Beyond the Shadowlands: C.S. Lewis on Heaven and Hell
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by Wayne Martindale
Description: C. S. Lewis's fiction is rich with reflections on the afterlife. Lewis scholar Wayne Martindale discusses the vivid images of Heaven and Hell Lewis uses in his fiction, using them as a complement to a scholarly but accessible discussion on eternity.
eBook Publisher: Crossway Books, 2009
eBookwise Release Date: June 2009
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Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [453 KB]
Reading time: 261-365 min.
MYTH #1: HEAVEN WILL BE BORING
No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.
[Footnote 2: 1 Corinthians 2:9.]
I have confessed that for ever so long, Heaven simply held no fascination for me. Why is Heaven (aside from Hell, perhaps) the last place we would want to go? In part, our aversion stems from a fear of what we don't know and a subsequent clinging to what we do. Heaven must, in the nature of things, remain as mysterious to us in this life as adulthood is to children. Then cultural caricatures of a cloudy hereafter--a colorless, weightless, and (we presume) pleasureless existence, harp-tuned to perfect monotony--effectively turn us away. I'm afraid it creeps up on me still. My problem was a conception of Heaven as church, and church as an endless chain of bad songs and boring sermons with not even a chance of volunteering for nursery duty. How liberating to find that Lewis understood the sentiment: "The picture of Heaven as perpetual worship, a place, in the hideous words of the hymn 'Where congregations ne'er break up / And Sabbaths have no end,' which has tormented many a luckless child (finding one Sabbath per week a ration only too liberal!) comes alright when one sees the real meaning: the perpetual worship is the perpetual vision [of God], the perfect exercise of all one's faculties on the perfect Object.Of that, one cd. [could] never have too much: of its simulacrum, 'worship' as we know it down here, one easily can."
[Footnote 3: C. S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, vol. 2, ed. Walter Hooper (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2004), to Warfield M. Firor (August 17, 1949), 971.]
Paradoxically, my misconceptions about Heaven also came from reading the Bible, but a blinkered reading that carries over the logic of "thou shalt not" to the very architecture of Heaven. For this mind-set, Heaven is only a place of denials where we don't do this and can't do that. Or we read too literally the symbolic language and the "no mores" of Heaven. In an important address called "Transposition," Lewis acknowledges the difficulty of breaking through such misconceptions: "Any adult and philosophically respectable notion we can form of Heaven is forced to deny of that state most of the things our nature desires.... Hence our notion of Heaven involves perpetual negations: no food, no drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art." Against this thinking, Lewis continues, is the positive vision of God and enjoying him forever. But the positive is at a great disadvantage, since little in our earthly experience suggests it. Further, the five senses have stocked our imaginations with vivid associations from this earthly life, suggesting that home is with the old, comfortable shoes; so we plod on in contented worldliness when we might soar.
[Footnote 4: C. S. Lewis, "Transposition," in "The Weight of Glory" and Other Addresses, ed., with Introduction, Walter Hooper (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 83.]
My way out of this muddle lay straight through Lewis's The Great Divorce and (later) Perelandra . These two books hooked me on Heaven.More on these stories later, but never doubt the power of fiction to tell the truth, often better than cold theological prose. Jesus knew this: He constantly taught with stories. It is impossible, I came to see, that Heaven could be boring. Heaven is that place where all that is and all that happens issues from God's creative genius. In that sense, it is like earth, except that in our present earth even nature groans, waiting for its deliverance from the curse of sin. Do you like earth? You're going to love Heaven! Do you enjoy earthly pleasures: the taste of cherries, the smell of morning after a rain, the feel of cool water rushing over you as you dive into a pool on a warm summer's day? Then recall Lewis's reminder that God through Christ invented all the pleasures. He is the same one who is preparing a place for us and will come again to receive us to himself. The psalmist says, "In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." In his excellent article on Heaven, Harry Blamires gets it right:
[Footnote 5: Psalm 16:11.]
Whatever form your most moving earthly experiences of beauty have taken, they were foretastes of heaven. Wherever you have found loving kindness in human hands and human eyes and human words, you were confronting Christ's personality operative in God's creatures. Since the source of all that beauty and all that tenderness is God, the full opening up of his presence before his creatures can be nothing less than the aggregation and concentration and intensification of every loveliness and every goodness we have ever tasted, or even dreamed of. All the love we have ever known in our relationships with others--all that collected and distilled into the personal warmth of him from whom it all derived, and he standing before us: that is the kind of picture that the Christian imagination reaches towards when there is talk of the ultimate reward of the redeemed.
[Footnote 6: Harry Blamires, "Heaven: The Eternal Weight of Glory," Christianity Today 35, no. 6 (May 27, 1991), 33-34. The original prints lovingkindness as one word.]
Similarly, when Ransom returns from the unfallen world of Perelandra, having experienced whole new genres of pleasure, and attempts to explain these to his friend, he despairs of the task because words are too vague, imagery not concrete enough. The pleasures are too real for earthly language. As the well-known eighteenth-century hymn writer John Newton puts it:
Fading is the world's pleasure,
All its boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasure
None but Zion's children know.
[Footnote 7: John Newton, "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken," Hymns for the Living Church (Carol Stream, Ill.: Hope Publishing Co., 1974), 209.]
Next to the "solid joys" of Heaven, earth's are airy, misty will-o'-the-wisps. On the other hand, Hell has no pleasures and offers the world only counterfeits of Heaven's genuine article. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis has senior devil Screwtape lament while cautioning junior tempter Wormwood:
Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy's ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.
[Footnote 8: C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 9:44. I have chosen the Simon & Schuster edition because, unlike many recent versions, it includes Lewis's valuable explanatory Preface to the 1961 edition, along with the 1959 addition, "Screwtape Proposes a Toast."]
David Fagerberg reminds us of the Devil's lie, repeated by Screwtape, that "sin affords a more robust variety of pleasure than virtue." Even the movies often get right the hatred and murder that flow in the wake of sexual unfaithfulness, whether pursued for physical or egocentric pleasure. In Narnia Edmund learned this lesson the hard way with the White Witch's candy, the enchanted Turkish Delight: "anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they had killed themselves." Fagerberg finds in this idea God's reason for expelling Adam and Eve from the garden: "He wanted to save their lives." Edmund further learns that "nothing spoils the taste of good ordinary food half so much as the memory of bad magic food." Sinful pleasure infects legitimate ones. Explaining how our desires become Hell-bent, Fagerberg continues, "Our appetites have been misdirected, leading us to believe that there is a contradiction between God's glory and our own happiness, that we cannot submit our lives to God and still have what we really want." If we think that, we have believed a lie.
[Footnote 9: David W. Fagerberg, "Between Heaven & Earth: C. S. Lewis on Asceticism & Holiness," Touchstone 17, no. 3 (April 2004), 33.]
[Footnote 10: C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 4:39. ]
[Footnote 11: Ibid., 9:95.]
[Footnote 12: Fagerberg, "Between Heaven & Earth," 31.]
