Heaven is Whenever

Time Magazine ran cover story last year titled, “Rethinking Heaven” written by Jon Meacham. To start, he works through the piece establishing the different interpretations of Heaven that can be drawn from the Bible; discussing liberals, conservatives, and the politics of the afterlife. He comes to this conclusion:

In the more prosperous 20th century, heaven became a kind of glorious Disney World–or, depending on your taste, a transfigured Tiffany’s, a celestial Cartier–a place where the redeemed were rewarded with the type of riches they had sought in life. This is the view that is so familiar: in the words of Billy Graham, heaven “is far more glorious than anything we can imagine. Heaven is like the most perfect and beautiful place we can conceive–only more so.

He then explores the nuanced developments in this discourse on the afterlife:

Unsurprisingly, our polarized age is now producing polarized visions of heaven. Many Christians often focus more on accepting Jesus as their personal savior and the subsequent enforcement of biblical laws in preparation for the world to come–what they think of as the blue-sky heaven. “Many people think that eternal destiny is determined by behavior,” Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta, writes on his website InTouch.org “Our entrance into heaven has nothing to do with how good we are; what matters is how good Jesus is, and what He did for us.” To accept Jesus’ atoning sacrifice, Stanley says, is to be given “a ticket to heaven which can never be revoked.

He encourages us to rethink heaven, citing Bishop Nicholas Wright’s approach:

 This point of view is one in which the alleviation of the evident pain and injustice of the world is the ongoing work that Jesus began and the means of bringing into being what the New Testament authors meant when they spoke of heaven. The earth is not a temporary place that will disappear on the last day, and heaven means “God’s space.” And so with all respect to the views of believers like Stanley, the Wright school holds that one should neither need nor want a ticket out of the created order into an ethereal realm. One should instead be hard at work making the world godly and just.

Meacham provocatively proposes that Heaven may not be some abstract theory, but the very Earth we are living on.

I finished the piece enlightened and persuaded. I was born and raised a Catholic and have always struggled with my thoughts on the afterlife; especially one so metaphysical. I don’t necessarily prescribe to the Catholic doctrine, however, as a humanist I’ve always found the approach laid out by Meacham the healthiest mindset.

The article got me thinking about a new approach to the climate change argument. In subscribing to Wright’s vision of an afterlife the first step is preserving our Earth for the return of Christ. Environmentalists and climate activists have been putting up a good fight; having made strides in raising awareness and enlightening the masses, the movement is stronger than ever. We’re just waiting for a final demographic to get on board and tip the scales…

Which brings me to my point. In his first mass as the Holy Father, Pope Francis tipped his cap to the weak and impoverished while also speaking out against hatred and violence. Somewhat more inspiring was his emphasis on our individual duty to the environment.  A snippet from his speech hints at Wright’s approach:

When mankind fails to care for creation and for the weak, “the way is opened to destruction and hearts are hardened. Tragically, in every period of history there are ‘Herods’ who plot death, wreak havoc, and mar the countenance of men and women.” Francis addressed himself to “all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life,” asking them to be “’protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

I’m not saying the bishop of Rome is a Wright theologian but I am applauding an out-of-touch institution flowing with the winds of climate change. Encouraging personal responsibility to sustain “God’s Earth” in the practice of Catholic teachings is a good thing. It’s hopeful… Once more, when individuals are emancipated from this theory of being chosen at the gates of Heaven based on individual merit and begin to prescribe to a holistic preserve and protect mindset, we can only move forward as a society; especially in regards to sustaining our environment.

Extended Reading:

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