(Heaven, Hell and the Idea of Judgement)
While this thesis comes under the heading of "Morality and Ethics" such will be more about life and death. It is being dealt with here because our present theologies are often using this doctrine as tools in their arsenal to dictate God's Moral Law, to ensure their authority to speak for God, and to indoctrinate the faithful as to what they should believe. Consequently, our view of life after death has become more fantasy and wishful thinking; rather than being, a comfort that has any practical purpose in life.
It has already been pointed out that reward and punishment are no substitute motivators for love and personal responsibility. We all realize the only sincere act is one from the heart. When individuals are coerced, fearful, or looking for reward for their behavior, such becomes little more than hypocrisy. Remove the coercion, the threat of punishment, or the offer of the reward, the individual might act entirely different.
No reasonable human being would want to think that their friends, or spouses, are only there for what they can get from us. We are most contented (whether true or not) when we believe that people mate or associate with us for who we are - or out of love. Yet, when it comes to God, we often seem to present this Image where She needs to bribe us with reward or threaten us with punishment in order for us to love Him. An Image that waits like a tyrant for us to step out of line so He can deprive us of eternal reward; replacing it with everlasting punishment. The implication often creates an Image where God seems more concerned with our ability to keep the right rules, believe the correct faith, and practice the correct forms of adoration. We shall offer alternatives to this in a moment.
In present theology God often comes across as a tester, one who is almost never convinced of our loyalty. Life is seen as a spiritual battleground for a game that is played by our soul, the prize coming in the hereafter. And to win at this game, winning the reward of heaven and avoiding the torture of hell, we must surrender our mind blindly to those who claim to speak for God. People are required to repress natural urges and overcome them, and they must never doubt that which calls into question the human authority for men to speak for God.
And the psychological suggestion, which many of our religious beliefs instill, is that life is less important than death. That death is this grandiose state far superior to our form of existence, thus, our whole purpose in life is to embrace death. One could say that very often our religious positions on heaven and hell often contradict our religious beliefs that proclaim the sacredness to life.
Some of the glory about the hereafter comes from the self-comfort we seek in times of the morning of the passing of a loved one. We would like to think that this person has moved on to something better. And while this can be healthy, religion goes beyond such comfort, using their doctrines to regulate human behavior, regulate belief, and strengthen our need for religion. In short, religion has capitalized on our emotional state of our fear of death.
While much of the reasoning about life after death may seem foolish to a more rational mind, we cannot doubt that the scripture and myth of all faiths point to the ideal of the continuation of life after death - and this makes it important. The reference usually implies that in some way our living of this life effects how we experience the hereafter.
It is understandable how theological conclusions such as exists have come into being; mostly by, a desire to literalize these ancient tales in terms of our human reality and experiences; and, there lies the problem! We are once again trying to literalize and understand what cannot be literalized and understood. Our experience of eternity is in life, and what comes after cannot be translated into a human experience, but only conveyed to humans in metaphors to which they can relate. Carl Jung tells us:
We lack concrete proof that anything of us is preserved for eternity, at most we can say that there is some probability that something of our psyche continues beyond physical death. Whether what continues to exist is conscious of itself, we do not know either.
(C.G. Jung, MEMORIES, DREAMS, AND REFLECTIONS, 1963, p322)
Yet, all great religions, and their writings, speak of the continuation of life after death. But, if you will notice, these descriptions and conceptions are vastly different, ranging from the Christian idea of heaven to the Buddhists concept of entering an eternal void. If we try to literalize these concepts, we are only presented with arguments that cannot be substantiated. We actually devalue the mystery of eternal life by looking at it from a purely human perspective - by seeing it as a literal kingdom, full of jewels, or gold, or of the many biblical descriptions of it. We miss the awesome revelation, which tells us that the meaning of life is transcendent of life. The idea of life after death should enhance the glory of the experience of the life we now live. Jung also warns of this in his work "Modern Man In Search of a Soul":
After all, what does theosophy* with its doctrines of karma and reincarnation seek to teach except that this world of appearance is but a temporary health resort for the morally unperfected? IT DEPRECIATES THE PRESENT DAY WORLD no less radically than does the modern outlook, but with the help of a different technique; it does not vilify our world, but grants it only a relative meaning in that it promises other and higher worlds. The result in either case is the same.