A true and legitimate pleasure is one that sweetens our lives whenever we remember it. An authentic pleasure is one we love to recall and rejoice to share. A part of both Heaven and Hell is this multiplication factor. As memories stack upon memories in Heaven, these will add luster and expansiveness to every new experience--indeed, an experience for one with a perfect memory will never get old but remain "a joy forever," to borrow from Keats. Lewis imagines such a Heaven-sent pleasure multiplied in the unfallen planet of Malacandra in Out of the Silent Planet. For his first extended time on Malacandra, the space-traveling earthling, Ransom, is mentored by a rational but quite different creature, a hross named Hyoi. Ransom learns from his new friend what must be one of the key ingredients of the increasingly layered richness of our unfolding heavenly experience: the mounding up of memories that are only and always ennobling. Hyoi explains:
A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hman [human], as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing.... What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure.... When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then--that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it. You say you have poets in your world. Do they not teach you this?
[Footnote 13: C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 12:73.]
If this is true of earthly memory, how much more of heavenly memory, which will take not only the good of earth, but the infinite accumulations of Heaven into the celestial memory bank? For this and other reasons, the hrossa are content and embrace each day without regret for the past or anxiety for the future--which itself is an element we long for in heavenly perfection. Hyoi tells Ransom, "every day in a life fills the whole life with expectation and memory and ... these are that day." Ransom learns a bit of what it means to live life in light of eternity. By contrast, in Hell the memory of evil chosen in this life, joined with whatever issues out of the unredeemed hereafter, will be a mounting horror. What a difference this truth would make in our earthly choices if we could keep it before us. We can see the huge implications for even our earthly lives. This explains the look of contentment and innocence in some people's faces, however old. They have no regrets dogging their consciences; their sleep is unalloyed. To be so at peace perfectly and always is very Heaven.
[Footnote 14: Ibid., 12:74.]
Christopher Mitchell reminds us of the function of pleasure: What we experience with our senses "serve in their own God-ordained way to point us to an image of the greater beauty and reality of heaven." John Piper concurs that "there are merciful foretastes everywhere in this fallen world, and God is glad for us to enjoy them." A common mistake is trying to grasp these pleasures with all we're worth, living as if earthly pleasures were our only reality. Lewis sets us right.
[Footnote 15: Christopher Mitchell, "The 'More' of Heaven and the Literary Art of C. S. Lewis," Christianity and the Arts 5, no. 3 (Summer 1998), 43.]
[Footnote 16: John Piper, "'Brokenhearted Joy': Taking the Swagger Out of Christian Cultural Influence," World (December 13, 2003), 51.]
The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and [pose] an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
[Footnote 17: C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 7:115. Where I have bracketed pose, the original has oppose.]
Perfection--Boredom ad Infinitum
Everyone knows that Heaven and all in it will be perfect: The Bible says so--and even the biblically illiterate associate perfection with Heaven. The book of Hebrews, the book of "better things," is chock full of the word perfect and its many forms. For example: "You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem ... and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect." We will take up the bothersome idea of being "spirits" in Myth #3, but for now, we will explore the idea of perfection. I have asked several of my classes over the years if they would choose to go to Heaven "two minutes from now" if they could, and sometimes I ask, "if I could do it, who would want me to make them perfect right now?" No small number demur. How would you answer these questions for yourself? You might try this experiment with a group of your own. Usually, most want to stay here and stay as they are. Even those who would choose perfection and Heaven often have a qualm or two about it.Why should that be so?
[Footnote 18 : Hebrews 12:22-23.]
We are okay with perfection as a goal, but not as a steady state. That's the problem: a steady state. Perfection implies stagnation for us, a kind of fossilized goodness that goes nowhere. Where could perfection "go," anyway? It's already there. This emphasis on the journey, as opposed to the destination, comes to moderns largely from the influence of evolutionary thought: what Lewis calls "the myth of progress." All of us know that both we and the world are a mess at present; so we console ourselves that the world will be a better place in some distant future. We content ourselves to be on the way, while in earlier eras, most by far focused on the destination. Our culture conditions us to be uncomfortable with "arriving." It's no compliment to say of someone, "She thinks she has arrived."
And come to think of it, once they arrive, what do the morally pure do for kicks? If you are not getting better or working to improve, do you just sit? Adding to the problem for the biblically literate, we know that Scripture promises heavenly "rest." Perhaps we remember being forced to take those grammar school naps when what we really wanted was to play. The negative idea about rest is reinforced by the old "Rest in Peace" on tombstones, which invokes images of just lying there--insentient, dumb, and crumbling into dust.
It may help to begin by thinking of what we rest from. We rest from labors that are unfruitful, from infertile ground, unyielding clients, intractable relationships. But we won't be eternally sitting in the corner, which would be more like punishment; we'll work. But we'll work without the battle for survival and without the resistance and frustration caused by sin and its curse. It will be gardening without weeds. Work will mean the thing we love to be doing, as when an artist or hobbyist speaks of "my work." This poem by Joe Bayly helps with the relationship of rest and work.
What's a home like,
one that he prepares?
A place of peace and beauty,
of joy and glory, of celestial music,
of fresh, unchanging, purest love.
I'll say, "Hello, Lord. I'm tired."
And he'll say, "Rest,
because I have
work for you to do."
[Footnote 19: Joseph Bayly, Heaven (Elgin, Ill.: David C. Cook Publishing, 1977), 12.]
I think our work will feel more like Sabbath recreation or, if you prefer, play. The only problem with play is the suggestion of triviality, but reigning with Jesus and helping to run the new Heaven and earth will be anything but kids' play. In fact, the reward for doing good work here on earth will be more work in Heaven: "And [the Lord] said to him, 'Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.'" Such work will be a reward. Anyone who has been without a job knows the relief that comes from getting one, along with a sense of significance and purpose.
[Footnote 20: Luke 19:17.]
What form reigning in the new Heaven and earth will take is open to imagination. Perhaps the Lord will say, "You washed those dishes as unto me; now go make a star," and you'll know how. Maybe next he will call for a group project: "When you've all finished your stars, make a new constellation." In "Harleys in Heaven," John Stackhouse reviews several recent books on Heaven and observes encouragingly that "several themes stand out among the riches of these volumes. Perhaps the most crucial of these is that heaven in fact has not been portrayed as a boring place, but the location of the highest aspirations of the human heart."
[Footnote 21: John G. Stackhouse, Jr., "Harleys in Heaven: What Christians Have Thought of the Afterlife & What Difference It Makes Now," Christianity Today 47, no. 6 (June 2003), 38.]
In John's Gospel, Jesus prays, "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory." We will follow along after Jesus like apprentices. Remember that he made all that is, seen and unseen. It won't be boring in Heaven because we will always be learning. God is infinite, we are finite. We'll never get to the end of him. A pastor I know is fond of saying that the most common expression in Heaven will be, "Oh, I didn't know that!" That's the idea.
[Footnote 22: John 17:24.]
We fear that Heaven's perfection might put us in a straitjacket, that we won't be able to "be ourselves." In fact, Heaven is the only place where we can safely let our hair down. Very often, Lewis observes, when we suggest that we want to "be ourselves," we mean letting go of the demands of civility and kindness: "What often distinguishes domestic from public conversation is rudeness. What distinguishes domestic behaviour is often its selfishness, slovenliness, incivility--even brutality. And it will often happen that those who praise home life most loudly are the worst offenders.... The freedoms in which they indulge themselves at home have ended by making them unfit for civilized society." In our earthly lives, we must be vigilant even at home. So where can we be "comfortable and unguarded"? The answer is, "nowhere this side of Heaven."
