dome, covering the earth; where rain comes from; the dwelling of the divine beings; the home of God; or the eternal reward of the righteous.
In the Copernican universe, there is no such thing as "up there." But even to talk about "out there" begs the question of heaven's location. If heaven is a "place," we do not know "where" it is.
The word heaven is used to refer to the realm of all the best we humans aspire to. "Oh that a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for?" wrote Robert Browning.
Heaven can also refer to what God wants for, and with, humankind: relationships of love, justice, peace, and hope that endure in time and beyond time.
For Christianity, heaven is both present and future. In one word, the Good News is "Emmanuel" -- God with us. So William Sloane Coffin, Jr., writes, "We are on the road to heaven if today we walk with God."
Some say life's most important question is whether or not you are going to heaven when you die. I believe life's most important question is where you are going while you are alive. Only God can answer the first question. Only we can answer the second.
Heaven evokes the mystery of what relationship with God is like beyond time. And it is a blessed mystery. But we will do well to ponder the question found in the New Testament, "Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?" Does the idea of heaven move us toward, or distract us from, the life God would have us live on earth?
What is heaven? What is heaven like? I have no final answers to those questions. But I find inspiration in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."
Send e-mail to the Rev. Lew Hinshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.
God is most fully present in heaven
The Rev. David Livingston, associate pastor, First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt.:
The Bible focuses much more attention on life on Earth than on life after death. Perhaps before asking about heaven, we should ask, "What is life and how should we live it?" It is reassuring, though, to know that there is a future life that waits for us.
Now to actually answer the question.
Everyone has his or her own image of what heaven looks like -- maybe a big city with streets paved in gold, maybe a big cloud with people dressed in white and wearing wings, maybe something entirely different. Of course, no one will know what heaven looks like until we are there.
Even as a concept, heaven is beyond human comprehension. Some people believe that heaven is a physical place where individual humans have physical bodies from a physical resurrection. Others believe that heaven is symbolic of a mysterious union with God where no individual is distinct from God.
Heaven is simply one of those mysteries of faith that we will not be able to fully grasp in this lifetime.
Regardless of which concept of heaven is correct, the most important characteristic of heaven is one that we can identify with certainty: Heaven is the place where God is most fully present, known and worshipped. What that means for us is that heaven is a place where love is most fully present and known. Heaven is the kind of place or state of being where all of the things that Jesus preached about come to pass.
Whether that happens as individuals interact with each other, or as we know the joy of union with God, experiencing heaven is certainly something for us to look forward to with anticipation, knowing that as our current lives in due time come to an end, something even richer awaits us.
Send e-mail to the Rev. David Livingston at email@example.com.