*THEOSOPHY - any of various philosophies or religious systems that propose to establish direct, mystical contact with the Divine Principle through contemplation, revelation, etc.
And the Christian church too, demeans the
sacredness of life by promising a new earth with jeweled walls, gold streets
Many religions would like us to think that they alone possess the answers to the meaning of life, they alone know God's purpose for us; and they alone are the distributors of salvation. But religion fails both God, and those that it serves, with such self-serving doctrines.
But Jung, is keenly aware of the psychological and spiritual necessity of addressing the issue of life after death:
… … … We cannot know whether anything happens to a person after he is dead. The answer is neither yes nor no. We simply have no definite scientific proofs about it one way or another, and are therefore in the same position as when we ask whether the planet Mars is inhabited or not. And the inhabitants of Mars, if there are any, are certainly not concerned whether we affirm or deny their existence. They may exist or not. And that is how it stands with so-called immortality - with which we may shelve the problem.
But here my physicians conscience awakes and urges me to say a
word that is essential to this question. I have observed that A directed life is in general better, richer and healthier than an aimless one, and that it is better to go forward with the stream of time than backward against it. To the psychotherapist, an old man who cannot bid farewell to life appears as feeble and sickly as a young man who is unable to embrace it. And as a matter of fact, in many cases it is a question of the selfsame childish covetousness of the same fear, the same obstinacy and willfulness, in the one as it is the other. As a physician I am convinced that it is hygienic if I may use the word - to discover in death a goal towards which one can strive; and that, shrinking away from it is something unhealthy and abnormal which robs the second half of life of its purpose.
I therefore consider the religious teaching of a life hereafter
consonant with the standpoint of psychic hygiene. When I live in a house which I know will fall about my head within the next two weeks, all my vital functions will be impaired by this thought; but if on the contrary I feel myself to be safe, I can dwell there in a normal and comfortable way. From the standpoint of psychotherapy it would therefore be desirable to think of death as only a transition - one part of a life process whose extent and duration escape our knowledge.
(C. G, Jung, MODERN MAN IN SEARCH OF A SOUL, 1933, p111)
A responsible theology will build a case that leads individuals to their own personal relationship with God, where the individual can be reasonably assured of what God communicates to them in relationship to their unique purpose which might include eternal life. The answer about death in such spiritually evolved people takes care of itself. They rely on the original meaning of the word faith (which was not belief, but rather, "trust"). They simply "trust" that God has reason for death and that reason is as it should be. They don't need to know the reason or the particulars to "trust" God.
Many tend to look at eternal life as a reward, or punishment, for the living of this life - a mere "test." Such vision makes death the goal and really trivializes the meaning of life. These ideas are not psychologically healthy because they make death the purpose of life, instead of, a transition into a different state of consciousness or being.
Yet, the reality is, life in the here and now is the way we are experiencing eternity. One might analogize it to childhood being different from adulthood. Few of us could picture accurately as a child the way we are living today as an adult. Our innocence, ignorance, naivete and inexperience make it somewhat impossible to ponder the realty of what adulthood might bring. Our childhood is important to our development, but in adulthood, we think differently. One could not say that childhood or adulthood is the superior state of existence, only that the one effects the way we handle the experiences of our adulthood. It is not a different life we live as adults, but rather, a transition of experiencing the way we live it. Death seen in this manner becomes part of the transition of life experiences and not so threatening or fearful. With this type of faith, one can accept the uncertainty of death, for we can see it as part of growing; but there is no need to embrace it or live our lives to die. Life is about the experiences we live. It is eternity in the experience of the now.
