Fourteen Questions About HeavenPETER KREEFT
Peter Kreeft answers fourteen commonly asked questions about heaven.1. Will we know everything in heaven?
Of course not. Why would someone think that? There are two reasons, and the first one is simply a confusion between Heaven and divinity. We will remain human in Heaven, therefore finite, therefore our knowledge will remain finite. True, we will share in divine life, but this is just a share. In fact, we share in divine life now, if we are reborn in Christ; our souls nurture a fetal Christ. But I have not observed that fact generating omniscience in myself or any other.
When you come to think of it, knowing everything would be more like Hell than Heaven for us. For one thing, we need progress and hope: we need to look forward to knowing something new tomorrow. Mystery is our mind's food. If we truly said, "I have seen everything", we would conclude, as did the author of Ecclesiastes, "all is vanity". For another thing, the more knowledge, the more responsibility. Only omnipotence can bear the burden of omniscience; only God's shoulders are strong enough to carry the burden of infinite knowledge without losing the joy.
The second reason we may think our heavenly knowledge is infinite is the theory that on earth we have already an access, a potency, for all knowledge; that the brain is a "reducing valve", not a generator. Perhaps the Fall lowered the curtain between us and all truth, which we now see "through a glass, darkly"; and in Heaven the curtain will rise again. Thus, the knowledge we now have is both a memory and a prophecy of Paradise.
But even if this theory is true it does not entail our omniscience. Even if there is no curtain in Heaven, even if our consciousness there dashes against no wall or limit, still we remain like the tiny figures in a Chinese landscape: small subjects in an enormously larger objective world. Even if we then escape from the tiny hut in which we are now imprisoned and through whose smudged windows or chinks in whose walls we now must look – even if we wander freely in the country of light – we are in the light, not the light in us. Our first and last wisdom in Heaven is Socratic, just as it is on earth: to know how little we know. If there is no end of the need for humility in the moral order (the saint is the one humble enough not to think he is a saint), the same is true of the intellectual order (the wise man is the one humble enough to know he has no wisdom). It all depends on the standard of judgment: by earthly standards most of us are moderately saintly and moderately wise; by Heavenly standards all of us, even in Heaven, are children. And by the standard of the infinite, inexhaustible perfection of God, we remain children forever. Happy children, fulfilled children, but children.
Perhaps this will
be one of the supreme tests: would we choose the childlikeness of Heaven or the
promise of "maturity", of "humanity come of age" in Hell? Will we suffer gladly
the blow and shock to our pride that is Heaven's gift of eternal childhood (thus
eternal hope and progress) or will we insist on the "successes" of "self-actualization"
that Heaven denies us and Hell offers us? If the latter, we will find despair
instead of hope, ennui instead of creative work, and the emptying out of all our
joy. Jesus' teaching, "Unless you turn and become like children, you will never
enter the kingdom of Heaven", is not something to be outgrown. Saint Bernard
of Clairvaux, when asked which are the four most important virtues, replied, "Humility,
humility, humility, and humility." It is only the foolish egotist who thinks
that our smallness relative to the infinite riches of objective reality is a problem
to be overcome.
By God's grace, no! How awful that would be – almost as awful as knowing everything. Having no heroes, being unable to look up to anyone, would be Hell, not Heaven.
We modern egalitarians are tempted to the primal sin of pride in the opposite way from the ancients. The old, aristocratic form of pride was the desire to be better than others. The new, democratic form is the desire not to have anyone better than yourself. It is just as spiritually deadly and does not even carry with it the false pleasure of gloating superiority. Flat, boring, repetitive sameness is simply not the structure of reality in a theistic universe, either on earth or in Heaven. However, in Heaven, as on earth, each of us will be or do something no one else will be or do as well. No one will be superfluous.
If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one . . . . Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions . . . each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can.
God's justice is not ours. It surprises ours in a double way. On the one hand, the one-hour workers receive the same pay as the all-day workers, in Christ's parable. "He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent empty away." "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low." But on the other hand, to him who already has, more will be given, and "from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away". Human justice is outraged by both halves of Christ's paradoxical justice.
