Monday, August 15, 2011

What Does Heaven Look Like?

Have you ever had a child ask you what Heaven looks like? Perhaps you remember asking your parents that question when you were a child.

At first, I might think to say something clever like, "There's no point in trying to describe it, because it's better than anything you can possibly imagine. You've never experienced anything even close, so you have no frame of reference." Of course, in one sense this is true. Heaven is on such a higher level than anything we've encountered that it's impossible to "understand" what it will be like.

I think, though, it's too easy in our sometimes over-spiritualized, over-intellectualized religion to resort to clever, cop-out answers like that one. We too easily forget that Christianity is and has always been the meatiest, grungiest, most down-to-earth religion there is. That's what it's all about, of course, God humbling himself to become Manto be born of a little woman in a stable. The essence of Christianity is contained in simple, day-to-day things like a baby, water, bread and wine, and motherhood.

There are those who would try to convince us that Heaven is only a state of consciousness after death. Really, Heaven is whatever we want it to be. It'll be whatever makes us happy.

False. Remembering that Christianity is a nitty-gritty religion, we must never forget that we believe in the bodily resurrection of the dead. Every living soul will be reanimated at the end of time to inhabit either Hell or the re-created Earthreal, concrete places, just as solid as the ground you're standing on now. In fact, in The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis' Heaven is even more solid than the Earth is now, not less.

What we may not realize, then, is that the best answers are those cliché, earthy, almost embarassing ones Holy Scripture itself gives us:
"golden lampstands," (Rev. 1:12),
"white garments" and "golden crowns," (Rev. 4:4),
"golden bowls full of incense," (Rev. 5:8),
"massed choirs singing," (Rev. 19:1),
"[walls] adorned with every jewel," (Rev. 21:19),
"[streets] of pure gold, clear as glass," (Rev. 21:21).
Sound familiar? In short, Heaven looks like this (I recommend clicking the button to watch it on YouTube so you can full screen it):

I was particularly struck by the arresting order to everything, especially the shot from 2:35 to 3:18. The architecture, the shapes, the structure, the colors, the materials, the light, the movements, the symmetry, the soundsall of it comes together in harmonious order to worship and imitate the God who created this world in the first place, who himself hangs on the cross in the middle of it all, perfectly static and perfectly active at the same time, incessantly exuding love, more than anyone could ever need. A relationship of simultaneous and infinite giving and infinite receiving between God and Man, incarnated in the person of the God-Man Christ. It is the "marriage supper of the Lamb," (Rev. 19:9).

I was also struck by the peoplethe rag-tag assembly of low-lifes, who spend 99% of their time just going about their daily business, trying to get by, and will never do anything of note. These are the heroes of Christianity. These are the true Saints. The fathers who work tirelessly without complaining to support their families. The mothers who happily and lovingly sacrifice their bodies so that the world can be brightened by the faces of her children. The older siblings who willingly step up to become like assistant parents when 9 kids just gets to be too many for mom to handle without any help.

Heaven looks just like the world we live in now, except, everything will be what it has the potential to be, and more.


  1. "streets of pure gold, clear as glass..."

    reminds me of a song I like by Protestants, who make music straight out of the Bible so well.

    I will walk on the streets of that city of gold
    I will bask in that heavenly light
    And I'll look on the face of my Savior so dear
    In that city where cometh no night.

    from "My Lord Keeps a Record"

  2. That was the best. I didn't know Lauridsen 'til now. I think I've heard his stuff before, but assumed it was John Rutter.

  3. There's something about good music which allows it to image perfectly exactly what it is that happens at Mass. I'm talking about the consummation of the inter-subjective and reciprocal relationship between God and Man which occurs first and foremost there. This is, after all, not only the fundamental principle of our very existence, but likewise the fundamental principle of our worship, which is another word for our participation in God's loving work of creation and salvation.

    Then Cardinal Ratzinger talks an awful lot about this in one of his masterpieces, The Spirit of the Liturgy.


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