One of the best theological arguments a responsible theology could dispel is concerning the idea that life after death is somehow a superior form of existence. We have to focus on eternal life in a way that sees it only as different. Death becomes only a transition from one experience of eternity to another experience of eternity. In other words, whatever transcends life is not necessarily better or worse - but a far different manner of existence than we are familiar with. Few children live wanting to be adults with all the consequences adulthood brings; and although they may prepare themselves for adulthood, they live and play as children. It is the same with life and death. Life prepares us for our transitional experiences, but it is meant to live - not a stage on which we play out our judgement. This is why the myth and scripture use metaphors we are familiar with, pointing out to us that life has meaning beyond our comprehension. Yielding to Jung once again:
A complete picture of the world would require the addition of still another dimension; only then could the totality of phenomena be given an explanation. Hence, it is that the rationalist insist to this day that parapsychological experiences do not really exist; for their view stands or falls by this question, If such phenomena occur at all, the rationalistic picture of the universe is invalid, because it is incomplete. Then the possibility of an other-valued reality behind the phenomenal world becomes an inescapable problem, and we must face the fact that our world, with its time, space, and causality; relates to another order of things lying behind or beneath it, in which neither "here and there" nor "earlier and later" are of importance. I have been convinced that at least part of our psychic existence is characterized by a relativity of space and time. This relativity seems to increase, in proportion to the distance from consciousness, to an absolute condition of timelessness and spacelessness.
(C.G. Jung, MEMORIES DREAMS AND REFLECTIONS, 1961, p304-305)
Just as science has discovered a quantum world of physics, this added dimension as Jung called it, could be the world which makes life possible. If reality is composed of time and space, and the limitations thereof, the world beyond would need to be a singularity having neither time nor space becoming a paradox of oneness and connectedness in the same instant. Such a dimension would be beyond the senses of our rationalistic senses.
While responsible theology will see the dangers to many present concepts, it cannot ignore the importance both, at a spiritual and psychological level, of an assurance that something exists beyond our experience. It is not the idea, which is flawed, but rather our approach of it. If we truly trust (have faith), in God, we have no worry or fear of death because ultimately what lies beyond us is of God. When we learn to recognize the Divine within the self, when we know that God exists instead of merely believing it - in such a state eternal existence becomes a given transition just children grow into adults.
Often, when we have a dysfunctional childhood, our adult lives can become somewhat tormented. This is what the myths are telling us about life and death. If our life is such that it is dysfunctional in accordance with purpose, our realization of this will come back to haunt us in death.
Heaven and hell are not places as we so often portray them. We talk of spiritual kingdoms, paradise, and picture all kinds of human perceptions in our focus. But heaven and hell in reality are simply metaphors for a state of being that is incomprehensible in our human experience. Childhood and adulthood are not about places, but the way we experience life. One may be better than the other only because of the way we choose to experience. Such is the inspirational message of life after death.
In the simple story of JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL, by Richard Bach, we have powerful metaphors for these ideals in relationship to the world we understand and live. Messiahship and death are just two. After Seagull enters that he thought to be heaven, he ends up making this observation to his elder:
"Chiang, this world isn't heaven at all, is it?"
The elder smiled in the moonlight, "You are learning again, Jonathan Seagull," he said.
"Well, what happens from here? Where are we going? Is there no such place as heaven?"
"No, Jonathan, there is no such place, HEAVEN IS NOT A PLACE, AND IT IS NOT A TIME. Heaven is BEING PERFECT."
And Jesus himself points us in the direction of
heaven or the
Repent for the
The Pharisees asked him, "When will the
(Luke 17., 20,21)
And in the Gospel of Thomas, discovered at Nag Hammadi in
His disciples asked him, "When will the Kingdom come?"
Jesus said, "It will not come by expectation, They will not say, 'See here,' or 'see there'! But the KINGDOM OF THE FATHER IS SPREAD THROUGHOUT THE EARTH AND MEN DO NOT SEE IT."
(GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THOMAS 113)
In other words, life is truly a part of the
Life is the act of experiencing creation. It is that experience which can lead to a higher state of consciousness where we recognize that creation and the Creator are in fact one. In such a frame of mind, one can clearly see that God's Kingdom is not coming, but rather, that it is already here. Heaven is not about belief in life after death, it is about our perceiving eternity in the here and now, trusting that life has as much meaning as death. It would seem that if we cannot see the Creator in the creation, we are not going to see Him anywhere else!
