Have you ever attended a funeral and the leader said the deceased person wasn’t qualified to enter heaven? I imagine at the very least, the leader would miss the stipend! I have been to a couple funerals, however, where the leader stated that if the hearers ever wanted to be with their deceased loved one, they’d better confess they are a miserable lost sinner and trust in the blood of Jesus to get them access into “the better place.”
Heaven to me, however, is simply a word to symbolize the state of peace, love, and deep joy. Where is it? It’s with us all the time, right in the here and now. It becomes a state of mind which understands one came from such a place as one’s natural birthright.
The early church in its more Gnostic teachings, also believed and taught the same truth. Our souls, or spirits were created by God, Father, Mother, or whatever symbol used. Such entities are beyond material or body matter but are spirit, part of the unseen world often written about even in the Bible which was later constructed in the 4th Century. Most religions tend to have this someplace, but the ego which identifies with form, structures and bodies so easily lose it. Ego-centric religion seeks to see itself as the special, green-light-to-heaven order. Of course it’s done naturally and even sincerely but in vast ignorance.
Emotions can so easily dominate our human thinking that the gift of reason is easily lost. Certainly emotions are important but they so easily can lead one into outright silliness and disaster if not yoked with reason. That’s why ancient philosophy was so dominate in creating theories and teachings of spiritual liberation. In the early centuries of the church, philosophy was spurned in favor of blind faith, of demanding fearful obedience to hierarchal religious authority. Alvin Boyd Kuhn writes in his wonderful book on the beginnings of Christianity (Shadow of the Third Century: A Revaluation of Christianity), “…a single caution to those who plunge into religious emotionalism: the force of the emotions is not determined by the accuracy of the idea which aroused them, but by the vivacity with which we imagine it! …. The sad realization that faces us here is that we can be emotionally aroused by totally false ideas.”
Heaven then is experienced and entered by awareness and understanding. Jesus, in various places, made it most simple; “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” or “within you.” He didn’t teach you must get to the synagogue regularly and learn all its laws, but simply “change your thinking” as the word “repentance” means. He touched people inside and outside his own Jewish background with words of comfort, forgiveness and peace.
The eastern religious teachings I have found to be more consistent in this idea of “awakening” to one’s Higher or True Self. True, Christian missionaries, protected by nations seeking to conquer these countries, sought to destroy much of it. In my early days of seeking, I always felt salvation was something I had to do like making a confession of belief without questioning it. Indeed, our whole western form of Christianity is built more on confessions than on experience through understanding. It has been a narrowly defined blind-faith confession making access to heaven and peace exclusively the “church” authority with its keys.
Who could believe long in such a God idea whose very Self would exterminate in eternal punishment most of the world’s population? It’s a dangerous, foolish, selfish and demoralizing idea. It places God, as the late Fr. De Mello said, in the awful company of an Adolf Hitler. It’s narrow, fear based, and built upon a system which has murdered so many in the name of protecting its message. Stamping out the early, Gnostic, philosophical, reasoned teachings of Jesus, “bought victory at the price of the horrific Inquisition and the blood of more Protestant martyrs in a single nation, the Netherlands, than the whole number of Christian victims in the Roman persecutions.” (Kuhn)
So who then can get to heaven? Those who chose to seek for it with their reason and emotion. Usually it’s our feelings which come first, our intuitions, telling us something is just wrong with what we have been told. It’s then we can kick into our questioning, reasoning side, and discover a much richer, kinder, and inclusive faith.
In my conclusion, everyone is then already in Heaven but just doesn’t know it yet. We get lost in our bodies and material worlds which seem so real but are just passing along with time and the space we feel is so real yet only a vast illusion. Resurrection, as I have written before, is simply awakening to this idea, seeing that we are Ideas from our Source, the Unknown but Loving Spirit. We come to experience it by waiting in silence, opening to the nudging of Spirit, pondering on quiet walks, slowly musing sacred literature, watching water flow or clouds quietly move, or just gazing out over majestic mountains.
Does everyone then get there? Yes, everybody is already there in eternity. The time we choose to awaken is simply ours. It may be in this lifetime, it may well be in another to come. Yet in eternity, we have never left our home; we are always there. My conclusion is “Why wait? I want it now!” I seek to remember daily, practicing in quiet, in relationships, in random acts of love and kindness to others. For we are there, we are Home, we are Love that never left our Source. Think about it, and come on in and rest your weary bodies, minds, and spirit into the One.
Thanks Pastor Dave … that was a great post!
I had a waking dream once…in which I felt that this life.. the one through which we drift in such perfect oblivion, that it is both heaven and hell. That the only difference between the two is the acceptance of His love. I see people in this world, both rich and poor, who are happy. People that are content in their lives. People whose lives are blessed with happiness, fulfillment and a very deep sense of connection to life in general and more specifically to the community around them. I see in these people a profound understanding of what He embodies to me. The universal love and caring that binds us all together. I see Him as the love that keeps families and communities tight and close knit. I see him in the caring hands of a doctor working tirelessly in Africa to help strangers he neither knows nor understands. I see it in the care we give our poor and elderly and in the good works that the Church perpetuates in its community.
What is hell for me? It is the life that people lead when they are bound by avarice and greed. When they turn their backs on their own humanity in order to enhance their own selfish needs. I see it in people that are cut off from the love of their families and friends and forced to live lives of desperate and aching solitude. There are so many examples of how people, having deserted the love He gives us, are floundering for a reason to exist. Dreading the embrace of death because it finally highlights their forlorn and pathetic existence.
These thoughts circle my mind regularly since that day. I perceive some elements of truth in this idle reverie turned personal philosophy. Is it possible that this life is both heaven and hell?? That the only difference is one of attitude and perception. Of engagement with ones community. That the acceptance of His love is the bridge that binds us into the fabric of our own humanity and that without it we are loose threads that fall with finality to the floor, outcast from the weave of love that He has offered us? Is it possible that all of existence is here before us and it is only our own acceptance of Him that keeps us from crossing over to a heavenly life on this beautiful world that he has provided for us?
I look forward to your words on this rather superficial take on life and on our own raison d’etre