Monday, October 22, 2012

Where is Heaven?

Dante Paradiso. Canto 31
Image: Tahuti Lodge

Knock, knock knocking at heaven's door

Scientific instrument help us to see deep into the distant space. Humanity has recently captured photons that started their travel through space-time continuum over 13 billion years ago.

But no heavens door, no bands of angels and saints marching in nor the throne of God in any telescopic observations!

According to the Soviet propaganda machinery Jury Gagarin made that unfortunate statement already after the first manned space flight "I did not see God up there".

So where is heaven?

Medieval times
Some say that the view of world in Medieval Europe was relatively simple as geocentric world view ruled, everyone knew that heaven is up, here on earth we toll in our daily work surrounded by a sea that ends in the great unknown and that the fiery hell is down waiting for Devil and godless people. In this three store structure the Christian church was down here on earth showing way to heaven.

But such a sketch of a supposed scientific/religious Medieval world view is a gross oversimplification. For rain fell from clouds in heaven where Sun and Moon and stars moved in physical spheres. But the Church was teaching that heaven was not there but would be reached after death by the grace of God.

Perhaps it was not so clear in people's minds where heaven is, somewhere up there as the hell is somewhere down there but not exactly...

I think not much has changed from those days among believers who ask where heaven and hell are physically located.

Dante's Heaven  
The imagery of heaven and hell and the structure of the cosmos was surely much affected in European minds and hearts by the masterpiece, Divine Comedy written by Dante (1265-1321). However, also here the three-tired structure of things are not depicted as physical reality but as a powerful visionary view of things facing humans after death.
The Divine Comedy describes Dante's journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Paradise (Paradiso), guided first by the Roman poet Virgil and then by Beatrice, the subject of his love and of another of his works, La Vita Nuova.

While the vision of Hell, the Inferno, is vivid for modern readers, the theological niceties presented in the other books require a certain amount of patience and knowledge to appreciate. Purgatorio, the most lyrical and human of the three, also has the most poets in it; Paradiso, the most heavily theological, has the most beautiful and ecstatic mystic passages in which Dante tries to describe what he confesses he is unable to convey (e.g., when Dante looks into the face of God: "all'alta fantasia qui mancò possa"—"at this high moment, ability failed my capacity to describe," Paradiso, XXXIII, 142).

Dante realizes that there are things in which human knowledge based expressions, everyday language, scientific observation so to say, is not sufficient.

So what does the Bible say?

As usual, the matter is far from simple.

Genesis 1
Genesis was written in the Iron Age over 2500 years ago. It tells how God of Israel sets up something called in Hebrew raqi'a and translated in King James Version as firmament - something strong that separates heaven and earth, the waters above and the waters below it and in which God sets Sun, Moon and the stars to give light and to show time and seasons.

Genesis 1 is rather secular natural history and does not talk at all about the heavens where God has His throne.

Also the Garden of Eden is not heaven in Genesis 2-3. Rather, it is a wonderful garden planted by God for Adam to live with his Eve (paradisos, from "garden" in Persian). After breaking God's divine order they walk east of Eden and the road back is blocked by a cherub with a fiery swindling sword in its hand.

Isaiah sees the throne of God in a throne (Is 6). He saw this powerful vision at the time when king Ussia was ruling in Jerusalem. Not a physical visit to a place somewhere up there above the clouds.

In the so-called Trito-Isaiah it is written

Thus saith the Lord, “The heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool. Where is the house that ye build unto Me? And where is the place of My rest?

For all those things hath Mine hand made, and all those things have been,” saith the Lord. “But to this man will I look: even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at My word."
Isaiah 66:1-2 KJ21

Wonderful night at Bethlehem
The language in the story about the shepherds of Bethlehem in the Gospel of Luke is interesting
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
And it came to pass, when the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”
And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.
Luke 2:8-16 KJ21

Saint Paul
In New Testament Letter to the Corinthians St Paul visits Paradise "whether in flesh or not he does not know". Paradise still exists but obviously not in the regular physical realm of humanity where you could take a caravan with enough water and food for the trip to heaven. Also the language spoken there was something else.

Saint Paul speaks of several stores in the structure of heavens.
It is doubtless not expedient for me to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord:
I knew a man in Christ more than fourteen years ago (whether in the body I cannot tell, or whether out of the body I cannot tell — God knoweth). Such a one was caught up to the third Heaven.
And I knew such a man (whether in the body or out of the body I cannot tell — God knoweth),
and how he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Of such a one will I glory, yet of myself I will not glory, except in mine infirmities.
2 Cor 12:1-5 KJ21
Note how Paul is humble even when boasting, not Seventh Heaven but third!

Book of Reveleation
This is a big subject but as the entire book is a great vision we are not in the realm of earthlings observing what's up there in the sky!

So where is Heaven?

1 comment:

  1. This is the most accurate artistic expression of the entrance to heaven I have ever seen.

    I saw heaven in my dream when I was a child. I am now 32 years old and still remember this dream perfectly. It truly was the whitest white I had ever seen, even until this day. And instead of the entrance being horizontal it is in fact vertical. WE come out of the inner side where the angels are also depicted in the picture. We open our caskets, we step out of our beds, etc. and we ascend into this most beautiful light at the top of the tunnel. The actual scene is much more busy and includes many souls "waking" up and ascending toward the light. Busy, but peaceful and ordered.

    I never went all the way to the top, I do remember being in awe, but no one stopped to help me. After observing for a bit I woke up, and I have unfortunately never returned to that dream.

    I find this experience extremely striking because I am not religious, but more spiritual. And when I had an actual near death experience when I was 19, I saw none of this. I saw nothing and felt nothing.