What all these metaphors center around is the concept that life's experiences are part of God's Kingdom. They are not a test to get there. Being and life are heaven as we are experiencing it in the now. They are not separate from the eternal, but a part of it. Heaven and hell are in essence self-created by the way we choose to look at things. This is the secret of the mystics who realized that all things are part of the eternal Creative Force. That all life's experiences, both good and bad, are part of God's Kingdom when we are prepared and accept God's Will.
Heaven is in achieving our personal covenant
that we have made with God, as Jesus demonstrates in Matthew 20:1-16, it
doesn't start with death, but occurs in our daily living. Heaven is the
cultivation of the Divine seed that is planted in every human heart (Matt. -23). Heaven is like a mustard seed growing into a mighty tree
whose branches embrace life (Matt -32).
It is the yeast which rises the flower, the force that
is within us (Matt ).
It is the preparedness and common sense illustrated in the parable of The Ten
Set your troubled hearts at rest. TRUST IN GOD always; trusts also in me. THERE ARE MANY DWELLING PLACES IN NY FATHER'S HOUSE; If it were not so I would have told you; for I am going there on purpose to prepare a place for you
Jesus' descriptions of heaven are varied and
wide, but from them, you can draw only one conclusion: Heaven is a state of
being. It is the preparedness, the discovery, the realization which all come about when we are connected to the Divine, which
paradoxically, connects us to the whole. Simply put: the
Heaven is being able to know that God is an
intricate part of our own life force, trusting in that Divine power and
accepting what needs to be accepted. It is allowing the Spirit of God which
gave us life to manifest Itself in our giving to
others and creation. Francis of
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.
This is the kingdom that each of us truly seeks. Responsible theology will shun the idea of promising God's reward; emphasizing instead, peace, contentment, and fulfillment - which is God's Kingdom no matter how one is experiencing it. The fifteenth century English poet Edmund Waller summed up the idea of heaven nicely when he said:
All we know of what they do above,
Is that they happy are, and that they love.
("Upon the Death Of My Lady Rich", 1645)
The myths tell us that if we concentrate on harmony, unity, love, and the giving of oneself; our experiences will prepare us for whatever lies beyond. They also imply that if we are selfish, hurtful, judgmental, and deceitful we will be in some perpetual torment. Based upon logic, it would seem that the greatest torment we might experience in the beyond would be that we wasted our precious life upon the earth. Sin, therefore, is not a failure to keep God's law, it is the failure of one's self to fulfill purpose. Hell is not a place of physical, but rather, the self-deceit that blinds us to our connectedness to others and by extension to God. Judgement is one's choice as to the way they will experience their eternal existence. T. S. Eliot offered a fine definition of hell:
What is hell?
Hell is oneself. Hell is alone, the other figures in it merely projections.
("The Cocktail Party", 1949)
The great hell which the scriptures and myths point us to is not a place where we spiritually burn for infractions of some Divine law. It is the symbol for the torment involved in realization that we have wasted the wonderful gift of life that God has chosen to gift us with. It is the realization that we missed the opportunity to share and love; to experience and appreciate the natural creation; and, failed to contribute and participate in the creative process in a manner that is harmonious and beneficial to others. It's a failure to "take time to smell the roses" as they say, missing the true miracle of reality and God's gift to us on the very earth that gives us life. Hell is a realization that we failed in purpose, a purpose that defines who we are. Hell is the loss of a meaning for life that Jung characterizes so well:
THE MEANING OF MY EXISTENCE IS THAT LIFE HAS ADDRESSED A QUESTION TO ME, OR, CONVERSELY, I MYSELF AM A QUESTION WHICH IS ADDRESSED TO THE WORLD - AND I MUST COMMUNICATE MY Answer, for otherwise I AM DEPENDENT UPON THE WORLD'S ANSWER.