Justice does not mean equality. In a poem, in the universe, in mathematics, in architecture – everywhere there is natural justice, justice means inequality, yin and yang, male and female, higher and lower, East and West, light and darkness, land and water. No flat, dull repetition but uniqueness. In human relationships too, justice does not mean equality, but treating equals equally and unequals unequally. Is it just to treat a pig like a man? If so, it is also just to treat a man like a pig. One of the astonishing blind spots of modernity is its unquestioning fixation on equality.
Of course there are degrees of perfection in Heaven; it is quite the divine style. There are degrees of perfection in everything God created (though not in everything we create). Equality is a man-made legal fiction designed as a wall of defense against tyranny, a medicine against a disease.
"We must all be guarded by equal rights from one another's greed, because we are fallen. just as we must all wear clothes for the same reason. But the naked body should be there underneath the clothes, ripening for the day when we shall need them no longer. Equality is not the deepest thing, you know. "
Why is there
no jealousy in this hierarchical, aristocratic, nonegalitarian Heaven of authority
and obedience? Because all are cells in the same body. The kidney does not rebel
because it is not the eye. jealousy is the principle of Hell. There is no
Hell in Heaven.
The living often say they feel the dead present and watching them. Is this illusion or fact?
It is fact. The Bible says we are surrounded by "a great cloud of witnesses". The context is speaking of the dead. They are alive. For God is "not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him".
Reason confirms revelation here. Does their love for us cease? Does it not rather increase in purity and power? And do not their vision and understanding also increase?
"The Communion of Saints" means not only (1) love and understanding among the blessed in Heaven and (2) love and understanding among the redeemed on earth but also (3) love and understanding between those two groups, the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, temporarily separated by death.
What difference does this make? Well, what difference does it make to you if you believe you are being watched by a thousand living human eyes? Multiply this consequence by millions and by the increase in love and understanding in Heaven. Throw in literally innumerable angels, all of them sharing mightily in God's love and knowledge. Then you have the difference it makes: the exponent of infinity.
The link connecting the Church Militant with the Church Triumphant, the link
connecting Heaven and earth, is the incarnate Christ. We participate in what Christ
does, and Christ links Heaven and earth. He is still on earth as well as in Heaven
(1) by His Spirit and (2) in His Mystical Body, the Church, His people. Christianity
does not worship an absent Christ. And just as He can be on earth even when He
has gone to Heaven, so can we – in Him. The cells in the one Body are all
living cells, but only a very few of them are living on earth.
First of all, Scripture strictly forbids us to call them up as Saul called up the ghost of the prophet Samuel by means of the Witch of Endor's necromancy. Because of this deed, he lost his kingdom and perhaps his soul.
The reason for the stricture is probably protection against the danger of deception by evil spirits. We are out of our depth, our knowledge, and our control once we open the doors to the supernatural. The only openings that are safe for us are the ones God has approved: revelation, prayer, His own miracles, sacraments, and primarily Christ Himself. He has made a straight and safe road for us from earth to Heaven, through the dark woods of the innumerable, unknowable, and unpredictable spiritual forces that are to us as fire to an infant or a juggernaut to an ant. The danger is not physical but spiritual, and spiritual danger always centers on deception. The Devil is "a liar and the father of lies". He disguises himself "as an angel of light".
Nevertheless, without our action or invitation, the dead often do appear to the living. There is enormous evidence of "ghosts" in all cultures. What are we to make of them? Surely we should not classify the appearances of the wives of C. S. Lewis and Sheldon Vanauken, just to take two Christian examples, as demonic?
We can distinguish three kinds of ghosts, I believe. First, the most familiar kind: the sad ones, the wispy ones. They seem to be working out some unfinished earthly business, or suffering some purgatorial purification until released from their earthly, business. These ghosts would seem to be the ones who just barely made it to Purgatory, who feel little or no joy yet and who need to learn many painful lessons about their past lives on earth.
