Sunday, August 17, 2008

Foes in Heaven? Friends in Hell?

Christians have been known, when contemplating others who have hurt them or have committed great evils, to take comfort in the thought that God will get them in the end. Everybody will get his due. People have even told me it is this thought the allows them to refrain from exacting their own vengeance. Or, a variant of the same thinking is when people tell themselves Jesus took everyone’s punishment upon Himself; hence, we can afford not only to refrain from retaliation, as God has achieved that for us (albeit vicariously in Christ), but can also afford even to forgive.

Some forgiveness!

This is not really a very loving, hence not a very Christian attitude. Better is this, from the Morning Prayers that each Orthodox Christian is supposed to pray each morning:

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on those whom I have offended or scandalized by my madness or inadvertence, and whom I have turned from the way of salvation, and whom I have led into evil and harmful deeds. By Thy divine providence restore them again to the way of salvation.

Save, O Lord, and have mercy on those who hate and offend me, and do me harm, and let them not perish through me, a sinner.

On the other hand, we hear people wondering how the saved are supposed to be happy in heaven if some of their loved ones are not there.

I don’t have an answer to that, but there are some clues. The first thing to note is that we are not going to stop loving them, ever. But here on earth, when we say “love”, usually we are speaking of a compound reality. It’s made up of something spiritual and something emotional. Part of it is attachment, in an earthly, fleshly sense. We enjoy having warm feelings toward people, enjoy being pleased by them, being stimulated or entertained or challenged or agreed with; we enjoy their companionship. In short, part of what we call love is actually what we might call social and emotional consumerism. It is fleshly, carnal.

And that component, in heaven, is going to be burnt away in the Purifier’s Fire. Our destination is to be “conformed to the image of His Son,” (Romans 8:29) Who is pure, selfless giving. We shall no longer “need” anything from anybody, but be interested only in pouring ourselves out to God and one another in perfect self-emptying. That’s what heaven is.

Since we shall not be interested in what others can do for us, what joys they can provide us, but all our joy will be in seeking to give them joy (for it is more joyful to give than to receive), then neither shall we be hurt if deprived of the joys a person used to give us here on earth. We will be relating to everyone spiritually, not carnally. (This is also why there will be no marriage among us in heaven.) That’s the first clue.

The second clue is that God Himself is going to be absolutely everything to us: our food and drink, (Revelation 19:7), our clothing (Revelation 19:8), our day and our light (Revelation 21:23; 22:5), our Temple and our Comfort (Revelation 21:22-23), our healing (Revelation 22:2), our life (Revelation 21:6), our all. Everything we need for perfect blessedness He will provide, He Himself will be.

The third clue is, “Hell is locked from the inside.” If anyone is ultimately lost (and that’s a huge “if”, given that God’s mercy and ability to save are beyond what any of us can imagine), it is because of his own, ongoing choice. It’s because he actually prefers the darkness to the light. We will know it is his choice, but his choice will have no power to wound us.

C. S. Lewis’s book, The Great Divorce, has some further excellent points on this subject.


Tony said...

I'm also reminded of when the Sadducees ask Jesus if a woman who marries many men through her life will be married to all of them in the afterlife, to which He responds, "At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels of heaven." (Matt 22:30)