(MEMORIES, DREAMS AND REFLECTIONS, 1961, p318)
Hell is really a self-centeredness whereby we
see the creation as centering on the self. When we miss the paradox that
creation may exist for the individual, but it is also equally important for the
whole. Creation couldn't be if it were not for every minute part,
and the minute parts could not be if the whole of creation didn't allow them to
be. We are not the center of creation, but an intricate part of it; and to
blind ourselves to that fact is to blind ourselves to the
The devils, false prophets, witches, demons, monsters, which dwell in the mythological kingdom of hell, are the forces that drive us to selfishness. Often we see the earth as being handed over to Satan. But it is not the earth, which has been handed over, but the individual who sees one's self as the sole purpose. They dwell in an isolated universe that revolves around them, and when the times comes to connect to the all, they laps into a personal torment because they have had no experience with "other" because their experience has always revolved around "self".
Just as the flames consume matter, the ego consumes the self to the point where it is cut off from the whole and the torment of loneliness becomes the legacy. Hell is simply the inability to see that we are in heaven!
And there is yet another theme, which occurs, in religious systems as well as myth. That is the concept of rebirth and reincarnation. Like so many other theological arguments, whether this concept is literally right or wrong makes no difference, for in the reality of our world we comprehend only this life. For all intent and purpose, the previous life has ended.
Of course we can use the idea of reincarnation to blame 'karma' for our problems and failures in this life, just as the Devil becomes blamed in Christian circle, but both become a convenient projection to avoid our personal responsibility for our own state of being. Another negative result of literalizing reincarnation is: it can be used to justify one's lack of ethics, passing such off that we will have a chance to get it right in the next life.
But looking at such a belief for its symbol, a wonderful truth begins to unfold. The metaphor conveys the idea that God has empowered life with many chances to fulfill purpose. Every morning is a rebirth. Byron put it nicely in Don Juan:
Death so called is a thing, which makes men weep,
And yet a third of life is passed in sleep.
Every morning we are reincarnated from the unconsciousness of sleep to a conscious renewal of self. It is a renewal of life whereby we have yet another opportunity to answer for the world that addresses a question to us: "Why am I here?''
The idea of reincarnation should not be about blame for our state, or excuses for our behavior. It's about God's mercy and love, whereby, She empowers us with the ability to "get it right" with every opportunity of the newborn day.
Everyday we view in nature a cycle of life and death where death is actually becomes life and renewal. From the destructive forces of nature, there is creation. The law of the jungle gives life and balance to creatures that exist in abundance. Out of the deaths of stars are born the atoms which make up you and I. Such is a natural order we only begin to understand, but it certainly reflects the nature of the Creator - and reincarnation can help to symbolize that theme. If the cycle of life is so apparent in nature, why should it stop at what is transcendent of nature?
Responsible theology can use the concept of reincarnation by viewing it as a symbol of hope and trust in God. God uses all aspects of nature to contribute to the Whole, and thus the whole lives on. Is the self really any different than the whole? We can trust that God will provide significant opportunity that our life, in the end, will have meaning and purpose.
And on the subject of judgement, Christian theology ignores the very directive of Jesus:
Pass no judgment and you will not be judged. For as you judge others, so you will yourselves be judged and whatever measures you deal out to others will be dealt back to You.
(Matthew 7: 1-2)
No human being can pronounce the judgement of God, for it would take the mind of God to contemplate Her justice. Jesus is telling us that we set the rules for our final judgement in our treatment of others. We judge ourselves in the eyes of God by our own standards, the standards by which we treat others. Our everyday dealings become the formula for God who ultimately knows what is in our hearts because there She dwells.
Preachers preach "fire and brimstone" from the pulpits while putting a "plank in their own eye" as to God's diversity, compassion and mercy. Fear is no reason to come to God, even Hitler had followers like that. Reward is no reason to come to God, we all know people who can be bought and sold.