Second, there are malicious and deceptive spirits – and since they are deceptive, they hardly ever appear malicious. These are probably the ones who respond to conjurings at séances. They probably come from Hell. Even the chance of that happening should be sufficient to terrify away all temptation to necromancy..
Third, there are the bright, happy spirits of dead friends and family, especially spouses, who appear unbidden, at God's will, not ours, with messages of hope and love. They seem to come from Heaven. Unlike the purgatorial ghosts who come back primarily for their own sakes, these bright spirits come back for the sake of us the living, to tell us all is well. They are aped by evil spirits who say the same, who speak "peace, peace, when there is no peace". But deception works only one way: the fake can deceive by appearing genuine, but the genuine never deceives by appearing fake. Heavenly spirits always convince us that they are genuinely good. Even the bright spirits appear ghostlike to us because a ghost of any type is one whose substance does not belong in or come from this world. In Heaven these spirits are not ghosts but real, solid, and substantial because they are at home there. "One can't be a ghost in one's own country."
That there are all three kinds of ghosts
is enormously likely. Even taking into account our penchant to deceive and to
be deceived, our credulity and our fakery, there remain so many trustworthy accounts
of all three types of ghosts – trustworthy by every ordinary empirical and
psychological standard – that only a dogmatic a priori prejudice against
them could prevent us from believing they exist. As Chesterton says, "We believe
an old apple-woman when she says she ate an apple; but when she says she saw a
ghost we say, 'But she's only an old apple-woman.'" A most undemocratic and
Emotions move us; we do not move them. They are a form of passivity. We will be far more active in Heaven than we ever were before, since our spirits (which are activity) will rule rather than being ruled by our bodies (which are passivity). Nevertheless, we will have bodies, therefore passivity, therefore emotions, though they will not be at the unfree whim of heredity, environment, animal instinct, propaganda, others' demands, and the many other forces that presently condition us.
Even when our spirits are perfectly free, they can feel. Even now, it is the spirit that feels, not just the body. It is a prejudice imported from Greek philosophy, not a notion found in Scripture, that feelings should be dominated by rational thought. The center of the self which the Greeks located in reason, Scripture locates in the "heart", that which loves. This center is no more a feeling than it is thinking; it is the prefunctional root of both, or it is a deeper feeling and a deeper thinking: the heart has its reasons which the reason does not know".
But since our thinking and
our feeling are equal functions of the heart, we will retain our feeling in Heaven
just as we will retain our thinking. All our humanity is perfected, not diminished,
We seem to face a dilemma here. On the one hand, Scripture assures us that "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away".
On the other hand, the blessed dead seem sometimes to manifest sorrow, like Mary at LaSallette, weeping for the sins of the world. And C. S. Lewis says, "as there may be pleasures in Hell (God shield us from them), there may be something not all unlike pains in Heaven (God grant us soon to taste them)". What could this mean?
Might it be that the sorrow appears only during our first, purgatorial stage? At this point the pains of separation may affect not only the earthly bereaved lover but also the heavenly beloved. As Lewis says, "I can't help suspecting the dead also feel the pains of separation (and this may be one of their purgatorial sufferings)." But this would not explain the tears of Mary, who is certainly beyond Purgatory.
Might it be that the sorrow is only an appearance, like angels' bodies, put on for our sake? But the purpose of appearance should be to teach, not to deceive, if the appearance comes from Heaven.
To solve this problem let us look at the greatest suffering, that which is made possible by love. The more you love, the more you can suffer. That fact creates the following problem: Does God the Father suffer? The affirmative answer to that question has been declared a heresy (Patripassianism); yet how can God love us, and remain aloof and invulnerable? As Kierkegaard says, the unhappiness that comes from the inability of lovers to understand each other is
infinitely more profound than that [unhappiness] of which men commonly speak, since it strikes at the very heart of love . ... This infinitely deeper grief is essentially the prerogative of the superior . . . in reality, it belongs to God alone . . . . Men sometimes think that this might be a matter of indifference to God, since he does not stand in need of the learner [us]. But in this we forget – or rather, alas! we prove how far we are from understanding him; we forget that God loves the learner.
