April 1, 2009

Heaven above the heavens

Heaven is the place to be! That is where God is. Yet, God is everywhere. What do we mean when we say that God everywhere? God is non-physical being, so He cannot exist in a physical place. God is spirit. We do know that it is in Him that we move and have our being. In a manner that is not yet clear to us, we are in God and God is in us.

Heaven, our final destination, is the soul’s perfect union with God. In Heaven, we see God face-to-face, just as He is. This is the Beatific Vision, Happiness, our blessedness, complete and everlasting.

Heaven is a state, a particular way of existing. Heaven is also a place. That is, physical bodies must be in a place. Since Jesus and Mary are in Heaven, body and soul, Heaven must be a created place, as well as the condition of existing in perfect union with the God.

We may need to redefine our notions of matter and space to account for (though it may not be humanly possible) spiritualized bodies, and their mode of being in a place. Our resurrected body will be a spiritualized body in the manner of Christ’s resurrected body.

Since Heaven is a place, then which direction is it from earth to Heaven? Medieval cosmology said, “Upwards” from the earth, above the natural phenomenon of the heavens. Today, with our more accurate understanding of the universe, we can only answer, “Up,” in a figurative sense. Our current knowledge tells us that we do not know the answer to this question.

Advances in astronomy overturned a geocentric solar system. Man supposedly lost his privileged place of existence at the center of the universe. Science now shows that our heliocentric system is just one small group of cosmic entities among billions of galaxies in an incredibly vast and continuously expanding universe. Did the Hubble telescope humble man?

Perhaps the medieval center of the universe was not the privileged place of existence we think it was. In early cosmology, the center of the universe was its lowest point. Before the discovery of gravity, natural philosophers believed objects fell downwards because of their inclination to reach the lowest point in the universe. Man’s earthly existence was close to that lowest point. Medieval man also lived adjacent to Hell, you know, that place where they keep strict etiquette. He believed the fires of Hell were somewhere below the surface of the earth, while Heaven was far away. Therefore, being at the center of things may by itself have been a little humbling.

Whatever the case may be, modern man seems not to know his true “place” in the universe. He feels lost, and lacks real identity. He does not know himself. He feels alienated and insignificant in this immense cosmos. In comparison, medieval man knew where he was at in the universe. He knew his place, because not only was it a smaller universe, but more importantly, his faith and the structure of medieval society, which included significant Church influence on culture, formed his identity.

Since late Renaissance humanism separated knowledge from its ultimate source, the Church has increasingly lost her influence on culture. The resulting secularization of culture with its false humanism, which is virtually an anti-humanism, are the present-day spiritual and social disorders that make it difficult for modern man to know his “place” in the universe. Yet, it is equally true for both medieval and modern man that each finds his real identity only in Christ.

Rather than feeling insignificant or lost in a vast universe, a greater understanding of the cosmos should enliven our spirits. Our finite beings are insignificant only in comparison to infinite Being. That we can know and love our Creator, and know that He loves each of us with an infinite love, means each human soul is more valuable than the entire cosmos, a cosmos incapable of knowing its Creator. The inconceivably immense size and energy of the cosmos, with all its variety of being and activity should arouse in us wonder and awe at its Creator. The heavens can reveal more to us about its Creator in Heaven than can the small physical universe of medieval cosmology.

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“The whole visible world is only an imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We may enlarge our conceptions beyond all imaginable space; we only produce atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere, the centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, it is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God that the imagination loses itself in that thought.” –Blaise Pascal, Pensees, II, 72.

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