[Footnote 23: C. S. Lewis, "The Sermon and the Lunch," in God in the Dock, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1970), III.3:286.]
Here is where perfection comes to our aid. Dante understands it supremely well in his Divine Comedy. Surprisingly, perhaps, the favorite part of this work for many, including myself, is not Paradiso (Heaven) but Purgatorio (Purgatory), even though I don't believe in Purgatory. In explaining why, we will see how it is possible to be "comfortable and unguarded" in Heaven. Dante's Purgatory is portrayed as a mountain with seven terraces, each representing one of the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth or laziness). As Lewis's great friend Charles Williams explains, each is a failure to love--either the right thing at the right time or in the right proportion. In Dante's Purgatory, each person willingly undergoes the discipline to correct the sin of each terrace until the sin is turned from a perversion of love to true love. Each pilgrim on the way to Heaven emerges from Mount Purgatory fully purged of sin and loving everything perfectly. Then, truly, each can be "comfortable and unguarded."
When we are in Heaven, like these pilgrims, we can act on every impulse because every impulse will be good and right. No need to second-guess or hold back or check our feelings. There will be no need to watch our backs or guard our emotions against hurt from others because they will all be perfected in love, too. That will be true freedom, and that is the right way to think of perfection.
Lewis captures both the exhilaration and trepidation implied in being made perfect. In the core of our beings we want this perfection; yet we sense how very far we have to go and fear the cost in pain, whether seen as Purgatory or sanctification of our earthly lives:
The command Be ye perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were "gods" and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him--for we can prevent Him, if we choose--He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.
[Footnote 24: C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1960), IV.9:174-175.]
Here is a further implication of perfection. In discussing miracles, Lewis classifies them into two large categories: miracles of the Old Creation and the New Creation. All biblical miracles are consistent with the character of Christ and consonant with his chosen way of doing things. Jesus refused to turn stones into bread, but he multiplied a boy's loaves and fishes, which he is always doing in nature. Fish produce more fish, corn produces seeds and more corn. These are miracles of the Old Creation, focusing on what God has done or is doing. Another example is Jesus' first miracle: of turning water into wine at Cana. This, too, is just a focused instance of what he does all the time, only on a larger scale and more slowly: making vines that turn soil and water into juice, giving it properties that allow for fermentation. Miracles of the New Creation are hints at what our glorious future will be like. They include walking on water, which illustrates first Jesus' power over nature, but also the control of spirit over matter--including such control over our own bodies--that will characterize the New Creation, Heaven. It may be worth repeating here Lewis's reminder that we will not be magicians asserting ourselves over others or over nature on egotistical whims. Our transformed character will be among the most exciting elements of the new order, and since every impulse will be a good one, what we do with nature or each other will be in every way beneficial. What a relief that will be. Does all this sound like a bore? Of course not; it sounds, well, just perfect.
[Footnote 25: C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1978), see the chapters "Miracles of the Old Creation" (15:132-142) and "Miracles of the New Creation" (16:143-163).]
MYTH #2: WHAT! NO SEX?
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
[Footnote 26: Psalm 16:11.]
[God] made the pleasures.
[Footnote 27: Lewis, Screwtape Letters, 9:44.]
My hunch is that a house church full of persecuted Chinese Christians meeting in secret would respond to the prospect of going to Heaven very differently from churchgoing Americans. I think we comfortable Americans don't much want to go to Heaven because we are afraid of losing something. We encounter this all the time in people who don't want to come to Christ for a new life because they are afraid of missing the old one. We ourselves are afraid to turn loose of the reins of our lives in the here and now, to give everything to God, to say to him, "anything, anyplace, anytime," because we don't know what he will do with us. We are afraid we won't like it, that it will be unpleasant and difficult--maybe even, God forbid, no fun. We have the same fear about Heaven.
There are lots of "no more's" in Heaven that we happily embrace: "no more tears," "no more sorrow," "no more death." But at least one of the "no more's" we might like to have been consulted about, namely, sex. Jesus said, speaking of saved people, that "in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven." I remember reading that and thinking, Poor angels--poor me! Or so I thought. As a teenager, I used to pray that Jesus would not come again until I had had my honeymoon. I didn't want to leave earth before enjoying God's great gift of sexuality. It was a mostly silly prayer, but it was nonetheless sincere, and I suspect that among those who grew up with Bible training, I was not alone.
[Footnote 28: Matthew 22:30.]
Why do we have this fear? It is because we think, perhaps subconsciously, that Heaven will mean deprivation. What, no sex? What will people do for fun? Isn't that implied in our thinking? Of course it is. But in truth, we will be uninterested in sexuality in Heaven not because it is "atrophied" but because it is "engulfed."
[Footnote 29: C. S. Lewis, Perelandra (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 3:32-33. Here Lewis's narrator says, "In Ransom's opinion the present functions and appetites of the body would disappear, not because they were atrophied but because they were, as he said, 'engulfed.'"]
To explain this phenomenon, Lewis uses the apt analogy of a small boy who loves chocolates. Upon being told that "the sexual act is the highest bodily pleasure," the boy immediately asks whether you [eat] chocolates at the same time. On receiving the answer "No," he might regard absence of chocolates as the chief characteristic of sexuality. In vain would you tell him that the reason why lovers in their carnal raptures don't bother about chocolates is that they have something better to think of. The boy knows chocolate: he does not know the positive thing that excludes it. We are in the same position.We know the sexual life; we do not know, except in glimpses, the other thing which, in Heaven, will leave no room for it. Hence where fulness [sic] awaits us we anticipate fasting.
[Footnote 30: Lewis, Miracles, 16:160.]
What really awaits us is a fulfillment of our sexuality that is as unimaginable to us as sexuality itself is to a child not yet through puberty. But is that prepubescent child asexual? No. The sexuality is there, shaping crucial aspects of personality and self. It is just not yet in full bloom. I believe that death will be a kind of spiritual puberty for us and that Heaven will fulfill desires we don't even know about yet, but which are very much there in potentia, working even now in our personalities and our sanctification.
To help us imagine new levels of intimacy, we will look briefly to recent developments in astrophysics. Lewis often says that time and space are God's creation. To get the hang of how our earthly lives may be connected to the spiritual world, he asks us to imagine being flatlanders living in two dimensions, trying to imagine a third and how it would be related to the other two. Modern physicists are imagining in just that way. If God could invent one dimension of time, why couldn't he invent another? Astrophysicist Hugh Ross suggests the staggering implications of another dimension of time for the closeness of relationships in Heaven. First, how he came to think of it. In solving the equations for the big bang, or earth being created ex nihilo (from nothing), scientists came to an impasse in trying to push the mathematical possibility back toward the moment of creation until someone introduced an extra dimension. Then came more. By introducing eleven dimensions of time and space, scientists can push back to within a split second of the creation event. One speculation is that if God has time and space dimensions, he has at least eleven.
[Footnote 31: Hugh Ross, Beyond the Cosmos: The Extra-Dimensionality of God (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1996), 31-32.]