The dilemma, then, is this: If God cannot suffer, how can He really love us? But if He can suffer, how is He God? To answer this question would also be to answer the question of whether and how we can suffer in Heaven, for Heavenly children resemble their Heavenly Father.
The answer requires us to distinguish between two ingredients of earthly love and caring, an active and a passive ingredient, that are together in fact but distinguishable in thought. Say a parent loves a child who has done something harmful to himself. The parent's love speaks two words to the child. The first word, the word of active caring for the other, says, "How could you do this to yourself ? " The second word, the word of passivity and vulnerability, says, "How could you do this to me?" God loves us with the first love only, and the blessed in Heaven will love as God loves. We cannot blackmail God. We cannot make Him wring His hands by holding our breath until we turn blue in the face. He truly loves and cares, yet He is invulnerable – not by being aloof but by being supremely active, not passive.
If our spirits are similar enough to God, we too can love without sorrow or vulnerability because we love only with the active feeling of caring, not the passive feeling of being hurt. For our spirits then are not controlled by our bodies, by heredity and environment. C. S. Lewis' experience of his dead wife's presence and love was like that:
It was quite incredibly unemotional . . . . Yet there was an extreme and cheerful intimacy. An intimacy that had not passed through the senses or the emotions at all . . . . Can that intimacy be love itself - always in this life attended with emotion, not because it is itself an emotion, or needs an attendant emotion, but because our animal souls, our nervous systems, our imaginations, have to respond to it in that way? If so, how many preconceptions I must scrap! A society, a communion, of pure intelligences would not be cold, drab and comfortless .... It would, if I have had a glimpse, be – well, I'm almost scared at the adjectives I'd have to use. Brisk? cheerful? keen? alert? intense? wide-awake? Above all, solid. Utterly reliable. Firm. There is no nonsense about the dead.
Yet on the other side of the dilemma, will Heaven lack the greatest of all beauties of earthly art, the beauty of sorrow, of great tragedy? Nothing of value is simply lost in Heaven; all is preserved and transformed. Earthly indicators are to be read (though with caution) as pointers to Heavenly realities.
And on earth, pain and pleasure are strangely akin at their peak, like death and life. When a thing is enormously beautiful, it hurts. What Heavenly fact is imaged in this earthly mystery?
Perhaps the ultimate fact of all, the nature of God, the inner
life of the Trinity as a system of self-dying, self-giving. Perhaps this is
the deepest reason of all for pain on earth, and the solution to the "problem
of evil": Why does a good and loving God allow so much earthly suffering? To train
us for Heaven's joyful suffering and to enact, to incarnate, to manifest the ultimate
law of reality on our human level: the law of death and life, blessed self-death
(no longer blessed for fallen creatures) leading to eternal life. "All pains and
pleasures we have known on earth are early initiations in the movements of that
dance." This is the supreme joy in all existence, the joy of God's inner
life of self-giving, the secret forever incomprehensible to the rebel, angelic
or human, who says "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven".
Here is another dilemma. If we answer no, we seem to lack something: free will. If we answer yes, we lack something else: moral perfection. The Heavenly question thus lands us squarely into an earthly and present issue concerning the nature of freedom and of morality and may help us to puncture one of modernity's most pervasive and destructive illusions: the association of freedom with rebellion and of obedience with unfreedom.
Suppose we change the question so as to avoid the ambiguity of the word freedom. Are we able to sin in Heaven? If not, it seems we are programmed and determined rather than free. If so, if temptation is possible in Heaven, Heavenly security against sin is gone. One of the best things to look forward to at death, say the saints, is that "he who has died is freed from sin". If there is even a possibility of sin in Heaven, that possibility may be actualized, for if the actualization of a possibility is impossible, then it is not a possibility but an impossibility.
How can we preserve both free will and sinlessness in Heaven? Once again, God is our model and solution: we solve this pseudoproblem in the same way God does. He is both free and sinless. How? Let us judge our freedom by His, rather than vice versa.
