This Is Heaven?

By: Brian Robertson

"I believe in heaven! But I don't believe in heaven as a place somewhere else. Heaven is everything transfigured by God's presence. Therefore, for many people heaven starts right here, and for many people, hell starts here. Life that is transfigured by love and compassion and wisdom is heaven. It's not complete heaven, but it's a beginning."

-Brother David Steindl Rast


There is a familiar story that still rings true, although the target of the story changes depending upon who is telling it. The story is that you come to a fork in the road and to one side is a sign that says, "TO HEAVEN" while the other direction is marked by a sign that reads, "TO A DISCUSSION ABOUT HEAVEN." For a few moments, we can take that second fork in the road.

The problem about discussing heaven, as with most things spiritual, is that we are limited to what words can describe (if we take a positive approach) or we are forced to say what heaven is NOT (the negative approach). There are some who say that a clear picture of heaven is found in the book of Revelation -- and some have even mapped out its exact size and shape by what they say they read there. The Bible talks about streets of gold as clear as crystal and walls made out of precious stone, although the guest list would have to include some fairly honest souls or potholes might suddenly begin appearing.

We are not material beings trying to have a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings trying to have a material experience. As a result, we are limited in our understanding to what we have experienced or can imagine, but in dealing with the eventual fate of the soul and its whereabouts, we may be wise to recall what Paul stated, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (I Corinthians 2:9).

It is safe to say, as Brother David does, that we are dealing here with the essential nature of the spiritual life, that while hell is separation from God, heaven is the transfiguring presence of God. To that extent, we enter into the outer chambers of heaven when we are in service to others, when we find outselves in prayerful contemplation which leads to the awareness of the ongoing presence of the Divine in life.

Think of a time when you have had some kind of deep spiritual experience or insight, when that which you realized flowed through you like electricity, when certainty filled you. Now imagine giving a newspaper interview about what you felt. How adequate would the language be? How directly could you describe this experience? Or would you resort to, "Well, it was like ......" and thus to metaphors or similies?

We have all been graced with certain insights, certain "flirtings" with heaven. If not, how would we then find the courage to continue our journey? I happen to live in Austin, and when you drive in towards Austin from Houston, there is a moment when you find yourself on a certain hill and you can actually see the lights of Austin in the distance. You think you must be very close. But then you dip down into a series of valleys and small hills and it seems like it take forever to get to the city. What keeps you moving is that sense that you know it's there, that home is just ahead because you caught a fleeting glimpse of it.

In discussion and in prayer, in reason and imagination, in faith and hope -- we crest the hill and catch a moment of where we are heading. We cannot manage but the smallest peek and even it is enough to tell us the goal is real and that it is beyond anything we can now understand.

Beliefs of Groups in Ancient Times:

Gnostic Christians; 1st century CE to present: A very few with special knowledge will go to be with God when they die; the rest will go to Hell, which is similar to the earth.

Marcionist Christians; 2nd to 3rd century CE. Jehovah is evil. Faith in the love of a "Higher God" is the only factor needed for salvation.

Manichaest Christians; 3rd to 20th? century CE. A few achieve heaven after death; most will be reincarnated and live again until they get it right.

Christian Church before the Reformation. Hell seen as a warehouse for Pagan Gods, unsaved individuals, and most of the rest of the population. They taught some rather sadistic ideas about the treatment of humans in Hell.

Beliefs of Present-Day Christian Groups

Conservative Protestants. Those who are "saved" will go to heaven; vast majority will go to Hell.

Roman Catholics: A very few will go directly to heaven. Most of the saved will go to Purgatory for cleansing upon death, and later to Heaven; rest will go directly to Hell.

Liberal Christians: Hell does not exist as a place of punishment. All will go to Heaven.

Christadelphians: Only those who have heard the Gospel will be resurrected from the grave and be judged. The rest will remain dead, without consciousness, forever.

Christian Science: Hell is mental anguish, not a place of separation from God. Heaven is harmony and bliss, not a place of reward.

Jehovah's Witnesses: Hell does not exist; the unsaved simply die and are no more. Heaven will be located on earth.

Mormons: There are 3 levels to Heaven. Hell exists, but very few go there.

Seventh Day Adventists: Heaven exists. Hell is not a place of eternal torment; it is a place where annihilation occurs; people who go there cease to exist

Unity School of Christianity: Heaven and hell do not exist as places, but as states of consciousness while we are alive on earth.