Lewis believes that God is beyond time and space: They are his invention and do not contain him; rather, he contains them. But we will likely occupy both time and space in Heaven, and it is possible to think of ourselves as having more than three dimensions of space and more than one dimension of time. With just one more dimension of time, we would be able to spend an infinite amount of time with every person, all the time. Such intimacy we can't even have with just one person in our single dimension. The usefulness of this idea is mainly in stimulating our imaginations to think of Heaven as more than earth, not less: to see Heaven as adding to, not taking away. If there is no marrying in Heaven, it is because even our earthly best relationships are subsumed by Heaven's new relationships, with deeper intimacy unspoiled by sin. No sex? No problem. It is not that sex is taken away, but taken up into something even greater. Once again where we fear fasting, there is really feasting.
[Footnote 32: Lewis has many intriguing speculations on how we might experience time differently after this earthly life. His creative liberty with the time lapse between earth and Narnia is one.]
[Footnote 33: Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, 203.]
Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
[Footnote 34: Lewis, "The Weight of Glory," in "The Weight of Glory" and Other Addresses, 26.]
In The Four Loves, Lewis gives us another idea of how we might actually gain from the new arrangement that precludes marriage and sex with one person.
The event of falling in love is of such a nature that we are right to reject as intolerable the idea that it should be transitory. In one high bound it has overleaped the massive wall of our selfhood; it has made appetite itself altruistic, tossed personal happiness aside as a triviality and planted the interest of another in the centre of our being. Spontaneously and without effort we have fulfilled the law (towards one person) by loving our neighbour as ourselves. It is an image, a foretaste, of what we must become to all if Love Himself rules in us without a rival. It is even (well used) a preparation for that.
[Footnote 35: C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960), 5:158. Jeffrey Russell gives a similar view: "Heaven is the state of being in which all are united in love with one another and with God. It is an agape, a love feast.... Heaven is the community of those whom God loves and who love God. All retain their personal character, but woven together in perfect charity, so that in God's generous embrace each person among the millions whom God loves[,] loves each other person among the millions whom God loves. It is like a weaving in which each thread touches every other thread in a spark of loving light, so that the whole web shines like a field of stars." Jeffrey Burton Russell, A History of Heaven (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997), 5-6.]
Unbounded and uninhibited love sounds great. But a problem, perhaps more for males, is that many of us can't easily retain the notion of deepest intimacy without sex, and we can't universalize such intimacy without implying orgies. At this point we are hamstrung by our own fallenness. Here, as in all relationships and in salvation itself, we must abandon ourselves to faith. Not a blind leap, but a leap into the arms of the one who above all is trustworthy, who is the author of love, who is love himself. It may be that our adult sexuality awaits a heavenly spring when it will blossom into something as different as a flower from a bud, just as we are sexual creatures before puberty, and yet something happens at that blossoming unimaginable to the child. Even so, that something does not eliminate but engulfs and completes the earlier latent potential. "We must believe--and therefore in some degree imagine," Lewis insists, "that every negation will be only the reverse side of a fulfilling," and that our sensory life in Heaven will differ from our earthly experience "as a flower differs from a bulb or a cathedral from an architect's drawing."
[Footnote 36: Lewis, "Transposition," in "The Weight of Glory" and Other Addresses, 84.]
MYTH #3: BUT I HATE GHOSTS!
Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
[Footnote 37: Philippians 3:20-21.]
Ever wonder how our bodies would be resurrected when their physical makeup is scattered all over creation? What about those who drown at sea and become fish food, the fish later eaten by people? Or cremated bodies with ashes strewn from a mountaintop? Of course, it is virtually the same for all of us even in this life. Our bodies replace all their cells with new ones every three and one-half years. Even the "who" of who we are physically is not that large. If all the DNA of all the five billion plus people on earth were gathered into one place, it would only be the size of two five-grain aspirin tablets. But surely the thing underlying even the DNA is spirit. One definition of death, the right one, I think, is when the spirit leaves the body.
[Footnote 38 : Robert L. Sassone, The Tiniest Humans (Stafford, Va.: American Life League, 1995), viii; quoted in Joni Eareckson Tada, Heaven: Your Real Home (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995), 37.]
The relationship between spirit and body is one of the great unsolved puzzles of our existence. But, biblically, the superiority of spirit over matter no one can argue. God is spirit, and he created matter and energy. If the whole universe were to vanish as a dream, which it one day will, God would not be diminished and could build it all again, as he will--a new Heaven and a new earth. As a tiny but certain part of the project, he will, as promised, rebuild my body in a newer and far preferable model.
Still, in the back of my mind (and perhaps in yours), there is the haunting idea that I will be a ghost when I die--that is, something less substantial than my body. This notion we easily project onto Heaven, and the reason we easily see. In life all we can experience with our five senses is the body, and when the body dies, it returns to dust as the spirit leaves. We cannot see what leaves. Subconsciously, we associate this insubstantial spirit with images of the least substantial things we can see to try to grasp it with our imaginations. We imagine a vapor or a cloud ascending from the body like steam from a kettle. We imagine--we might as well come out with it--we imagine ghosts! We think of the spirit subconsciously as something less than the body because we can't see it. It's a perfectly logical--and perfectly foolish--idea. Lewis believes it a dangerous idea.
Confusion between Spirit and soul (or "ghost") has here done much harm. Ghosts must be pictured, if we are to picture them at all, as shadowy and tenuous, for ghosts are half-men, one element abstracted from a creature that ought to have flesh. But Spirit, if pictured at all, must be pictured in the very opposite way. Neither God nor even the gods are "shadowy" in traditional imagination: even the human dead, when glorified in Christ, cease to be "ghosts" and become "saints." The difference of atmosphere which even now surrounds the words "I saw a ghost" and the words "I saw a saint"--all the pallor and insubstantiality of the one, all the gold and blue of the other--contains more wisdom than whole libraries of "religion." If we must have a mental picture to symbolize Spirit, we should represent it as something heavier than matter.
[Footnote 39: Lewis, Miracles, 11:92.]
We are comfortable with the body because it is known in the way we know other elements of the material world. But we don't perceive the spirit with eye and ear, so it belongs with "the fear of the unknown." Lewis analyzes that fear in relation to biblical accounts of the Resurrection:
We expect them to tell of a risen life which is purely "spiritual" in the negative sense of that word: that is, we use the "spiritual" to mean not what is but what it is not. We mean a life without space, without history, without environment, with no sensuous elements in it. We also, in our heart of hearts, tend to slur over the risen manhood of Jesus, to conceive Him, after death, simply returning into Deity, so that the resurrection would be no more than the reversal or undoing of the Incarnation.
[Footnote 40: Ibid., 16:147.]
The sense of bifurcation between spirit and body and even our embarrassment at times about our physical selves is an evidence of our fallenness and one of the very ills that Heaven will remedy. "When Nature and Spirit are fully harmonised--when Spirit rides Nature so perfectly that the two together make rather a Centaur than a mounted knight," our healing will be complete.
[Footnote 41: Ibid., 16:161.]
What will our bodies be like? Joni Eareckson Tada in her book Heaven: Your Real Home suggests the difficulty of imagining it:
Trying to understand what our bodies will be like in heaven is much like expecting an acorn to understand his destiny of roots, bark, branches, and leaves. Or asking a caterpillar to appreciate flying. Or a peach pit to fathom being fragrant. Or a coconut to grasp what it means to sway in the ocean breeze. Our eternal bodies will be so grand, so glorious, that we can only catch a fleeting glimpse of the splendor to come.
[Footnote 42: Tada, Heaven: Your Real Home, 39.]
