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What Will Heaven Be Like?

(This page reflects on what the Next Life, Real Life ('heaven') will be like. At the end, a knotty theological problem might be now solvable. It is an excerpt of some reflections sent to the Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones.)

Both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien had a continuance view of 'heaven', in which the things we know here and now will occur there but in a much richer form, 'completed in Christ'. Such a vision is attractive but merely romantic - unless there is reason to see not only *that* it may be so (which Revelation 22 supplies), but also *how* or *in what way* it may be so.

Scripture does not give us much to go on, but I find a philosophy rooted in the ground-motive of creation, fall and redemption helpful. It does not give me answers; rather, it provides a conceptual framework that enables me to think about the Real Life more clearly (though always aware of some of the limits of doing so). The matter-form ground-motive of the Greek era tends to force an immaterial 'heaven' on us. The nature-grace ground-motive of the mediaeval Roman Catholic church tends towards discontinuity between this life and the next, so that 'heaven' cannot be like this life. The nature-freedom ground-motive of the modern era (seen in the 'deep dichotomy' that has arisen in Western thought between, for example, rationalists and romantics, moderns and postmoderns, postivism and interpretivism) tends to deny the next life or gives it a merely mystical status, perhaps as pure mind.

But the ground-motive of creation, fall, redemption, especially as worked out by the Amsterdam philosophers such as Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd, suggests there are irreducibly distinct aspects, created by God as a framework of law in and by which the cosmos exists and occurs. Dooyeweerd suggested that creation has two sides: a law side and an entity (event) side. The law side enables the entity side to Exist and Occur.

While I like to think of the entity side continuing into Next Life (e.g. my cat), I can do no more than speculate about it. I find it more useful to think of the law side as continuing.

Consider the difference between Tolkien and Lewis. In Tolkien's 'Leaf by Niggle' the artist's attempt to paint a leaf on a tree arrived fully formed in the Next Life. That is, an entity of this life continues into the Next but is enriched. (Likewise, we can ask about the continuance of entities. Will the pieces of music we know now be around Then? Handel's Messiah? Beethoven's Eroica? What about Wagner's pagan-based music? What about entities that are events: will our history e.g. WW2, be known of in the Next Life? Will species we know now be around Next Life - Wrens, Eagles, Wolves, etc.?) In C.S. Lewis' 'The Great Divorce' it is different. The grass and water are *solid* (even though the latter is liquid). That is, it is not specific entities that are enriched, but physicality itself.

Physicality is one of the aspects of the law side. Dooyeweerd delineated fifteen aspects that constitute the law side, from the mathematical, through the physical and biotic, through lingual and social to the credal aspect of faith. Though he warned that no such list is ever materially complete, I find them helpful in many ways and in this instance, it provides me with a conceptual framework by which I can think about the next, real life. What I do is take each aspect and ask the following questions:

Thus we have covered all fifteen of Dooyeweerd's aspects, and it is surprising to me how many Scripture seems to speak of (e.g. I Cor 13 ending speaks of the last two). Having established the possibility of such aspects as we experience here continuing into the next life, we can now ask more specific questions, that lead me to begin to understand in what way life will be different Next Time.

The way I read Dooyeweerd is that the kernel meaning of each aspect speaks of how God intended the aspect to be fulfilled in his Creation as it unfolds. So frugality, limits bring Blessing and not Curse.

All this makes me really look forward to the Next Life.

There is a theological problem that goes something like:

"What would have happened had Adam and Eve never sinned? Jesus would never have come. And we would not enter the better Next Life. So Adam and Eve's sin is actually necessary for God's Plan. Therefore their rebellion cannot be evil."

I think that the view above might overcome this problem. It sees the Next Life as the Real Life, as God's intention for his creation, and this life as a kind of 'lite' version of creation, maybe a kind of training ground. Like the guy given 10 talents to 'practise on' so he could be put in charge of much more (ten cities), so we are given fifteen aspects to practise on here, so we can learn how to cope with them, and in Next Life we are given more and richer aspects. If Adam had not sinned, this life would be a lot nicer, because we would be functioning properly in all aspects - but they are this 'lite' set of aspects. And we would still be translated into the Next Life, with its full set of aspects. So sin is NOT necessary to the fulfilment of God's plan.


These pages present 'New View' theology. Comments, queries welcome, to "xn -at- basden -dot- u-net -dot- com".

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Created: 15 June 2005. Last updated: 3 July 2011 link to wordlive; new title (was "What will Real Life ('Heaven') be like?". 22 August 2011 link to leafbyniggle. 8 July 2012 link to continuance.