Jan 15, 2008

Heaven, Space, and Time

The three most important questions to ask and answer are: Where did I come from? What am I? Where am I going? The answer to the last question is “Heaven,” to be united with our Creator. But what is heaven like?

Personally, I’ve wondered if heaven is like a science fiction novel of a perfect world—an earth-like Paradise, but outside of time. St. Augustine notes that the past does not exist, for it has passed; nor does the future exist, for it has yet to come; and the present is simply the moment which joins the past with the future. This great philosopher showed that ideas and formal principles are by nature universal and necessary, and consequently outside the confines of time and space. Heaven must also have such a nature.

In a world where we could control time, space would also be controlled. The past, present, and future would all exist at the same time. Moving from physical point A to a distant point B would take only an instant if you could control time. Even more importantly the effect of a cause would be instantly seen, even into the far future.

The Catholic Encyclopedia defines Heaven as the dwelling of God and his angels—God’s reward for those who die in a state of justice and His friendship. [Catholic teaching usually emphasizes the complete intimacy with our Creator in Heaven, while this post will focus more attention on the physical attributes of heaven.] Catholic theologians speculate on the location of heaven but the Church has decided nothing. Most likely, this is because St. Paul said that heaven is beyond our imagination.

A Protestant author and pro-life activist, Randy Alcorn, describes Heaven in colorful terms as a bright, vibrant, and physical New Earth, free from sin, suffering, and death, and brimming with Christ's presence, wondrous natural beauty, and the richness of human culture as God intended it. Alcorn says that God preceded Heaven, and that Heaven, His home, is one of God's creations. [I won't vouch for Alcorn's adherence to Catholic teaching in his 2004 book, Heaven, but his "intermediate Heaven" sort of sounds like Purgatory.]

Peter Kreeft, Catholic author of three books on Heaven, claims “Heaven does not contain God. God contains heaven. Heaven is relative to God, God is not relative to heaven. Heaven is heaven only because it is the full presence of God.” The principle appears to be, “Wherever God is, Heaven is.”

Why is this present earth not heaven? Because our fallen nature prevents us from being completely united with God. Adam and Eve’s Paradise remained only when they did not disobey God. Yet Paradise continues to partially envelop those people who love God, and they get a taste of Heaven while on earth.

Jesus, after his crucifixion and death, gives us a sample of a glorified body that has been resurrected and reunited with its soul to reside in heaven. First, a glorified body is not always recognized, such as Jesus on the road to Emmaus. [Perhaps because Jesus appeared as a handsome young boy, rather than as a 33-year old man.] Second, a glorified body can move through walls, such as when Jesus came to the apostles in the locked upper room. Third, a glorified body continues to eat and converse—as illustrated in recounts of Jesus’ appearance after his Resurrection. Fourth, a glorified body will not marry, as also discussed by Jesus. [In heaven, we will necessarily be children, with God as our Father, Christ as our brother, and Mary as our Mother.]

In a spiritual joyride over the past several days, I’ve speculated on the physical attributes of Heaven. Our resurrected bodies will have spatial dimensions, so those bodies need to occupy a physical place. Our souls are immortal and our risen glorified bodies will not die a second death; consequently heaven must be everlasting. Heaven must be an active physical place with dynamic love, contemplation, study, joyful work, and conversation; i.e., a perfect earth or Paradise.

I can’t imagine a static heaven without movement, and any movement implies the existence of time. Time must exist in heaven but time does not necessarily need to follow a one-way, single-speed direction. Rather, all of time and space could be God's adventurous playground--from the Big Bang to the possible Big Crunch. [Or has God balanced the expansion of the universe so that a crunch will never occur?]

Let’s assume that you received an undeserved but highly desired reward at the end of your life—HEAVEN! After you die your soul is united with God in a spiritual Paradise, but your body remains in the grave. When the final judgment occurs, your body is raised from the dead and you are a glorified person in a home that you can control perfectly. Nothing is out of whack, including the weather. Because of intimate and detailed foreknowledge of cause and effect, IF…AND…OR…THEN… is always in the present, because we know and can control the past, present, and future.

This hypothesized Heaven will allow all of time and space to be traversed and even used to develop a perfect world. What? Is not Heaven already perfect? Yes, it is, but once we are there, we still will have work to do. God’s angels received work to do after they remained faithful to God. I suspect that we also will work in the most delightful and challenging environments you can imagine. Think of heaven’s work as the perfect job with the perfect Boss!

In this earthly world, we already control space as we design, build, destroy, and change physical things. In heaven our faith and infused knowledge will be immense and so we will be able to “move mountains.” Yesterday, today, and tomorrow we can’t control in our present world, but the control of time would be a true gift of God. All of time and space would be opened up to heaven’s citizens to live and explore.

My theorized heaven is like a great Utopia where people live their lives perfectly. No mistakes will be made or sins committed—because of intimate union with God and foreknowledge of the results of all our actions.

Even nature will be controlled because nature always bows to the control of space and time, and will be subservient to those in Heaven. Entropy, the arrow of time, will be reversible, and God will provide limitless new energy over infinity.

Perhaps some worlds will be fix-it-up worlds designed by God to provide opportunities for highly rewarding co-creative work, such as terraforming inhospitable planets. An even more interesting adventure would be to assist God's newly created creatures in another star system to learn to love God, avoid sin, live well, and attain heaven.

Can you imagine the new challenges to explore and build a world as earth should have been if Adam and Eve had not sinned? To live a constantly new and never-ending life—always in perfect union with God. To experience old and new times and places? To create an infinitely expanded version of your life? If time and space are controllable in heaven, you would be able to open up all of God’s creation over all of time.

It would take you an infinity to explore all the creations and adventures in God’s playground. [Physically, this would mean that even if time has an end (Big Crunch, although this is debatable), the different paths that could be taken by an individual through the space-time continuum are essentially infinite in number.]

Could God give us the ability to control time? Yes, because He is the creator of time. Is that to be one of his rewards in heaven?

1/16/2008: I wrote the above after reading the introductory 15 pages of Anthony DeStefano's book, "A Travel Guide to Heaven," and then jumping to my own conclusions. I was not able to finish the written work until this evening. BTW, DeStefano is the Executive Director of Priests for Life which distributes this highly recommended book.

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