Judgement isn't really about sin at all. It's about our interaction with reality; our experience with love; and the refinement of consciousness to move beyond ego. Morality is not about avoiding transgressions of the law; it's about how we live and interact with our experiences of life. We need not please God, because the fact of the matter is, we cannot please God, for God is perfect and pleased unto Himself. We cannot displease God because in this same perfection God could not be displeased.
So where does the basis for judgment lie?
Jesus directs us in the Lord's Prayer to pray: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.'' While self may not be the center of the universe; it is the center of our judgement, which is why pulling the plank out of one's own eye is so important to Jesus. It is why the rich man has such a problem getting into heaven. Materialism, hypocrisy, greed, are all distractions from the Divine element that burns in the human soul. Ignoring what is within us leads to our own judgement, which takes us back to the pain of hell, which is failure in life.
And like most things in religious truth, the paradox once again comes forth. Our dealings with others, and creation, become the judgement of ourselves. It is why Jesus focused so much on hypocrisy as a great evil. Hypocrisy is a force which can bring us down, for it is not what we say, or our begging for forgiveness, or even what we believe that will save us - it is what we do and how we forgive; for this is the standard Jesus preached that God will judge by. In other words, we set the standard in the way we live our life. We can deceive others, we can even deceive our selves, but God sees us for who and what we are.
Responsible theology has the psychological responsibility to offer comfort and make sense of death, but it must fulfill that responsibility without reducing the importance of life. Death is a transition into another realm of experience, not the end of a "test" - but, a beginning of a different kind of experience. It is a continuation of our eternal state that began with our awakening to consciousness. William James once wrote a definition of religion which responsible theology should take notice of:
Were we asked to characterize the life a religion in the broadest and most general terms possible, one might say that it consists of the belief that there is an unseen order and that our supreme good lies in HARMONIOUSLY ADJUSTING OURSELVES THERETO. This belief and this adjustment are the religious attitude in the soul.
("The Varieties Of Religious Experience" 1902, p53)
It is not the role of religion to pronounce God's judgement, to tell people how to live, or declare God's law. It is the role of religion to give meaning to life and death, to comfort, and encourage the development of the individual soul. Just as psychology tries to open a door whereby we can nurture our mental well being, religion needs to apply this same principle so we can nurture our soul.
The theologian Paul Tillich reasons:
The Catholic doctrine which recommends prayer and sacrifice for the deceased is a powerful expression of belief in the unity of individual and universal destiny in Eternal life. This element of truth should not be forgotten because of the many superstitions and abuses in the practical carry-out of the idea. It is hardly necessary, after all that has been said, to refer to the symbols "heaven' and "hell." First of all, THEY ARE SYMBOLS AND NOT DESCRIPTIONS OF LOCALITIES; second, THEY EXPRESS STATES Of BLESSEDNESS AND DESPAIR, that is, the amount of fulfillment or non-fulfillment which goes into the individuals essentialization. The symbols "heaven" and "hell' must be taken seriously in this threefold sense and can be used as metaphors for the polar ultimates in the experience of the Divine. The FREQUENTLY EVIL PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS of a LITERAL USE of "heaven" and "hell" are not sufficient reason for removing them completely. They provide vivid expressions for the threat of "death away from eternity" and for its contrast "the promise of eternal life."
(Paul Tillich, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY, 1967)
Fear, magical thinking or overactive imagination should not drive our views of life after death. While death may be an end to mortal experience; revelation tells us it is not the end of being. Our beliefs in this realm of an altered state of being should motivate us and elevate us in the state of being we experience in the paradox of the now.
What one might logically conclude is that life is a learning process through experience, and, that we will utilize that knowledge in some manner in the hereafter. It is not death that defines who we are, but life! This makes the mortal experience of eternity every bit as sacred and important as any aspect of the transcendent.
To be sure, life after death could be a most wonderful experience. But such is not to be compared to our experiences on earth, for we have no reference to judge by. Live life to its potential, responsibly, and eternity will fend for itself. What we believe about eternal life should not be the priority for it would seem, based upon scripture and myth, that the priority to God seems to be the way we live our life in relationship to others.
Please email us with your thoughts
Express your opinions on our Message Board
Sign our Guest Book