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Filtering by Tag: heaven

Heaven's Work

Jayne English

Original manuscript of the opening of The Rite of Spring. “Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.”—Rumi

I’ve recently fallen headlong in love with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. I was swept up by the video of Proms musicians playing its complexities. Beyond the power of its rhythms and sounds, I was captivated by the orchestra's energy, and its intense and graceful movements. The piece is dynamic in passion and work. So dynamic, it has me considering the correlation between work and joy. Will we work in heaven?

We often consider work on Earth to be a result of the Fall. Roberto S. Goizueta speaks of the benefits of aesthetics and how they enhance life, but he leaves work off his list of activities that are integral to fulfillment. Play, recreation, and celebration are the most authentic forms of life precisely because, when we are playing, recreating, or celebrating, we are immersed in, or ‘fused,’ with the action itself, and those other persons with whom we are participating. Thus, we are involved in and enjoying the living itself.” It’s as if he’s saying, while we all know work is important, we only find joy in these other aspects.

In the language of Genesis, God established the pattern of work and rest before the Fall. He “finished the work he had been doing,” and “he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” As Philo of Alexandria put it, "God never ceases to work; but as it is the property of fire to burn, and of snow to cool, so of God to work.'' And Jesus said, "My Father is working until now, and I am working." Adam and Eve worked in the garden and cared for it before the Fall. Wouldn’t these points make work, in a sense, a grace of God, and a gift?

The poet Wendell Berry challenges a claim that “more free time” might increase our happiness. “The old and honorable idea of ‘vocation’ is simply that we each are called, by God, or by our gifts, or by our preference, to a kind of good work for which we are particularly fitted. Implicit in this idea is the evidently startling possibility that we might work willingly, and that there is no necessary contradiction between work and happiness or satisfaction.”

If work and happiness are interrelated as Berry suggests, wouldn’t they be integral parts of a perfect heaven? The fact that God himself “worked” might be the greatest reason we can anticipate joyful work in heaven. But the Proms Rite of Spring is a close second.

Will There Be Stories in Heaven?

Brad Fruhauff


The question, "Will there be stories in heaven?" became an issue for me only when my son was two or three and we started letting him watch a limited amount of TV. Now, this isn't a post about why we let our kid watch TV, even though that would likely get a lot of hits. This is about all these nonviolent alternatives to G.I. Joe and Transformers that are, frankly, dreadfully dull.

Take Caillou, which is maybe an extreme case but is for me the epitome of dull children's programming. Nothing happens! Even in shows I kinda like, such as My Big, Big Friend or Pinky Dinky Doo, nothing much really happens. It concerns me to think that somehow the violence is what makes the difference. It would be tantamount to saying that sin is necessary for interesting conflict and thus for narrative itself. And if that's true, and if one day all sin will be redeemed for good, then it's not clear what our lives will look like—what our very identities will consist in—without story.

I hope it's not strange to say our identities depend on story. Even God tells us who He is through stories in Scripture, and the primary way we know who Jesus himself is is through the stories of the Gospels. Can we imagine ourselves, purified, but without stories, especially without new stories?

Is there narrative without sin and the violence it entails? Most of our Bible stories presume it, even those about Christ. There's much to be said on the subject of violence/nonviolence in children's TV, but I want to focus on when narrative gets "interesting."

In the tedious plots of Caillou and shows like it, there is often no real moral dilemma and thus no real stakes. A child may care a little about whether Caillou makes it through his dentist appointment, but they won't care as much as they will about whether Wolverine defeats Juggernaut again. The stakes in the Wolverine battle are simply higher and so overcoming the conflict means more. It is important that Juggernaut is evil or wants to commit evil acts and that Wolverine is a force for good competent and powerful enough to counteract that evil.

My son even likes the villains. I have decided not to freak out about this. Villains are powerful, and for a time, anyway, they get to do more or less whatever they want. Their wants are, as with many sinful wants, pretty limited and kind of stupid—a fantasy of total freedom. For a kid, this is pretty attractive, even as it is also scary. You don't want Juggernaut or Magneto to get his way in everything, but you might like to get your own.

