Relatively frequently, the topic of “heaven” or “eternal life” comes up in conversations with members of my faith and other Christians. We who believe in an after-life often wonder what it will be like, what we will do, what we will feel and so on. I would like to share my recently updated perspective on this subject, then ask you what you think.
A child’s view of heaven
As I grew up, I was taught by my parents about God, Jesus and the purpose of our life on earth. I was taught about what happens after we die: if we’ve been good during our life, we go to a lovely place where everything is beautiful, peaceful and happy. No more death, no more pain, no more sadness: just happy all the time!
But what do you DO in heaven?
Apart from the occasional mention of singing praises to God and resting from worldly cares, there isn’t much information in the scriptures about what we will be doing in this wonderful place. So when children ask this very sensible question, they don’t usually get a satisfying answer, or they get a made-up one. I got a bit of both.
When I ask teenagers what they think they’ll be doing in heaven, they often talk about doing the things they love doing here: playing computer games, eating lots of cake, watching movies etc. Their idea of heaven is a place where they can indulge in their pleasurable activities without parental or societal restraints.
Things get even more interesting when you ask adults.
Adult views of heaven: happiness?
Most adults who believe in heaven associate it with pure and uninterrupted happiness. I think that, if this is our idea of heaven, we need to think a bit deeper.
LDS doctrine includes the notion that God is a glorified man, and that heaven is living the kind of life that God lives. Mormons are unified in this belief, it is a central tenet of our faith. Now comes the big question:
Is God continuously happy?
If He is, then does He never experience sorrow for our pains? Does He never experience disappointment, anger, sadness, frustration or grief? Does He only ever do things that are pleasurable, or does He occasionally perform difficult work?
The Bible attributes many of these negative emotions to God, so why do we seem to believe that our eternal existence will consist of uninterrupted bliss? Is that what really brings happiness? The absence of negative emotions?
Have you ever looked at a painting whose beauty completely overwhelmed you? Think about it, I hope you have experienced this before. If you have, what made the painting beautiful to your eyes? If the first thing you could think about was “the shadows”, I would say you don’t think like most people do. It’s generally the things that catch our eyes like bright or bold colours, that first come to mind. An experienced artist, however, will look at the painting as a whole, and will be able to describe why the painting looks good.
The answer is: everything. It’s not any individual aspect of a painting that makes it sublime, it’s the whole package. The composition, the technique, the texture, the contrast, the subject, the saturation of the colours, the richness of the shadows etc.
So it is with heaven: it’s not just the positive, pleasurable emotions that make it such a desirable state of existence, it’s the whole package.
What does that package contain? I believe that the single most important aspect of a heavenly existence consists of relationships. Imagine living in a country where everyone is a close, intimate friend who loves and respects you, and who responds with tenderness and deep emotion each time you reach out for them. Imagine never having to worry about what people think, because you know that everyone respects you. Imagine a place completely void of hatred, jealousy, pettiness, crime, selfishness, greed and prejudice. Everyone relies on each other, complements each other, and is attuned to each other.
Can such an existence include things like disappointment, grief, and worries? I believe it can, indeed I believe it must.
Heaven is not just the icing on the cake. It’s the whole cake. It’s also doing the dishes when you’re done, and sharing the recipe with friends so they can enjoy it too.
Have a say!
Please answer the following poll, to share your perspective of what heaven will be like!