What do we mean by "freedom"? Sometimes (1) political freedom, freedom from tyranny, oppression, or the denial of our rights; sometimes (2) physical power, ability to act, freedom from hindrance; and sometimes (3) spiritual power to choose ("free will"). Of course we will have all three in Heaven, but why won't we be able to sin, since we will have free will?
Because we will also have a fourth freedom, the most important one of all: freedom from sin, from what makes us not ourselves. We will be free to be the true selves God designed us to be, free to be determined by God. This determination does not remove our freedom but is our freedom, for even now freedom is not simply indetermination; it is freedom to be determined by final causes (purposes) rather than efficient causes (things and events that already exist and act upon us). Our free will means that our present is determined by our future rather than by our past. Final causes are at present only mental pictures and desires. To say we are determined by final causes means that we, like God, create by knowing; that as creative artists our knowledge antecedes and determines the truth of its object, the work of art, rather than conforming to its object, as scientific and empirical knowledge does. But we are objects to God (though subjects to the world); we too, therefore, are true only when we conform to God's knowledge of us, God's artistic plan for our identity. Since our highest freedom means freedom to be ourselves, we are most free when we are most obedient to God's will, which expresses His idea of us. Thus freedom and obedience coincide. To obey God is to be free in the most radical sense: free to be me, free from inauthenticity, free from false being, free from the alien within, not just free from the alien without, the oppressor.
This explains a paradox frequently met in earthly experience: that at the moment of freest choice it feels most like destiny, and at the moment of most destined choice it feels freest. Caesar's crossing the Rubicon, choosing someone to marry, a conversion decision - these all feel both more free and more destined than ordinary choices. C. S. Lewis' explanation of this principle is that it is all of us that chooses; nothing is left over. Therefore there is nothing in us that opposes the choice; it is certain; it is wholly determined. But it is also wholly free because it is wholly self-determined. The whole self chooses, the divided will is healed.
The answer to our question, then, is that "freedom
to sin" is a self-contradictory concept. Sin is inauthenticity and freedom is
authenticity; sin is our false self and freedom is our true self Sin is part of
Hell and freedom is part of Heaven. The question cannot be resolved, only dissolved,
because it confuses Hell with Heaven.
Nothing and everything. Saint Francis of Assisi and others devoted to poverty understand this paradox. Saint Paul speaks of "having nothing, and yet possessing all things" because possessed by God: "all [things] are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's."
Heaven is pure communism. There is no private property in Heaven. (Earthly communism, even when not atheistic, is another "too-soon" mistake of Utopianism.) "In Heaven there is no ownership. If any there took upon him to call anything his own, he would straightway be thrust out into hell and become an evil spirit." For the ultimate possession is the self, and if even that is given away, nothing else can be held (because there is no holder); and that is given away:
The golden apple of selfhood, thrown among the false gods, became an apple of discord because they scrambled for it. They did not know the first rule of the holy game, which is that every player must by all means touch the ball and then immediately pass it on. To be found with it in your hands is a fault; to cling to it, death. But when it flies to and fro among the players too swift for eye to follow, and the great master Himself leads the revelry, giving Himself eternally to His creatures in the generation, and back to Himself in the sacrifice, of the Word, then indeed the eternal dance "makes heaven drowsy with the harmony."
As MacDonald says, "the heart cannot hoard", only the hand. As Marcel says, the true self cannot possess or have anything because I do not have my own body as my body has things: I am my body.
No one can possess goodness, truth, beauty, love, life, light, God. But Heaven is these things. Therefore no one can possess Heaven. Whenever, even now, we think of truth or goodness as something we have we become self-righteous, narrow, and defensive. To have truth is to be dogmatic; to have goodness is to be proud; to have beauty is to be vain; to have joy is to be miserable with fear of losing it. God, I AM, pure subject, is the only Haver. He cannot be had, nor can His attributes or His Kingdom of Heaven.
must learn detachment to enter Heaven. Willy-nilly, death detaches us from everything,
even ourselves. We must learn to "die before you die. There is no chance after."