Of course, some Caillou plots are more staked than others. Going to the zoo is pretty boring, going to the dentist may actually be kind of interesting. It taps into our finitude and our fears of pain and illness and of the body torn or violated. Even an adult may be interested in how a child comes through a dentist appointment. The problem here really is something like ignorance, but more than this, it is about real risk, about something that is legitimately frightening.

A stake in a narrative conflict, then, isn't necessarily the same as a sin or the possibility of sin. It is some part of our understanding of ourselves as human beings that is put into question or to some test. Conflict in this sense does not require an active evil force to drive it.

But it's more complicated, still. The Christian understanding of evil denies that evil is a thing, anyway. We call evil that which falls short of or lacks the good. Our whole broken world is evil in this sense. Narratives about scaling mountains or getting trapped in ravines or being attacked by a bear are part of this kind of evil that is not active but is clearly not good.

The enlightened response to natural evil is to say that we misname it, that the world "is what it is" and we shouldn't moralize it. And it's true we tend to view the world solipsistically, as if the universe were designed for my personal benefit and must be somehow broken if I am not entirely content. However, it is possible to have faith that the (recreated) world can become a true home for humans generally without requiring that it meet all my desires individually, in which case this world is still not what it could be—or am not yet all I could be.

So let's imagine a revised creation in which humans have access to what they need not only to survive but to thrive (which may already be the case) and where we live so in the light of God's glory that we not only clearly perceive the good but also understand how desirable it is and pursue it joyfully and eagerly (which is emphatically not the case). Can we imagine narrative conflict here?

I think we must still, at least, have the old stories. If we remain in any way finite, which is to say, still human, though living eternally, then we will still need stories to make sense of things with our limited brains. Perhaps stories will be like little breaks from the reality of God rather than glimpses of it. And perhaps hearing the stories of people who erred and had to be brought back may inspire some occasional poor souls to rebel in their little way—the stories would still be open to bad interpretations, after all.

But if we continue to develop the gifts we've been given in meaningful work and relationships, then we will still desire things, and we will still find parts of the world resisting or creating obstacles to that desire, and these will be the seeds of new narratives. Desire, in a world that is not merely there for my benefit, only indicates the ability to imagine something more, and for a finite creature with an infinite soul, we can always imagine something more.

The possibility of narrative in eternity depends in a real way on the doctrine of God's abundance. If God is infinite and his creation is infinitely abundant, then finite creatures cannot cease to find new adventures in exploration and discovery of this abundance.

I'm not sure this is entirely satisfying, though it's the best I've got for the time being. It may be that I am still too broken to appreciate how satisfying narratives of discovering God's goodness could be when my and others' understandings and hearts have been perfected at last. I only have the current stories to go on, and perhaps 90% of the time I find them intolerably naive and egotistical. There's too much darkness in me to have much patience with easy narratives of encountering the light. But that 10% of the time when it works for me, well, then I feel a profound compulsion toward the light, a deep desire for my own story to end that way, at least some times, and this desire seems beyond reproach, even essential. Whatever happens in eternity, we can have no stories here without that desire to find our hearts' true home.

(Painting by N. C. Wyeth)

Those in Hell Can Come to Heaven


Bonnie ponders C. S. Lewis' question of what would happen if people sent to hell could visit heaven. C.S. Lewis’ controversial novella, The Great Divorce, offers a unique view of heaven and hell. In the opening of the story the narrator is standing in line for a bus in Gray Town. It is a dreary place that is perpetually twilight and raining. When the bus comes, it takes them to heaven, a bright and colorful place, totally opposite of Gray Town. The premise is that anyone who wants to stay in heaven can, but they have to speak to a person from their past that they knew on earth.

Three interactions between visitors from Gray Town and residents from heaven are examples Lewis’ social commentary of our culture.

The Apostate and the Spirit After they great each other, they begin to discuss their friendship on earth and their current locations. The Apostate asks, “Do you really think that people are penalized for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken.” The Spirit asserts that they followed the academic fads of the times, stating that, “we were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes… Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, un-praying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires we reached a point where we no longer believed in the Faith…The beliefs are sincere in the sense that they do occur as psychological events in the man’s mind. If that’s what you mean by sincerity they are sincere, and so were ours. But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent.” They continue to talk and the Spirit asks his friend to repent and believe in God, the eternal fact. The Apostate returns to Gray Town unable to repent.

