Apologetic Tracts: Heaven

By 10:19 AM


Heaven

You may have heard the story about the pastor who one day asked his parishioners at Mass, “How many in this parish want to go to Heaven?” All but one man raised his hand. The pastor asked the man why he didn’t want to go to Heaven. The man responded, “I am not from this parish.”

What is Heaven? Even though God is omnipresent, the Bible speaks of God’s dwelling place in Heaven.  If it is true that we began in the mind of God, that he willed us into being, that we exist because God sustains us, then it is true, in a sense, that all of us began to exist in Heaven in the mind of God.  It was revealed to Paul this way. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved. (Eph 1:3-6)  Our beginning is in God and our destiny is God.

But just as it is true that Jesus has saved all but not all will be saved because of their personal, negative response, so it is true that even though we began in Heaven in the mind of God, not all, by free choice, will be with God in Heaven eternally.

Heaven is a place and a state of being. It is the dwelling of God and the created angels who have remained in union with him. We pray: “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” Jesus said about scandalizing children: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father. (Mt 18:10) It is also the ultimate place and state of existence for those human beings who have lived and died in the justification and salvation won for them by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church states about Heaven:

Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever with Christ. They are like God for ever, for they “see him as he is,” face to face:[596] By virtue of our apostolic authority, we define the following: According to the general disposition of God, the souls of all the saints... and other faithful who died after receiving Christ's holy Baptism (provided they were not in need of purification when they died... or, if they then did need or will need some purification, when they have been purified after death...) already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment - and this since the Ascension of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into heaven - have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature.  [597] (1023)

 This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity - this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed - is called "heaven." Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. (1024)

 Those who believe in Heaven believe primarily in the existence of God, who has no beginning and no end. It is also predicated on the acceptance of human beings, who will live eternally, either with God or alienated from God because of the immortality of the soul. Those who do not believe in the existence of Heaven (or Hell) are the ones who deny the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. In this category would fall atheists, rationalists, materialists and secularists.

People often ask the question: “What is Heaven like?” We don’t know.  However, we can get insights into the reality of Heaven from the scriptures.  “’What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him,’ this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” (1 Cor 2:9-10)

It is the place where we will behold the face of God. “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”(Rev 22: 3-4)  At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face“(1 Cor 13:12) This is called theologically the Beatific Vision. We will see God in all his beauty, wonder and glory. It is a grace from God. It is a state in which the blessed will rest totally in God and God alone will be sufficient.

In the Old Testament it was understood that if one gazed on the face of God he would die. Death would occur not as a punishment but because humanly we would not want to live any longer without being with God. If as St. Augustine says, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O God.”, having seen God we would not want anything less. When Moses asked to see the face of God, the Lord responded that he can only have a glimpse of God by seeing his back. When Isaiah got a glimpse of the heavenly worship, he became intensely aware of his own sinfulness.  When the Apostles saw Jesus in his transfigured glory on Mt. Tabor, they were overwhelmed with new joy.

A glimpse is not yet the fullness, the Beatific Vision. Still as the author of Hebrews states: “But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb 11:16)

In the New Testament Jesus speaks of the blessings and joys of being in heaven. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:3) “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” (Mt 5:8) The poor in spirit have learned to depend upon God for their being and sustenance and the pure in heart over time have divested themselves of sin which cools or separates them from God. Their treasure is found not in things or even themselves but in God. “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt 6:20) As redeemed sons and daughters, our inheritance from God as a result of our life in Christ on earth is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Pet 1:4-5)

What other aspects of Heaven is given to us in the scriptures?  Jesus talks about the many mansions in heaven: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”   (John 14:2)

Jesus reminds us that we will be with him (and the Father and Holy Spirit). “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” (Jn 14:3)

Initially, our body will be separated from our soul until the day of the resurrection of our body when soul and body will be united in a glorified state. Here is how Paul states the mystery: “This I declare, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does corruption* inherit incorruption.  Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.  For that which is corruptible must clothe itself with incorruptibility, and that which is mortal must clothe itself with immortality.  And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This mystery is what moved Paul to exclaim: “We would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.” (2 Cor 5:8) This is what moved the saints of the ages to live their lives the way they did, because of the longing to be with the Lord, sharing eternal life, free from the trials and tribulations of this age, knowing that in the age to come “God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

What will life in heaven entail as a central aspect? The author of The Book of Revelation shares his vision. After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.’ All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed: ‘Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’ Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, ‘Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?’  I said to him, ‘My lord, you are the one who knows.’ He said to me, ‘These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. ‘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.’”  (Rev 7:9-17)

 

 

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