My question is what is the meaning of 'Heaven'. Where is Heaven? Who goes to Heaven? Can I say
that Heaven is right here wherever I am, this is Heaven to me. I am in Peace, I have God in my Life
today. God is on me. Please help me with more insights.
Who can find the height of heaven?
And the breadth of the earth, and the deep?
And who can find true wisdom?
(Book of Sirach 1:3)
As you may well have noticed, life is sometimes good, and sometimes it's bad. It is no more than
stating the obvious to say that we like the good bits and we hate the bad bits. Perhaps this unites us
with the rest of brute creation, but there is a strange capability within the human species which marks
us out as different and special among all animals.
When the athlete takes a pose on the starting-blocks he is already, in imagination, running the race.
Before he even begins, he is seeing with the mind's eye the view from the winner's podium, the
acclamation of the crowd and the glint of gold. This is very special skill, to look always from the dull
necessity of the corporeal present to a future perfected. It may well be the one great skill which has
made humanity so outstanding. In asking this question, haven't you, Yamilette, already seen the
possibility of the perfect answer? And I in answering it, however poor the answer may turn out to be,
already have a vision of the supremely well-turned phrase and the ideal of arguments. Such is the
fate of homo sapiens,the thinking being. We know from bitter practice that the flawless life is not
here, but we cannot do else but imagine that it ought to exist somewhere, in some imagined world. So
where is it?
The original usage of the English term 'heaven' was simply the domed vault of the sky, the domain of
the stars and the clouds. The all-powerful source of our warmth and our life-giving water, forever
beyond our paltry reach. We still talk about 'the heavens opening' when it rains and say that someone
is 'looking into the heavens' as they stare into the sky. As long as the skies remained beyond our
comprehension, it seemed that they should be the place where the gods oughtto live. And as long as
we suffer from the desperate need to imagine the possibility of a flawless future, we can try to map
some substance onto that place.
The Revelation of St John the Divine imagines a heaven which is satisfyingly dry, as well a writer
from the island states of old Greece might. The Koran (Sura 16:31, 18:31, 19:60 etc.) sees heaven as
a bountiful well-watered garden, a fitting paradise for those in lands where rain is scarce and farming
difficult. For the Buddha Amitabha, the Pure Land is one where the weather has unfailing constancy,
for who in the storm-ravaged lands of the Pacific Rim could wish for better? The Norse Valhalla is a
warm and welcoming great hall of abundant food and drink, a heaven for warriors from a cold land.
We need not even dream that it is in some otherworld, perhaps our heaven is here on earth? For the
people of old Russia it was Mykelegore.To Tibetans it has been Shangri-La,for others El Dorado.
There is even a vision of heaven for vegetarian analytic philosophers at
But is this a real place, or a mere aspiration? Or is it some state of mind, or some mystical state of
being for which we have no proper words? That, I cannot say, for wherever heaven is, it is not here.
And whatever heaven is, it is not of thisearth. Perhaps, if you are of religious mind, the sages and the
prophets might have some insight for you. But they seem a little uncertain themselves.
The Torah usually sees heaven as merely the skies (Genesis 8:2, 15:5, Deuteronomy 1:10), but
sometimes also as the abode of God (Genesis 28:12). It is far from clear whether the next world,
called Olam Habain Hebrew, is the same place as heaven, whether it is the abode of those who have
died in faith, or some future world better and brighter than the one we know. Judaism does not have
much dogma about this, preferring to leave plenty of room for personal opinion. It is possible to
believe that the souls of the righteous go to a wonderful place, or that they are reincarnated through
many lifetimes, or that they simply wait until the coming of the messiah to be resurrected, and still be
an Orthodox Jew. You might care to look at the writings of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan to find out more.
Arising, as it did, out of a mixture of Jewish and Roman traditions, Christianity seems firmer. Those
who have faith in Christ's divinity will go to a heaven to live forever with him (John 3:36 etc). But how
should we know who that is, or when, or where? What of good people, who through no fault, have
never heard of Christ? With the self-assurance for which she is either famous or infamous, the church
has tried hard to define this place. The Council of Lyons in 1274 determined that our long-dead
bodies would be actually reconstructed in the heaven to come, which is strangely contrary to St Paul
(1 Corinthians 15:42). It was the Council of Florence in 1439 that tried to tackle the tricky problem of
who goes to heaven, and ended up with the complex series of different heavens which had famously
been expressed in Dante's La Divina Commedia.But this sounds like an over-technical wonderland,
in any case, with expanding knowledge of the skies it became impossible to fit a godly paradise in
between the stars, so that most divines today simply assert the existence of a future state, and leave
it at that.
Who goes to heaven? I do not know, for I have been granted no position on the celestial tribunal. Can
you be in heaven now? Well, I think that if you are quite certain that you have achieved a state of
absolute perfection, you have already arrived.
Does heaven, then, exist? If you would like to know more, there is a wonderful anthology of writings,
poetical, mystical, religious and philosophical in Carol and Philip Zaleski's The Book of Heaven
(Oxford). You will never be blamed for concluding that heaven is no substantial place, but if you
resolve to hold true to the necessity of unblemished perfection somewhere, you have no choice but to
at least try to believe. As Robert Browning put it:
Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?