Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A few gentle thoughts re: heaven/the universe

I've had an image that is somewhat gentle and sweet that I want to share with you as yet another way of understanding the explanations I've given you about what heaven's like. This also ties in with my recent discussion of genuine awe being reserved for God, but legitimate awe can also include marveling at the natural wonders, such as earth, space, the universe, of God's creation.

God created the universe, and it is exactly as it appears. The more that humans develop telescopes and other scientific equipment, the more can be seen about the universe, marveled at and measured, studied and better understood. I have noticed that those who study the universe as a profession tend to have a strong sense of aesthetics too, for they really enjoy and marvel at photos of outer space, or of earth as seen from space, and want to look farther outward and thus backwards in age. So the wonder of space is genuinely felt by the workers in that profession.

There's a slight temptation associated with studying anything, whether it is a small device or a large natural feature. Familiarity breeds contempt as the saying goes, and I'm not saying it is that strong, but the temptation is that the more one thinks one has collected information, the more one is tempted to feel that the topic (and unconsciously, the thing itself) is "understood" by you and hence somewhat "under your control." Let me give an example. The more one is able to photograph a remote and dim region of the universe, the more the person tends to forget that no one will ever go there. Scientists and other space fans can look at a million photographs of a galaxy that is 200 light years away, for a example, and start to feel that the galaxy itself is "at hand" as much as the photographs are in their actual hands. That is something of a flaw or, rather, an affectation (not affection, but affectation, a presumption) of human thinking. They lose their appropriate awe because familiarity has bred contempt. They now start thinking they can imagine "what it would be like" in that galaxy, just because they have collected some data. They confuse scientific speculation with familiarity. They forget that no human will ever visit distant parts of space, and likely not even venture outside of the solar system itself. Why? Because of the inherent limitations of human physical ability combined with the simple physics and lack of time that humanity can expect per generation. See all my previous lifespan discussion. The universe, indeed the solar system, is simply too vast to ever be explored by humans. Imagining otherwise and taking photographs and making plans simply does not "make it so."

So one can and one must have appropriate awe about the universe, and enjoy it, study it, and even explore the parts that one is able to, in safe, logical and proportionate ways. But the bottom line of reality that everyone must always maintain is awareness that 1) no matter how much you collect "data" it's not the same as assuming you have any genuine insight and 2) it is simply too vast to ever be traveled.

Having said that, follow this analogy with me. As wonderful as the universe is, it is still a created thing, a thing that was created by God. Heaven too is a created thing, but there is a huge difference. Heaven was created by God to be inhabited by his companions, the angels, and the souls of humans who are brought there upon their death if they are believers and they are just and righteous, and heaven does not have matter, energy or the passing of time. The universe was created to be the framing, the infrastructure for life, and human life is all that any human has to really think about, and thus it was created in order to support a system made of matter, energy and time. So on the one hand you have the heavenly realm that was created to support matter-less, energy-less and time-less beings (and is God's natural abode, though he is of course everywhere too), while on the other hand you have the universe that was created to support matter-based, energy-based and time-based beings and objects (people and rocks, e.g.)

So here is my analogy and image. Imagine in one hand a really cool and beautiful piece of plastic. Let's say that it's a pretty, super lightweight and durable object, very high tech and fun to look at and to use. Now, picture the same object in your other hand but made out of solid gold. Here is the bottom line:

Even the most awesome sight that one sees in the universe, peering out into space using the Hubble telescope or whatever, is like seeing really impressive plastic. Ultimately even the largest supernova, the biggest galaxy, the oldest stars, the most mystical appearing nebula or clouds of gas, they are all like marvelous and very useful plastic, plastic that was created by God to be useful and to support existence that is based on matter, energy and time.

One can marvel at how well God created something so good that it is perfect for its niche, its niche being the place where objects and life that rely on having matter, energy and time can and do exist.

But heaven, ah heaven, is so far beyond even the most wonderful sights of the universe that it must be compared to being made of gold, but gold that is not even of matter or light. That is what St. John tried to describe seeing in the Book of Revelation, but here I'm just using it as an analogy to help you imagine the distance between appropriate awe of the universe and appropriate awe of heaven. Not only is heaven of, in this analogy, a much finer material, wrought by God of gold while the universe is wrought by God of really cool plastic, but the beings that exist in heaven exist totally on God's presence: they do not have matter, they do not have energy, they do not exist within any structure of time itself.

So heaven is like a sheet of gold yet it's gold that has no atomic structure, and thus no matter or material existence, no energy, and thus it is not "mental" or "light" or "spirit beams" based, and there is no thread or sequence of time (that is the most difficult for humans to understand), so things do not come into being, or arrive in heaven, and then experience elapsed time. Heaven's eternity is not endless time, it is the absence of time in total and at all. Time will only become relevant again when at the Second Coming bodies are raised and a new place that does have something akin to matter, energy and time is created for those who are saved and who live in the Lord's presence. Regular heaven, however, has no matter, energy or experience of time, not because people are so happy that they are oblivious to time, but because time does not exist as a concept or a reality in heaven.

So no matter how marvelous anything is that one observes in the universe, from the subatomic to the intergalactic, remember that it is still a place that was created to be utilitarian, to provide a use, which is to support in a good way (as all of God's creation is good) objects and living creatures (humans, animals and plants) that are composed of matter, energy and time. Thus it is appropriate to be awed at God's creation and the complexity of life and matter and energy that it supports, all of which have limits to their existence. That's why a really cool plastic item explains it well, since it has a purpose, even if it is only visual or supportive.

However, one can't start thinking one can imagine what heaven is like by looking into outer space, or by smashing atomic particles and looking at the bits. That's because heaven simply does not exist in either matter, energy or time format at all. God, the angels and those who are the dearly departed who are saved and find themselves in God's presence after death are not to be found within structures, no matter how large or small, that are material, energy and/or time based. There is no "God particle" and there are no "angels" in stars. There are no "hidden" dimensions or "multiple universes" (sorry scientists and science fiction writers!) God created and natural laws put into place by God rule all that is needed to support matter, energy and time on the one hand, the one universe, and all that is need to support non-matter, non-energy and non-time, subsisting only on God's actual presence, on the other hand.

That, by the way, is why hell is so terrible. Those who are cast into hell still experience the effects of time, matter and energy, even though they are no longer in the universe. Those in heaven do not experience time, matter or energy; they only experience the complete fulfillment of God.

I hope that you have found this helpful.

(hi young people! just a quick shout out...)