Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Boring as Heaven?

Following Fr Chadwick's posting on Symbolism in pre-Renaissance Art, I found myself re-visiting the work of Hieronymus Bosch, an artist who intrigued me as a child, fascinated me as an adolescent and frightened me as an adult. His famous Garden of Earthly Delights is a monumental work of religious art depicting the Paradise of Eden, the Garden of Earthly Delights in all its obscene luridity resulting from the Fall, and then the tortures and horrors of a Medieval Hell brought into the dimensionality of the Renaissance.

Interestingly, it is the depiction of Hell that is richest in its symbolism: the ears with the knife speak of the evils of gossip; the egg-man points us towards the dangers of alchemy; the nun-pig points to the acceptance of heresy. Yet, this yields a rather troubling fact. There are far more paintings and images of Hell than there are of Heaven.

Perhaps that's not quite true: the Ikon is a window into Heaven by which we may glimpse a view of the saints and the Glory of God. Yet, if you ask someone to picture Heaven and Hell, Heaven will be depicted as a place where (somehow) we are all turned into angels (a common error) bear halos and play harps all day. Hell will be full of violence and pain, and often very, very hot in accord to the lake of fire we see in the Revelation of St John the Divine. Heaven sounds desperately dull. I've heard from many an atheist that they'd prefer Hell to Heaven on the grounds that at least Hell isn't boring, whereas Heaven is floating around all day "praising God".

The fact of the matter is that human beings do not have a good idea of what Heaven is like. Actually, I'm not convinced that a Hell is quite as Medieval as it is depicted. Reading the Apocalypse of St John carefully, the twenty-first chapter begins
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away ; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold , the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away . And he that sat upon the throne said , Behold , I make all things new.
This gives us more of a clue of what Heaven will be like. The Creation in which we live in now at present has moments where it seems like the best, and like the worst. The new life which Humanity is promised in God is probably going to be very recognisably the life we live now but transformed. We will once again be aware of God in our midst forever because we will be complete in Him. We don't need to picture Heaven so much, because we're already here. We just need the renewal of God to make our existence an endless bliss. This is why we should cherish the world around us, as it is very much what we shall perceive in the hereafter.

There will be big differences, of course, but in order to understand these big differences, we need to be able to approach Eden, and the sword of the Seraphim prevents us. This is a result of our fall, the blindness to the true beauty of Creation. We can imagine Hell for it is our sin that has made Hell possible, thus we can imagine what a life of eternally rejecting God must look like, and it is vile - full of infernal activity in an attempt to claw some purpose of existing from the meagre phantoms of what once was.

There are mystics who say that they have seen both Heaven and Hell. Who's to say that they haven't? Yet I rather think that, because we're talking about states of existence in Eternity, these glimpses are precisely that. Heaven appears boring because we cannot see beyond the rather small way that we worship God now. Once our worship of God gets bigger, the better an idea we shall have until we either obtain the famous beatific vision which stultified and silenced St Thomas Aquinas, or pass through the veil when God draws us to Him.

While this life may be boring at times, the fact that there are times that we enjoy life is an indicator that Heaven will not just be as enjoyable, but beyond that. We may be blind now, but faith requires us to trust God that His Eternal presence will be a life better than we can ever know in this life.

1 comment:

Fr Tom said...

The common description of combat that my Marines used to use was 'weeks of boredom punctuated by minutes of sheer terror.' In our parishes it might be something like, "days of routine punctuated by periods of great joy or deep sorrow."