Learning detachment from the world, which can be possessed, is our training for
learning detachment from the desire to possess Heaven, which cannot be possessed.
Asked whether he thought he would possess any of his beloved library books in
Heaven, C. S. Lewis replied, "Only those I gave away on earth.
Those who claim to have caught glimpses of Heaven report a strange and surprising answer to this question; and the fact that so many have said the same surprising thing without previous acquaintance with each other lends weight to the testimony. They say that it is hard to classify the blessed as either clothed or naked. If clothed, it is as if the clothing were a part of the body, an organic growth, rather than an accidental, foreign covering: it reveals rather than conceals, and it is natural and necessary rather than artificial and accidental. If naked, it is shameless and not arousing erotic desires. It is not the result of "naking", the process of taking off the clothes that in our present state are natural, thus attaining a state of nudity that is (in our present state) unnatural. (Nudist camps are not "natural".)
The principle behind the naturalness of Heavenly clothing is the overcoming of the distinction between appearance and reality. In Heaven, light reigns; we know and are known. On earth, shadows reign, reality hides behind appearances as a mercy to fallen and weakened eyes. We need the double-lensed sunglasses of reason and faith to know truth now; in Heaven we shall see the truth naked and direct. When reality appears and no longer hides, so will we.
The clothing of Heaven is described in Scripture as "white garments". White is the color of light. Light reveals. On earth, clothes partly conceal and partly reveal, just as language does. In Heaven all is revealed. "Nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest."
Here, truth is aletheia, overcoming of Lethe: forgetfulness, appearance, concealment. So clothing hides the body, and the truth about the body is reached by unveiling, naking. In Heaven, the truth will be in the appearances (fully revealed, fully apparent), so the truth of the resurrection body will be revealed in its clothes. As the Son perfectly expresses the Father, clothes will express the body.
Our heavenly clothes may express our earthly
story and success. Socrates will have his philosopher's robe. Heroes will wear
the clothes associated with their heroism. Jesus will wear His crown of thorns.
Each thorn will be a diamond.
The simplest answer is: Why not? How irrational is the prejudice that would allow plants (green fields and flowers) but not animals into Heaven! Much more reasonable is C. S. Lewis' speculation that we will be "between the angels who are our elder brothers and the beasts who are our jesters, servants, and playfellows". Scripture seems to confirm this: "thy judgments are like the great deep; man and beast thou savest, O Lord". Animals belong in the "new earth , as much as trees.
C. S. Lewis supposes that animals are saved "in" their masters, as part of their extended family. Only tamed animals would be saved in this way. It would seem more likely that wild animals are in Heaven too, since wildness, otherness, not-mine-ness, is a proper pleasure for us. The very fact that the seagull takes no notice of me when it utters its remote, lonely call is part of its glory.
Would the same animals be in Heaven as on
earth? "Is my dead cat in Heaven?" Again, why not? God can raise up the very grass;
why not cats? Though the blessed have better things to do than play with pets,
the better does not exclude the lesser. We were meant from the beginning to have
stewardship over the animals; we have not fulfilled that divine plan yet
on earth; therefore it seems likely that the right relationship with animals will
be part of Heaven: proper "petship". And what better place to begin than with
already petted pets?
First of all, the Bible says so.
Secondly, great earthly music is particularly Heavenly, a sign or pointer beyond itself to Heaven. What was dimly suggested in all earthly music that moved us so much that the ancients necessarily ascribed it not to men but to gods – goddesses, the nine Muses – is precisely Heavenly music. That is why we were moved here; it reminded us of There, which is our home.
Third, it may well be in music that the world was created, and that music is the original language. Spoken poetry is to music what prose is to poetry. Poetry is not ornamented prose, and music is not accompanied poetry. Prose is ossified poetry, and poetry is half of music.
It is not that music is in Heaven; Heaven is in music. Heaven is "the
region where there is only life, and therefore all that is not music is silence".
Heaven is both silent, like the contemplative mystic, and full of sound, like
a dance or a symphony.