The Man in Sexual Sin There is a man, like a ghost but dark and oily stumbling through Heaven. He carries on his shoulder a red lizard that whispers in his ear. An Angel approaches him and asks him if he would like him to quiet the lizard and the ghost replies that he would. The Angel states that to silence the lizard, he will have to kill him. The lizard’s voice becomes louder as the Angel continues to offer to kill it. He says, “I know there are no real pleasure now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams-all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent…” The man agrees to let the Angel kill the lizard and out of it comes a beautiful man restored to his sexuality embodied in the form of a great stallion. He stays in heaven to live as a resident of heaven.

Sarah Smith and the Tragedian A woman from Heaven, whose name was Sarah Smith, comes to meet her husband, whose self pity has split his soul in two. The man is now a dwarf, leading a tragedian, which is the embodiment of his self-pity. Even as his wife meets him, his is upset that she didn’t miss him since their death and separation. His wife asks for his forgiveness for all that happened when they were on earth and asks him to let go of the chain connecting him to his self-pity. Unable to let go, eventually his soul disappears and ceases to exist at all.

These three encounters lead us to ponder some interesting questions about our culture today. In the first one, the Apostate is in Hell because though he had sincere beliefs and opinions they were wrong and he was sent to Hell. Would a loving God send us to Hell just because our opinions are wrong?

In the second case, a man who struggles with sexual sin – be it homosexuality, adultery, pornography etc. be redeemed and stay in heaven?

In the third case the man’s self-pity consumes his soul so that he ceases to exist. Does self pity keep us from living?

Bonnie Ponce is the Director of Support Raising for Relief and lives in Huntsville, Texas with her husband and betta fish. She has a BA in English from Sam Houston State University. After work she enjoys relaxing with a good book or working on her novel.

Skulls and Bones and Skeletons

Stephanie Smith

A few years ago I spent a weekend at JPUSA, the community of Christians in Chicago who live together in the old Chelsea Hotel and call themselves “Jesus People.” And during my time there, I saw a lot of skulls.

Skulls adorn the hallways, the door frames, and the forearms of the people who inhabit them.  Five doors down from my room there was an unapologetic mural of a skeleton, squarely behind a baby gate and next to a sign that warned in loud purple Crayola, “Nursing Urijiah! Piz come back. ” All over the community, there were instances of this odd juxtaposition of life and death.

I wondered if the skulls were some kind of talisman, like some cultures have to ward off evil spirits, but when I asked one of the women on staff about their significance, she laughed. “Well,” she said, “People here are kind of obsessed with death.”

She explained to me, “The skulls and skeletons are representative of the knowledge that there’s more.  We anticipate death, in a way, because we are eager for our new bodies and the new life ahead with Christ.  We are living in a dichotomy between this world and the next, and we are very aware of that.”  So there are skulls: a reminder of our mortal decay.  She also told me that people at JPUSA tend to live in the awareness that, in the city, they are surrounded by the living dead.  They are among the spiritually destitute and dying.

I’ve often felt this restlessness, of living in the cracks between Eden and Heaven, which some call the age of the in-between, the already-not-yet of the kingdom.  It can be exasperating: is the kingdom here, or is it to come? Christ has come into our world and has promised victory over sin and death, but we still live under its affects while we wait for His return. And it can make us impatient in the waiting, while we see the world around us in such need of redemption.  We were created for eternal life, to bear divine image and have a face-to-face relationship with our Maker, but sin ruptured this paradise and now we live in the imbalance, caught between what was supposed to be and what is now utterly broken. Even the earth is a victim of this tension, “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22).  Even the earth and the roots of mountains straddle this gap between the kingdoms.

There is a dichotomy at hand. We are finite beings with eternal life or death at stake. Perhaps the reminder of our mortal frame, whether skulls and bones or just knowing that there is more to come, can lend urgency to our days to live well, to reach out to the dying, and to eagerly await the life ahead.

Stephanie S. Smith graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a degree in Communications and Women’s Ministry, which she now puts to work freelancing as a book publicist and writer through her business, (In)dialogue Communications, at After living in Chicago for four years, traveling to Amsterdam for a spell, and then moving back home to Baltimore to plan a wedding, she now lives with her husband in Upstate New York where they make novice attempts at home renovation in their 1930s bungalow. She writes for and manages Moody Publishers’ blog,