Below is the second of three blog posts on the afterlife - Purgatory, Heaven, and Hell. Read the first and third installments here:
The Forever of Heaven
Why is "forever" fretful? And how does one form fondness for this fitting future?
"Forever" is a daunting word. Our Christian call to live forever in heaven is a daunting prospect. Everything we do on earth becomes dull before too long – even the enjoyable things, and so the thought of forever worshipping God strikes us as abhorrent in the long run. Rather, a happy life requires variety - so it appears. Yet, if we carefully consider the nature of desirable things, we might think differently.
We want to do some things more than others. Most, for instance, would prefer reading Beowulf to scrubbing the toilet. This is because some things are intrinsically desirable and others not. I only scrub the toilet for a reason external to the scrubbing itself, e.g., maintaining sanitation and health. There are also degrees of desirability regarding intrinsically desirable things; a good conversation with a friend is better than a glass of good wine enjoyed alone.
The more desirable an activity is, the more we immerse ourselves in it and the more timeless it becomes. Upon leaving the theatre of an engrossing film, for instance, we find ourselves discombobulated, not knowing the time of day. But, if the moviemakers fail in their art, we leave our seats too aware of time, with a laundry list of to-dos for when we return home. In either case, the movie is enjoyable, but a masterful movie has more to enjoy and so offers a fuller rest to the viewer.
No activity, however, can offer us complete rest in this life – for our body constantly requires things for its self-preservation. When we are enjoying a good hike or are enrapt by a novel, we must eventually stop for food and rest. The body, thus, draws us away from other things. A more profound reason is that all our activities in this life are limited. Dave Brubeck’s music is delightful to listen to, as are Rodin’s sculptures to behold. Both are desirable, but both have a horizon to their desirability; this allows us to look beyond them to other goods. If a chap could desire nothing more from life than seeing Rodin’s Study of a Hand, then I’d account him a sorry chap indeed.
Bodily need and unmet desire, therefore, constantly draw us from one thing to another in restless longing. This situation accounts for why human life on earth is marked by variety, change, and time. If there were a totally immersive, sublime activity, we could rest completely in it, but, first, our bodies would have to change, and our activity itself would have to touch something supereminently lovable.
In heaven, these very things will, by God’s mercy, happen. We will receive glorified bodies and be united with God in the loving embrace of the beatific vision. Seeing God’s all-perfection will exhaust our every desire, removing all restlessness from our hearts, and our glorified bodies will allow us to enjoy, uninterruptedly, that blessed sight. ‘Forever’, then, is no enemy to complete, undreamt happiness. It necessarily belongs to it.
Br. John Peter Anderson, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE