I saw the other day a memorial message: ‘Gran will look down on us from heaven’. It made me wonder in a semi whimsical way, Where is heaven?
It isn’t ‘up there’ in the sense that somewhere between the earth and space is a place where God looks down, angels flutter around and saved souls swan around feeling happy, though the more active somewhat bored…how do you do occupy yourself for ‘eternity’?
Space missions to planets and amazingly powerful telescopes haven’t come across heaven, and thanks to scientific advance we’re discovering the vast limitless expanse of space. Heaven has still to be found above us, and our spirits will have to travel very fast to reach it if it’s further than we’ve discovered so far.
I might be proved wrong and a camera on board a rocket heading for the sun might shortly send back pictures of endless rolling hills, clear streams, clean streets, stately homes and chateaux, cake shops, choirs singing and angels plucking at harps, rows of well stocked vegetarian food stalls, sandy beaches, warm calm seas, England winning Test matches, but I doubt it.
God’s up there, Christians have been told for many hundreds of years, along with a neat hierachy of semi human helpers: cherubims, seraphims, angels and saints with special privileges such as front row seats to hear the choirs and quality time discussing serious issues with God. Jesus is up there, at His right hand, as he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven.
Paintings and frescos have depicted these Elysium scenes in wonderfully realistic works of art down the centuries, their creators having no doubt that the firmament they were depicting was real, God and his crew were above us, we were being judged from on high, heaven was waiting for us if we believed, and who in those days before science provided more empirical answers, wouldn’t?
For Muslims, paradise is also tangible as a bounteous bejewelled garden where, notoriously, vast numbers of virgins wait to give solace to martyrs as they arrive.
This is now considered a mistranslation of the original ancient Arabic description, and a good thing too when you think of the moral ambiguity. But it shows that Islam like Judaism, Christianity and most religions, has created a place with physical properties where our souls, spirits or reconstituted bodies are summoned when we die.
I try to get my head round this, but can’t. I conclude, not with any pleasure, that heaven doesn’t exist. If I accept it’s a metaphysical place, it simply confirms that this definition of heaven is a device used by religions to avoid the inconvenient truth that it’s not there.
This metaphysical destination for our souls by definition has no tangible location, no pearly gates, walls, clouds to sit on. It’s a place that religions create to reassure us that when we die there is more to follow if we are good and obey a God who has not only created where we live but where we’ll go next if we pass whatever test, given final sacraments or are part of the elect. There are all sorts of obtuse rules for our entry to paradise, not surprising really, as it adds to its mystery.
The metaphysical definition of heaven has another problem for me. If heaven isn’t a physical entity, does it have a timespan? Put another way, if heaven doesn’t exist as a place, does it exist in time? When did this metaphysical heaven start to host spirits and souls? At what stage in our evolution did man have a soul? Were we only given souls when we understood the nature of our relationship with God, or when He started his relationship with us?
I don’t believe we started from Adam and Eve, so when during our evolution were we advanced enough in God’s eyes to qualify for entry to heaven? Was heaven rather lonely for the first few thousand years, and is it not uncomfortably overcrowded now?
Silly questions I know, for if it’s a metaphysical place; it’s neither empty nor full, it’s not a real place.
The more I think about it, the less chance I have of finding heaven.