Friday, September 28, 2007

Random Questions of Heaven and Love

A dear college friend recently posed two questions to me:
1) I want to know what you think heaven is?
2) How can you love God or others if you don't know that you are loved by God and others?

In answering the questions for my friend, I thought I would post the answers for anyone who reads this blog (which my advisors assures me is only myself) (Which would consequently make this a self-acknowledged schizophrenic sentence)).

I think the best way to answer these questions is anecdotally. I want to walk around their meaning so as to circumscribe an answer, but not actually articulate one.

1) I want to know what you think heaven is?
First, to ask what heaven is opens the metaphysical door to endless discourse. Could it be that heaven can be understood by its proximity to God – we can know of God, but we cannot comprehend God.

More concretely I would have to think that heaven has some type of materialism – or (paradoxically) at least a spiritual materialism. Augustine states, “When the body is made incorruptible, all the members and inwards parts which we now see assigned to their various necessary offices will join together in praising God; for there will then be no necessity, but only full, certain, secure and everlasting felicity” (CoG 22.30.1178). It seems such place for our bodily and communal worship would be heaven – a place too of physicality (Though I may have to reflect on this).

Another way I think about heaven is in purposely not thinking about. A good friend said to me once, “Jason, at some point theology becomes more important than just who gets into heaven and who goes to hell.” Christian teleology should be directed toward being nearer to God, and hoping for salvation in heaven only insofar as it allows one may nearer to God.

Also, the lines of ‘Amazing Grace’ have always been helpful in conceptualizing heaven: “When we've been there ten thousand years / bright shining as the sun / We've no less days to sing God's praise / then when we've first begun.” The boredom that can so quickly overcome us now will have no place in our insistent and eternal worship of the Triune God who’s pure Love and Goodness will forever enrapture our attention.

Dante’s Paradiso tried describe the divine scene in heaven and only found that words were inadequate for descriptions and ended with, “My will and my desire were turned by love / The love that moves the sun and the other stars.” This seems a fitting way to end my answer to what I think heaven is.

2) How can you love God or others if you don't know that you are loved by God and others?
This is unfortunate to say, and may sadden me to share it so explicitly, but this is the truth: I cannot love God or others, until I know and accept that God loves me. In Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus answers that the greatest command is to love God and neighbor. The second derives from the faith in the first. To not know God would be to exonerate the second imperative. To love is first to acknowledge that God loves. If one does not know God then one cannot, properly speaking, love.

Of course, I may be intimate with a lover, friends or family members – and even on occasion show deep compassion for a stranger. Yet, all this is not love.

Consider my grandmother. I ‘love’ her more than anyone else I have ever known. She is growing older and weaker each day. The way I ‘love’ her though is too direct, too intimate. There is no space for God. A Christian who loves through God’s love – a mediated love – concomitantly creates distance and irreducible collapses the difference between the loved and beloved. I cannot properly and absolutely love my grandmother because I am both not close enough and too close to my grandmother. This may seem impossible, but let me explain.

First, I am too close to my grandmother to love her. This is because I cannot see that my grandmother and I are not limited to the temporal life we share together. If one does not know God loves them then they cannot understand how to love one in a way that anticipates immortality. So I cannot love my grandmother because I am too close to her.

Second, I am not close enough to my grandmother to love her. This is because if I do not know God loves me I will only see my grandmother as simply my grandmother, and never my sister in Christ. Only by accepting such a radical siblinghood can I ever truly love my grandmother. Thus, I do not love my grandmother because I am not close enough to her.

So though it is sad, one cannot love until they know God loves them, and if they love God they must love their neighbor.

Thanks for the questions.


Emily Williams said...

I read your blog, by the way.


-Matt- said...

Your thoughts about your grandmother at the end of the post are intriguing. In one sense you are right, but doesn't God always appear in the love you have for your grandmother? It would be quite narcissistic to claim that you have a love all to yourself (which God cannot penetrate) for your grandmother (or vv). Since when does anyone have a claim on love?

God is that love for your grandmother. You maybe don't recognize it because you don't understand that, but God is in the love. Once you understand it, you kind of realize that hey, god is all around us. God is ever-calling us to accept God's love.