We find the best clue available in Jesus' resurrected body. On the one hand, Jesus appears suddenly in a room with locked doors and ultimately floats into Heaven. On the other, Jesus takes pains to calm this fear for his fol-lowers: He eats fish, breaks bread, converses in audible language that uses "normal" bodily functions. He was recognized by his disciples as the Jesus who had been with them over miles of dusty road. He was so substantial that he had to admonish Mary Magdalene to let go. Thomas was invited to touch his wounds. The resurrection body of Jesus, like the new body he promises to bestow on us, has amazing capabilities. It is not an issue of giving up the things about our present bodies we know and love and that God in Christ created good. It is more like getting a new model with expanded capabilities that we will assuredly like.
In Jesus' resurrection "a wholly new mode of being has arisen in the universe. The body, which lives in that new mode is like, and yet unlike, the body his friends knew before the execution. It is differently related to space and probably to time, but by no means cut off from all relation to them." Yet Jesus could go from place to place without passing physically (in our normal sense) through space--he appeared and disappeared at will. He entered rooms through walls and closed doors. With three more dimensions of space, he could do it: one substance passing through another substance without dislodging either. This helps, but it is a matter of following the logic of physics equations, not intuiting it in an imaginative leap. Lewis's reflections on space and time suggest that he would have been intrigued by such creative speculations, not as an article of faith, but as suggestions that help us feel or imagine that it might be done. Such a thing is not essential to belief, but it certainly plays a good supporting role.
[Footnote 43: Lewis, Miracles, 16:148.]
[Footnote 44: Ross, Beyond the Cosmos, 46-47.]
The imagination (not belief) is at an almost insurmountable disadvantage when it comes to spirit. To which of the five senses may we successfully appeal for aid? The advantage is all with the flesh. But like a judo fighter, Lewis uses the weight of this enemy against itself. The classic example is The Great Divorce, where Lewis gives ordinary solid earthly bodies to the "Solid People" from Heaven and portrays the folks arriving from Hell as ghosts whose feet cannot even bend the grass of Heaven. After walking in the Solid People's moccasins through several pages, our imagination does the work of throwing the ghost-fear to the mat. We see that Heaven is the real place, Hell the ghost town. Similarly, when Weston yields himself to demonic possession in Perelandra, a process that began long ago, "only a ghost was left--an everlasting unrest, a crumbling, a ruin, an odour of decay." The negative imagery of ghosts goes in the Hell column where it belongs.
[Footnote 45: Lewis, Perelandra, 10:130.]
In imagining Heaven, the job of the imagination is not to predict the details even of our new bodies, but to mull over enough possibilities that we are cured both of thinking too small and of thinking we know the unknowable. We can know that Heaven is the place where we grow into our true selves. In "Man or Rabbit?" using rabbit as a metaphor for our merely natural selves, Lewis describes the process of transformation as painful but worth it, even with the handfuls of fur and bleeding necessary to the change, but "we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful and drenched in joy."
[Footnote 46: Lewis, Miracles, 16:153.]
[Footnote 47: C. S. Lewis, "Man or Rabbit?" in God in the Dock, I.12:112. Compare with Eustace's un-dragoning in The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader," discussed in the Narnia section.]
One significance of Jesus' ascension into Heaven is that a body has to go someplace. He goes "to prepare a place for us," the Bible says. Lewis reminds us that "it is not the picture of an escape from any and every kind of Nature into some unconditioned and utterly transcendent life. It is the picture of a new human nature, and a new Nature in general, being brought into existence.... That is the picture--not of unmaking but of remaking. The old field of space, time, matter, and the senses is to be weeded, dug, and sown for a new crop. We may be tired of that old field: God is not." Lewis reminds us that every other major religion in the world sees the body as an irrelevance in the hereafter and that it is Christianity that has always affirmed the body. God declared his physical creation good and entered it in the person of Jesus that it might be completed and perfected through him.
[Footnote 48: Lewis, Miracles, 16:149.]
[Footnote 49: Ibid., 161.]
MYTH #4: I WON'T BE ME
I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
[Footnote 50: Philippians 1:6.]
And what else are we afraid of? We are afraid of giving up the self. It is true, of course, that we must die to self. It is Jesus himself who calls us to unconditional surrender. He insists on making us perfect. In the final analysis, he won't settle for anything else. But dying to self does not mean the death of selfhood. We become more ourselves in Christ. In fact, when we insist on making ourselves the center, the result is pathology. Self-consciousness is part of the Fall, as when Adam and Eve felt shame over their nakedness only after they had disobeyed God and chosen their own way. Isn't the "journey back to the habitual self" the very thing the poet Keats complained of? Isn't the romantic love of nature chiefly driven by a desire to forget the self and become absorbed into something greater and grander?
For our own health, we must learn to give ourselves away, but we do it in a way that we get back a healthier self, a fuller, richer, more differentiated self so that we have more and better to give away; then give that away, too. In so doing, we will not only enjoy earth more, but we will be preparing ourselves for the symbiosis of Heaven. It is the very pattern of behavior we find in the Godhead. As Lewis says in The Problem of Pain:
In self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being. For the Eternal Word also gives Himself in sacrifice; and that not only on Calvary. For when He was crucified He "did that in the wild weather of His outlying provinces which He had done at home in glory and gladness." He surrenders begotten Deity back to begetting Deity in obedience.... From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication, becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated, and so forever.... This is not a heavenly law which we can escape by remaining earthly, nor an earthly law which we can escape by being saved. What is outside the system of self-giving is not earth, nor nature, nor ordinary life, but simply and solely Hell. Yet even Hell derives from this law such reality as it has. That fierce imprisonment in the self is but the obverse of the self-giving which is absolute reality.
[Footnote 51: Lewis, Problem of Pain, 152-153.]
Heaven is a place where the self is realized, or else why did God make us different from each other? Our diversity enables us all to worship him in a unique way and teach others what we are uniquely gifted to see in him. Lewis says:
God ... makes each soul unique. If He had no use for all these differences, I do not see why He should have created more souls than one. Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you.... Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular swelling in the infinite contours of the divine substance, or a key to unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you.... Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another's. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction.... Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it.
[Footnote 52: Ibid., 147-148.]
Each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently? 
[Footnote 53: Ibid., 150.]
By contrast, Hell involves a loss of personal distinctiveness. Sin is ultimately the choosing of self over God. Damnation and Hell are receiving that choice of self over God forever. Hell is the drying up of human potential; Heaven is the fulfillment of human potential. Hell is the final inability to choose anything but the self: nothing other, neither God nor other creatures, nor the Heaven that is the created destiny of human beings. The fear of losing our selfhood is justified, but it belongs with our fear of Hell, not Heaven. We will see this played out amply in examining the philosophy of Hell.
In Perelandra Ransom has seen Weston yield to demon possession and has experienced his unrelenting assault even on his sanity, as when Weston plies him with unsleeping banalities, incessantly calling Ransom's name until Ransom asks, "What?" and is answered only with, "Nothing." In being anti-God, Weston has been consumed by the satanic self, which opposes all selfhood but his own. Ransom concludes: "There was, no doubt, a confusion of persons in damnation: what Pantheists falsely hoped of Heaven, bad men really received in Hell. They were melted down into their master, as a lead soldier slips down and loses his shape in the ladle held over the gas ring." By implication, Hell is not an arbitrary punishment. Hell, in Lewis's view, is to have as one's sentence not something imposed upon him according to some arbitrary rule, but what a person has chosen for himself. That is, "to live wholly in the self and to make the best of what he finds there. And what he finds there is Hell."
