This essay was found by Mary on Nick’s computer after he had passed. It was written in his freshman English class at Santa Barbara City College.
20 February 2013
The Reality of Heaven
Throughout all religions of the world, each faith holds a common belief that once we are finished living our life on this earth, there is a final resting place that is considered to be paradise. The common idea of this conceptually beautiful heaven, which art and media has constantly depicted for us, is a place where we see angels dancing to the sounds of a very soft harp played by the most beautiful woman. As we feel our soft bed made of clouds, we can smell a new fresh air that we have never experienced, and taste the sweetness of eternal life. These shared ideas of this perfect world in which people who live morally “will have gardens of perpetual residence” (Sahih International Quran, 18:31), is not only held in the Islamic faith, but also remains to be characteristic of the ancient Egyptian religion along with the Christian belief system. If this is the case, why then does the fear of death remain to be the greatest concern amongst the general population? To others though, heaven may not be the literal destination outside of this world that some may perceive it to be. According to Buddhism, people with the perfect state of mind in which they find “more pleasure or happiness either in this world or any other worldly existence” (Sri Dhammanada Maha Thera, qtd. Buddhanet.net), have found their own source of heaven. This same concept can relate to people without a faith, that may not acknowledge a higher being or a literal heavenly kingdom. The people that preserve this belief system can still find a sense of a figurative nirvana, in which they maintain a perfect state of being and achieve their own paradise on earth. With the numerous and diverse opinions that are held over the idea of death, there is truly no way of fully understanding our final fate, but the most we can do is trust in our own beliefs. Like many others, I cannot alleviate the idea of heaven as the perfect world in the clouds, with angels, harps, and a large throne for God, which as a young adult, still remains to be the only concept that I can understand. While all different religions, cultures, and beliefs have developed their own views upon life after death, from a Christian prospective, I personally have faith in witnessing a new rebirth after I have lived on this earth.
According to a Gallup poll conducted in 2011, about nine in ten Americans believe in God (gallup.com), which leads to the fact that the majority of people consider the idea of life after death to exist. As one of the ninety percent, the simple question that I often times ponder is “why do I believe in God and heaven?” I cannot speak for fellow believers due to variety of responses to this inquiry, but the idea of heaven gives me comfort and serenity. Along with society, I too am afraid of the concept of death, which leads to my constant contemplation over how I live my life. Heaven, which is supposedly the ultimate goal, gives people of faith a reason to live well, prosper, and a final destiny to strive for. In opposition, why does the other ten percent reject any sort of higher being and has comfortably accepted the fact that all life is over once we die? In accordance to how I hold anxiety over the concept of death, an atheist can live in fear of holding a belief without knowing that their idea is true. To some, the belief in nothing is better than having faith in a faulty concept that lacks proof. A valid point that a nonbeliever argues, is the impossibility for there to be a god that is capable of making a heaven, when the earth that he has created is filled with so much corruption and exploitation. There are an equal amount of reasons that fulfill both sides of the argument, which will only lead back to the original controversy over the existence of a higher power. During our time on this earth we can continue to research and form our own opinions based upon this subject, but the only way we can obtain disclosure of our fate is through the eventual and personal experience that awaits us.
When I finally pass away and experience death on my own, I immediately expect to be walking on clouds, towards a gate, with a man in a white robe waiting to greet me with open arms. This is exactly how I have witnessed the transition to heaven in movies and read in books. However, according to The Gnostic Gospels, a list of Jesus’ “secret sayings,” Jesus explains to his disciples, “the end will be where the beginning is” (The Gnostic Gospels, Thomas 18). This statement depicts the conversion from life to death as an empty place, where the afterlife may be equivalent to our preconception, in which we see nothing, know nothing, and have no memories. To some, this place is an eternal sleep, with no dreams, and could presumably be heaven. The concept of this final destination allows us to separate from the hectic and sometimes corrupt world that we once lived in. In fact, most humans appreciate sleep to such a great extent, that the idea of an everlasting slumber could possibly be the ultimate reward. If this is our fate then, did those who lived for the goal of heaven waste their time by trying to fulfill what they believed was God’s path for us and would they be eventually left dissapointed? The truth of heaven may not reach the expectations of a believer today, but the promise that Jesus made assures that we cannot depict “[w]hat no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (The Holy Bible, 1 Corinthians 2:9). Regardless of the existence or true culture of heaven, living morally and respecting others will be beneficial to our lives, because we will gain a greater sense of ourselves. We can then only rely on trust in order to reach the final destiny that God ensured he would prepare.
Within the Bible’s teachings and from what I have learned through my faith, heaven is sometimes illustrated a generally easy and obtainable final destination. As it says in the New Testament, “[i]f you declare with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (The Holy Bible, Romans 10:9). Does this mean that no matter how we live, regardless of all our sins, whether they are mortal or venial, we will go to heaven based on pure faith alone? Along with many others, I cannot accept the fact that murderers, rapists, or abusers, can simply ask for forgiveness and reside in eternal glory with those that have lived in accordance with God’s will. In contrast, the Bible states that “the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (The Holy Bible, Matthew16:27), which leaves a great contradiction of beliefs. A contributing factor to the controversy over God, involves the elusive answer of what criteria is required in order to reach heaven. Religion leaves so many pending questions, and those who believe will say that we may not know the answers, but it is our job to keep faith. For those who neglect God, they will say that these questions are left open because there is no justification due to lack of a true argument. My belief is that no matter what faith one holds, despite of the fact that one may not accept God, living a righteous life will eventually lead to a reward. This accolade will be greater than what anyone who says they have faith, but refuses to live according to their belief will receive.
If the idea of death in religion is to experience new life, why then is the term “rest in peace” most commonly used in any subject related to dying? Heaven is supposedly the ultimate reward, but eternal rest does not appeal to my expectations of this beautiful place God is supposed to have prepared for us. Along with the majority of society, I enjoy life to such a great extent, that the concept of an endless slumber seems to be punishment rather than a reward. Regardless of heaven being beyond my apprehension, the afterlife that I want to be a part of involves joy, excitement, and gratitude, as we will finally be reunited with the loved ones that we have lost on earth. Perhaps “rest in peace” is actually not the best term in relation to death, rather a phrase such as “thrive in joy” best represents how I will want to spend eternity. The fate of our soul and the idea of heaven are incomprehensible, and at this time collective minds can only make assumptions that cannot be proven as long as our heart remains beating. What is most important, though, is that we allow ourselves to experience a portion of heaven every day, which will enable us to appreciate the world and grasp a greater concept of the life that we can control.
Dhammananda Maha Thera, Venerable K. "What Buddhists Believe - The Buddhist Concept of Heaven and Hell." What Buddhists Believe - The Buddhist Concept of Heaven and Hell. Buddhanet, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Gallup.com "More Than 9 in 10 Americans Continue to Believe in God." More Than 9 in 10 Americans Continue to Believe in God. Gallup.com, 2011. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Hitchens, Christopher. "Quotes About Atheism." (544 Quotes). N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
The Holy Bible. New York: American Bible Society, 1992. Print.
Thomas, Didymos J. "The Gospel of Thomas Collection -- Translations and Resources." The Gospel of Thomas Collection -- Translations and Resources. Polebridge Press, 1992. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
Unknown Author. "Surat Al-Kahf." Surat Al-Kahf [18:31]. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.
copyright February 20, 2013