The very nature of space, and therefore of size, changes in Heaven. Meaning determines size, rather than size, meaning.
The New Jerusalem's measures are symbolic, not physical.
Heaven is big enough so that billions of races
of billions of saved people are never crowded, yet small enough so that no one
gets lost or feels lonely. And we can travel anywhere in Heaven simply by will.
The very distinction is too funny to take seriously. The distinction between humor and seriousness is strictly earthly. Here on earth, much humor is "comic relief " from the grim business of "real" life. But in Heaven, humor is high seriousness. It is the inner secret of God and the blessed.
Even on earth, saints play with their lives in the most outrageous way. Saint Thomas More ended his life with a bad joke, telling the axman "please do not chop my beard in two; it has not committed treason." Jesus has the most perfect sense of humor of all. We do not often see it, because we think of humor as jokes. But the most perfect humor is in the very situation itself, especially irony, the contrast between appearance and reality. "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her" is irony. It could be more clumsily and directly rendered, "You judgmental fools are worse than that adulteress - taking out splinters with logs in your eyes." There is great irony in the Sermon on the Mount: "Consider the lilies of the field .... they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." In other words, "You're sillier than the lilies. Who do you think you are anyway? God? He'll take as good care of you as the lilies, won't he?" There is irony in "You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me." That is, "You're trying to read the sign as if it pointed to itself" It is the same irony as Pilate's "What is truth?" as Truth stands in front of him. Finally, there is Jesus' ironic remark to Nicodemus, who cannot understand being "born again" and asks whether he must return to his mother's womb: "Are you a teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand this?" You experts know everything except what it's all about.
Jesus is our best indicator of Heaven, and if there is humor in Jesus, there is humor in Heaven. Jesus is the manifestation of the Father, and if there is humor in the personality of the Son, there is humor in the personality of the Father. For some reason, people think of the Persons of the Trinity as lacking personality, as nebbishes. In fact, the three fullest personalities in all reality are the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. They are characters! They designed ostriches, for goodness' sake (literally). And – supreme joke – us.
Many of the resuscitated perceive and share Heavenly humor, even God's laughter at repented and forgiven sins. We can laugh only when we are free, detached. The saint can laugh at life in his martyrdom, and once freed from sin (but not till then) we can laugh even at sin in Heaven. Detachment is necessary for humor. And in Heaven there is perfect detachment, even from self (ek-stasis, "standing-outside-oneself") Therefore in Heaven there is perfect humor.
The saint and the clown share the secret of levity, the union between the two meanings of "light": truth (opposite of falsehood and darkness) and levity (opposite of gravity and heaviness). Saints levitate! Body follows spirit.
But Heavenly humor is not the opposite of seriousness,
only of joyless seriousness. Saints, mystics, and the resuscitated take life more
seriously than others do. Everything gains an infinite importance, an "eternal
weight of glory". Joy is a serious matter – too good to be wasted on
jokes. The saint does not usually tell jokes, because he does not need to,
to relieve the joylessness, to relieve sadness, to distract from the heavy, practical
world. "Joy is the serious business of Heaven."
Because we are with God, and God is infinite. We never come to the end of exploring Him. He is new every day.
Because we are with God, and God is eternal. Time does not pass (a condition for boredom); it just is. All time is present in eternity, as all the events of the plot are present in an author's mind. There is no waiting.
Because we are with God,
and God is love. Even on earth, the only people who are never bored are lovers.
Peter Kreeft. "Fourteen Questions About Heaven." from Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven But Never Dreamed of Asking (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1990).
Reprinted by permission of Peter Kreeft.
Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is an alumnus of Calvin College (AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965.
He is the author of numerous books (over forty and counting) including: The Snakebite Letters, The Philosophy of Jesus, The Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims, Prayer: The Great Conversation: Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Prayer, How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis, Love Is Stronger Than Death, Philosophy 101 by Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy Via Plato's Apology, A Pocket Guide to the Meaning of Life, and Before I Go: Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters. Peter Kreeft in on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
Copyright © 2010 Peter Kreeft
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