[Footnote 54: Lewis, Perelandra, 14:173.]
[Footnote 55: Lewis, Problem of Pain, 123.]
Nor is Heaven an arbitrary reward. It is the completion of what God has begun in us as his creatures. It is the thing for which we were ultimately made. Heaven is the place where we achieve ultimate, fully differentiated selfhood. Think of how different this concept is from the man-made heavens of pantheism or Buddhism in which we merge into some great cosmic, amoeba-like One. That's a hellish view of Heaven. Thoughts of self-annihilation ought to cause us fear. But it has no place in our thoughts about the Heaven in which we will "know as we are known" and say of an old friend, "Ah--he is himself at last." In his C. S. Lewis Encyclopedia entry on Heaven, Colin Duriez sums it up this way: "Heaven is founded upon the paradox that the more we abandon ourselves to Christ, the more fully ourselves we become. Thus, while redemption by Christ improves people in this present life, the consummation of human maturity is unimaginable. In heaven both the individuality and society of persons will be fulfilled, both diversity and harmony. Heaven is varied, hell monotonous. Heaven is brimful of meaning; hell is the absence of meaning. Heaven is reality itself, hell a ghost or shadow."
[Footnote 56: Lewis, Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, to Dom Bede Griffiths OSB (July 28, 1936), vol. 2, 202.]
[Footnote 57: Colin Duriez, The C. S. Lewis Encyclopedia (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2000), 88.]
MYTH #5: JUST A HARP AND CROWN TRIP
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
[Footnote 58: 1 Peter 1:3-5.]
Are you afraid that you'll have to take in Heaven those harp lessons your mother never made you take on earth? Or that some heavenly Emily Post will make you wear your crown whenever you go out? Will you actually be allowed to walk on golden streets with your shoes on? Ironically, a big source of the unappealing stereotypes we have of Heaven come from symbolic biblical descriptions. In our post-romantic fondness for the natural world, a path through a wood with a stream running by might be more appealing than streets of gold, especially if we have been conditioned to beware of materialism. The problem is not in the biblical imagery, though; it is in our inability to read symbolic language symbolically.
All attempts to express the inexpressible have the same inherent difficulty. If streets of gold are suggested, it is only to imply that the care in its design is lavish beyond imagination. Who uses gold as a paving material? If crowns are suggested, it is only to imply that we will be given tasks of exhilarating importance and fascination. Lewis quips:
There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of "Heaven" ridiculous by saying they do not want "to spend eternity playing harps." The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible.... People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.
[Footnote 59: Lewis, Mere Christianity, III.10:121.]
We are not always as "grown up" in our handling of biblical symbolism as we should be or want to be. Our imaginations are often too literal.
Lewis laments that the man on the street thinks of God having a Son in the same way a Greek god might, this son descending to earth from Heaven "like a parachutist," going to some underworld place, then ascending back to Heaven to take his place on an ornate throne next to his father. "The whole thing seems to imply a local and material Heaven--a palace in the stratosphere." The church has always had to battle against this kind of literalism and has condemned anthropomorphism from its earliest days. Our job is to "distinguish the core of belief from the attendant imagining." He is also clear that non-metaphorical language is impossible even for scientists.
[Footnote 60: Lewis, "'Horrid Red Things,'" in God in the Dock, I.6:68.]
[Footnote 61: Ibid., 69.]
Let's acknowledge at once that even the most imaginative of artists have their backs against the wall when it comes to depicting Heaven. On the literary side, we find that Dante, in The Divine Comedy, could give us fascinating portraits of Hell and Purgatory, which are often taught, but his rarely assigned treatment of Heaven resorts to highly complex symbolism and abstraction, concluding with a vision of God as spinning wheels within wheels that result more in vertigo than love and longing for God and our heavenly home. Similarly, John Milton imagined his way into literary "immortality" with Paradise Lost, with unforgettably tragic speeches from the Devil and scenes in Hell, but his Paradise Regained is a comparative flop. Lewis, in his Preface to "Paradise Lost," faults Milton as downright misleading in making Hell and its occupants so intriguing.
Lewis sympathizes with the difficulty and suggests why even the best falter at describing Heaven, when they score a success with Hell. Evil, he explains, is easy to imagine. All you have to do is let your mind go. Unchecked, it will wander naturally into that weedy terrain. This is what it means to be fallen or have a sin nature and to be in need of redemption. Similarly, we have done evil. On the other hand, to imagine unalloyed holiness is to attempt a projection of our minds into a place they have never been. It is no different for artists. We will ever, in this life, be at a disadvantage when trying to portray goodness. The Screwtape Letters is Lewis's own huge success in imagining his way into the diabolical mind. Lewis thought, ideally, that these letters should be answered by a balancing set of letters from an unfallen archangel's point of view, but he withered under the task of projecting himself into a holy mind and despaired at finding an answerable style.
[Footnote 62: Lewis, Screwtape Letters, Preface to 1961 edition, 10.]
The Bible writers, even those given a glimpse into Heaven, had the same disadvantage of relating something outside human experience. So overpowering is unveiled holiness, goodness, and glory that mortals must be shielded from it or die. Moses wished to see God's face, but had to be sheltered by a rock and covered by God's own hand, seeing only his back. Other biblical visionaries have a similar reaction at seeing Heaven, proclaiming with Isaiah their unworthiness and falling down, like John, as though dead. "So," concludes Kenneth Kantzer, "the Bible accommodates itself to our insensitivity. Heaven is portrayed as essentially unlike earth--no sorrow, no sighing, no tears, no pain, no sin. Most of what we know about heaven from the Bible is the listing of things we do not like on earth."
[Footnote 63: Kenneth Kantzer, "Afraid of Heaven," Christianity Today 35, no. 6 (May 27, 1991): 38.]
We know from biblical witnesses allowed to see Heaven 1) that it is a real place, and 2) that it is a stretch describing it in human language. Paul was caught up into the third heaven but not permitted to tell what he saw. Peter, James, and John got a taste of it on the Mount of Transfiguration. Stephen gave witness to Heaven opening up and seeing God as he was leaving this life as the first Christian martyr. In the Old Testament, Moses glimpsed God and came off the mountain with a glowing countenance himself. Elisha's eyes were opened to see an army of angels in flaming chariots arrayed around him. The two fullest visions are also the most perplexing. The first is Ezekiel's in the Old Testament. The opening describes a storm with constant flashes of light and "four living creatures" in the midst of the storm, shining like polished bronze. They were like humans and not like humans with four faces, four wings with hands beneath, and feet like a calf's. It sounds a little like something I saw in The Lord of the Rings that put me on the edge of my seat. That was Ezekiel's reaction, too: "I fell on my face," and "I sat there overwhelmed among them seven days."
[Footnote 64: Ezekiel 1--3:15.]
John's vision in Revelation 21 and 22 is similar in its otherworldliness, featuring rainbow thrones, gates of pearl, streets of gold, a 1,400-mile cube, and walls of jasper 200 feet thick. Joni Eareckson Tada says, tongue in cheek, it sounds like Minnesota's Mall of America. It seems the ultimate in city planning, but as post-romantics, we have largely lost our taste for city scenes, preferring the pastoral countryside. I'm tempted to say, "Couldn't I just go dirt-biking for a couple hundred years?"
