Sunday, May 08, 2005


Eternal Sunshine of a Heavenly Kind

Having recently finished reading The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis and gotten most of the way through Wayne Martindale’s Examination of Lewis’s thoughts on Heaven, it occurred to me how greatly we have come to misunderstand Heaven. As a consequence of literally interpreting symbolic representations of streets paved with gold, crowns, and harps, we often think of Heaven as an isolated, cold, and distant place.

That interpretation could not be further from the version of Heaven that Lewis describes. Steve at Ragamuffin Ramblings tells how C.S. Lewis’s depiction of Heaven in the Great Divorce provided a sense of hope and real truth to him:

But it was the image of Heaven that really got me - that Heaven would be like Earth, but more real. The image of people newly arrived from "the grey town" as ghosts, insubstantial and needing to be "thickened up" with the love and knowledge of God, was a riveting understanding of Heaven that I'd never heard before - but one I fell in love with instantly.

The Great Divorce is wonderfully illuminating because it portrays Heaven as a sort of fulfillment of our lives here on earth and not as a completely detached entity. It theorizes as to how, once we arrive in Heaven, we will look back and realize we were always in it. Though we did not have eyes to see.

In The Weight of Glory, Lewis describes how we occassionally will catch a glimpse of God’s true glory and the afterlife through various means:

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.

Lewis shows Heaven to be the fulfillment of human potential, dreams, and desires. It is in Heaven that we blossom into fully differentiated personalities. This is in complete contrast to the thought of angelic type clones in Heaven monotonously floating through space and perhaps even becoming bored with their plight.

From his C.S. Lewis Encyclopedia entry on Heaven, Colin Duriez sums it up as follows: Heaven is founded upon the paradox that the more we abandon ourselves to Christ, the more fully ourselves we become.

Many of us may also have a concern about becoming perfect. We may fret that perfection implies too great a restriction on us, in not allowing us to “be ourselves”.

Wayne Martindale suggests just the opposite in stating that we will find true freedom in Heaven:

When we are in Heaven, like these pilgrims, we can act on every impulse because every impulse will be good and right. No need to second-guess or hold back or check our feelings. There will be no need to watch our backs or guard our emotions against hurt from others because they will all be perfected in love, too. That will be true freedom, and that is the right way to think of perfection.

I have to wonder why this is the first time I am learning of this enlightened and intriguing idea of Heaven. Lewis’s portrayals are not inconsistent with scripture, and it is vital for us to have a deeper visualization of the eternal life, even if it is "fictionalized" in an imaginative way.

Andrew at TallSkinnyKiwi asks an interesting question: "Does the Church Believe in Heaven?" I think he may be on to something there.

So what is the practical ramification of all of this eternal probing? C.S. Lewis offers us an interesting thought as to how this should affect our interaction with others:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal… it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.

UPDATE: For further consideration on this topic, I'd suggest reading JollyBlogger's Review of Wayne Martindale's book (referenced above). While JollyBlogger expresses some theological qualms about Lewis's heavenly depictions, his conclusion is what matters most: He will engage your imagination and make you long for heaven. I actually can't think of any authors who have done it better. For that reason alone, the book is well worth reading.

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From time to time we all need something else to long for than singing, white clothes and golden gate!

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