I don't think we have to worry about missing nature because we will have it still. In Genesis nature is cursed. In Revelation the curse is removed. What would be the point of removing a curse from something that was to be simply destroyed? No, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Here heaven and earth mean nature--the whole creation made to order by God for his human creation. Nature will become what it was always meant to be, just as our redeemed and glorified selves will be what they were always meant to be. Lewis says of nature, "She will be cured, but cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilised. We shall still be able to recognize our old enemy, friend, play-fellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting." "God never undoes anything but evil, never does good to undo it again. The union between God and Nature in the Person of Christ admits no divorce. He will not go out of Nature again and she must be glorified in all ways which this miraculous union demands."
[Footnote 65: Lewis, Miracles, 9:67.]
[Footnote 66: Ibid., 14:123.]
Clarence Dye says about Lewis's handling of this issue that he "did not so much invent new images of heaven, as interpret to the modern mind the images already given in the New Testament." Lewis's rejoinder on reading symbolic language catches me up short: "Heaven is, by definition, outside our experience, but all intelligible descriptions must be of things within our experience. The scriptural picture of heaven is therefore just as symbolical as the picture which our desire, unaided, invents for itself; heaven is not really full of jewellery [sic] any more than it is really the beauty of Nature, or a fine piece of music." Lewis finds the appeal of such imagery small himself, but he encourages us to pursue the biblical imagery as authoritative and ultimately the most valuable.
[Footnote 67: Clarence F. Dye, "The Evolving Eschaton in C. S. Lewis," Ph.D. diss. (New York: Fordham University, 1973), 236.]
[Footnote 68: Lewis, "The Weight of Glory," in "The Weight of Glory" and Other Addresses, 30-31.]
For example, the cubic design of the New Jerusalem (1,400 miles long, high, and wide) is meant to remind us of the Old Testament Holy of Holies, which was twenty cubits in all three dimensions. It was the place of God's presence. In the New Jerusalem, the whole city is a temple because God is everywhere present in it. Streets of gold suggest that what many have died for on earth is so paltry in Heaven that we tread it beneath our feet. Gates of pearl, single pearls large enough to make a gate for a wall 200 feet thick, are meant to boggle our minds. It sets Anne Graham Lotz to musing on what size oyster and how much suffering. The New Testament mentions many kinds of crowns--crowns of life, rejoicing, glory, righteousness, incorruptibility. Joni Tada puts the fun and freshness back in by calling them "God's party favors." Any way we take it, we are in for a stretch, as the Bible warns: "No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him." But in the end would we want a Heaven suitably described in ordinary legal language? We can trust the God who made the glories of this temporary earth to multiply the wonders of our permanent home and multiply our capacity to enjoy it and him forever.
[Footnote 69: Anne Graham Lotz, Heaven: My Father's House (Nashville: W Publishing Group, Thomas Nelson, 2001), 85.]
[Footnote 70: 1 Corinthians 2:9.]
MYTH #6: HEAVEN IS ESCAPIST THINKING
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
[Footnote 71: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.]
Isn't Heaven just "pie in the sky," a bribe to make us good, a crutch for people who can't otherwise cope with the harsh reality of cold facts, an escapist's dream? In answering a related question about whether a good life can be lived without Christianity, Lewis shifts the ground to a more foundational question: Is Christianity true? If false, we will not want to promote it whether it helps or not; rather, we should squash it as a pernicious lie. But if true, we should embrace it even if the consequence makes life uncomfortable. Belief always determines action; so it stands to reason that our view on the question will make a difference.
A Christian believes that while God created the universe and all in it, the universe's days are numbered, but the human creation will live forever. Further, human happiness, both here and through eternity, depends on "being united with God," so that anything else is secondary. The materialist, on the other hand, believes that humanity emerged by blind chance and that the seventy or so years of life on earth must be made as happy as possible by social planning and good political policy. In its idealist forms, materialism generates utopias: versions of Heaven on earth. Lewis argues in the essay "Man or Rabbit?" that Christianity will make us good, but it will change the definition of good. The first thing we discover is that we can't be moral on our own, "not for twenty-four hours." We are flawed at the core so that the very standard we use for judging others will condemn us as well. We don't need more moral teachers but a new heart, a new set of inner motivations. The second thing we learn is that "mere morality is not the end of life.... The people who keep on asking if they can't lead a decent life without Christ, don't know what life is about." Rather, our purpose, in the words of the catechism, is to "know God and enjoy him forever." To be united to God is, at last, to be in Heaven. To love him is to take on his character, which is the very ground of morality. Until we are rid of sin, that is until nothing impedes our love for God and others, we will need a crutch. Better for the wounded to hobble home than wait for the enemy to overrun them.
[Footnote 72: Lewis, "Man or Rabbit?," in God in the Dock, I.6:108-109.]
[Footnote 73: Ibid., 112.]
In presenting the challenge of Christ's truth claims, Lewis poses his famous trilemma in Mere Christianity. You can't take Jesus simply as a great moral teacher and leave it at that. He claimed to forgive sins, to be the power behind creation, in fact to be God. Someone making those claims has left us only three options: He is liar, lunatic, or Lord. If he is a liar, he is evil beyond description. If self-deceived, he is on the level of a man who thinks he's a "poached egg." If speaking truth, as one of Flannery O'Connor's characters says, "It's nothing left for you to do but throw away everything and follow him." In other words, he is worthy of worship, so worthy that becoming his sons and daughters should be the only ultimate goal of our lives. "For from him and through him and to him are all things," as the apostle says.
[Footnote 74: Lewis, Mere Christianity, II.3:56.]
[Footnote 75: Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," Heath Introduction to Fiction (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000), 651-663.]
[Footnote 76: Romans 11:36.]
Regarding Heaven as a bribe, we have seen already Lewis putting morality in its place and insisting on truth and belief as an end and not a means. This is a good place to remember that Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." If Heaven is real, it might still be possible to try to take it as a bribe for good behavior. Lewis solidly takes the biblical view that no one can be good enough to earn Heaven: "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" and "the wages of sin is death." It is impossible to take Heaven as a bribe because it comes exclusively as God's gift or not at all. Lewis explains in "The Weight of Glory" that marrying a person for money or fighting as a hired gun are mercenary, but marrying for love and winning a victory to protect the homeland are the activities in consummation. They are their own rewards. Do we have to worry that taunts about "pie in the sky" are true or that we are merely mercenary and self-serving in desiring Heaven? Though we can be self-serving (and Lewis warns against this danger), we have the assurance that all desires have their proper satisfactions and that both the yearnings and fillings are of God. The question is whether we want God as a means or an end.
[Footnote 77: John 14:6.]
[Footnote 78: Romans 3:23; 6:23.]
We are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.
[Footnote 79: Lewis, Problem of Pain, 145.]
Since Heaven is union with the divine nature (God), and Hell is separation from it, Lewis thought it a corruption of doctrine to think much of our eternal destiny "apart from the presence or absence of God." Lewis sees the doctrine of Heaven and Hell as "corollaries to a faith already centred upon God." Further, apart from Heaven as "union with God" and Hell as "separation from Him, the belief in either is a mischievous superstition; for then we have, on the one hand, a merely 'compensatory' belief (a 'sequel' to life's sad story, in which everything will 'come all right') and, on the other, a nightmare which drives men into asylums or makes them persecutors."  Lewis believed in God for "a whole year" before he had "any belief in the future life," a year of "very great value." In my own case, no less legitimate, I came fleeing the thing I feared. Lewis came more nobly, if more rarely, from the dogged pursuit of truth and the constraints of logic. Heaven, unity with God in Christ (not mansions for their own sake), was simply the answer to his heart's desire and satisfied his mind and soul.
[Footnote 80: C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1955), 232.]
[Footnote 81: C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1958), 41.]
[Footnote 82: Ibid., 42.]
As Lewis puts it in "The Weight of Glory": "Those who have attained everlasting life in the vision of God doubtless know very well that it is no mere bribe, but the very consummation of their earthly discipleship; but we who have not yet attained it cannot know this in the same way, and cannot even begin to know it at all except by continuing to obey and finding the first reward of our obedience in our increasing power to desire the ultimate reward." The triune God is "the ultimate Fact" and "fountain of all other facthood." All places, even Heaven itself, exist "in Him," so that being united with "the Divine Life in the eternal Sonship of Christ, is strictly speaking, the only thing worth a moment's consideration." If Heaven is the ultimate and permanent reality and this the shadowlands, then worldliness is escapism.
[Footnote 83: Lewis, "The Weight of Glory," in "The Weight of Glory" and Other Addresses, 27.]
[Footnote 84: Lewis, Miracles, 16:155.]
MYTH #7: HEAVENLY MINDED, BUT NO
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
[Footnote 85: Matthew 6:33.]
We've all heard it: "Too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good." It is patently false. In a sense, this statement could only be made by a nonbeliever because if it were true, which would a wise person choose: to be earthly minded and think our three score and ten worth our utmost energy or to be heavenly minded and build for time out of mind in paradise? This cliché gives Heaven a bad rap amongst earthlings. For example, in his recent book on religion and culture in America, Alan Wolfe is "offended" by the central Christian teaching that we are "resident aliens": that is, we are sojourners on earth with our true home in Heaven. Wolfe, a self-described secularist, wants Americans to be "full citizens." It is true that Christianity has a historical strand of separatism. Instead of following Jesus' teaching to be "in the world but not of it," many Christians, in trying not to be "of the world," have had nothing to do with it. When this has happened, it has not had the desired effect of making us pure; rather, it has made us legalistically self-righteous and evangelistically impotent.
[Footnote 86 : Michael Cromartie, "'Salvation Inflation': A Conversation with Alan Wolfe," Books & Culture 10, no. 2 (March/April 2004): 18-19.]
The tension between living in the "City of Man" while journeying toward the "City of God" is as old as Abraham and is a major theme throughout the Bible and in writers as historically and theologically spread out as Augustine, Luther, and Richard Niebuhr. As these writers affirm, nothing could be further from the truth than the notion that a person focused on Heaven has his head in the clouds and does nothing of practical value. If you are thinking of the heavenly streets of gold, so this line of thinking goes, you are likely to hit the potholes in the streets of Chicago. But history shows that the people most interested in the streets of gold are most likely to do something about the ones made of concrete and asphalt. Lewis points out, though he was not the first or last to do so, that it is precisely those who have the strongest belief in Heaven who have done the most earthly good. And this is quite apart from the fact that the best possible use of earthly time is to prepare for heavenly eternity. In Mere Christianity, Lewis says,
[Footnote 87: See, for example, St. Augustine, The City of God (London: Penguin, 1984); Martin Luther, "The Freedom of a Christian," in Luther's Works, Vol. 31; Career of the Reformer, ed. Harold J. Grimm (Philadelphia, Pa.: Muhlenberg Press, 1957), 327-377; and H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (New York: Harper and Row, 1951).]
Hope ... means ... a continual looking forward to the eternal.... It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.... It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth "thrown in": aim at earth and you will get neither.
[Footnote 88: Lewis, Mere Christianity, III.10:118.]
What contributions to earthly good have the heavenly minded made? In an essay entitled "Some Thoughts," Lewis tells us that Christianity is responsible for:
[preserving] such secular civilization as survived the fall of the Roman Empire; ... to it Europe owes the salvation, in those perilous ages, of civilized agriculture, architecture, laws, and literacy itself.... This religion has always been healing the sick and caring for the poor; ... it has, more than any other, blessed marriage; ... arts and philosophy tend to flourish in its neighbourhood.
[Footnote 89: Lewis, "Some Thoughts," God in the Dock, 147.]
There are many reasons for this benevolence by Christians, but chief among them is the belief that God is the creator of all, and creation deserves respect because it is his. The human part of that creation, as something in his own image and something destined to live forever, demands our special regard. "Because we know the natural level also is God's creation we cannot cease to fight against the death which mars it, as against all those other blemishes upon it, against pain and poverty, barbarism and ignorance. Because we love something else more than this world we love even this world better than those who know no other." Lewis rightly and often proclaims the truth that loving God first and most enables us to love everything and everyone more, an idea we will see more of later.
[Footnote 90: Ibid., 150.]
George Weigel elaborates the reason for Christian charitable achievement: "History is not simply the by-product of the contest for power in the world--although power certainly plays an important role in it. And neither is history the exhaust fumes produced by the means of production. Rather, history is driven, over the long haul, by culture--by what men and women honor, cherish, and worship; by what societies deem to be true and good, and by the expressions they give to those convictions in language, literature, and the arts; by what individuals and societies are willing to stake their lives on." This "Christian way of thinking," Weigel suggests, can be traced back to Augustine's The City of God. In fact, this thinking is biblical. Jesus, after all, commanded that we "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's": Among other things, pay taxes.
[Footnote 91: George Weigel, "Europe's Problem--and Ours," First Things 140 (February 2004): 5.]
[Footnote 92: Mark 12:13-17.]
Citing Henri de Lubac, Weigel gives the corollary: "It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organize the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only organize it against man." And, Weigel states, "that is what the tyrannies of the twentieth century had proven--that ultra mundane humanism is inevitably inhuman humanism."  This will immediately put readers of Lewis in mind of his Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength, where he argues and illustrates the destructive consequences of stepping outside God-given morality in human affairs. The result, for twentieth-century Europe, was what Solzhenitsyn calls a "'rage of self-mutilation': multiple totalitarian regimes, the Great Depression, two world wars, and a Cold War in which Europe cannibalized itself."
[Footnote 93: Weigel, "Europe's Problem," 7-8.]
[Footnote 94: Ibid., 8.]
In a statement with parallels in Lewis, historian Christopher Dawson concludes that "the modern dilemma is essentially a spiritual one, and every one of its main aspects, moral, political, and scientific, brings us back to the need of a spiritual solution." Lewis concurs: "Christianity really does two things about conditions here and now in this world: (1) It tries to make them as good as possible, i.e., to reform them; but also (2) It fortifies you against them in so far as they remain bad." Any society that wants to thrive in art, culture, science, and humanitarian services, and any government that knows history and wants to serve its people will make a welcome home for the "heavenly minded."
[Footnote 95: Ibid., 11.]
[Footnote 96: Lewis, "Answers to Christianity," God in the Dock, I.4:49.]