Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Last Things: Heaven and Hell

Notes on Heaven

How does the Church define heaven and everlasting life? "By heaven, we mean eternal life in our enjoyment of God." "By everlasting life, we mean a new existence, in which we are united with all the people of God, in the joy of fully knowing and loving God and each other." Book of Common Prayer, p 862

What is the experience we call the beatific vision in heaven? At death, the souls of all the saints—already before they take up their bodies again and before the general judgment—have been, are and will be in heaven, in the heavenly Kingdom and celestial paradise with Christ, joined to the company of the holy angels. Since the Passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, these souls have seen and do see the divine essence with an intuitive vision, and even face to face, without the mediation of any creature. This perfect life with the Most Holy Trinity—this communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed—is called “heaven.” Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness. Heaven far surpasses our greatest expectations and needs for happiness and fulfillment. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” 1 Corinthians 2:9 Heaven is a state of happiness, first because of the enjoyment of communion with God, and second because of the knowledge, love, and enjoyment of creature. As with this life, the depth of beatitude in eternal life depends on the measure of grace utilized by the soul.

Heaven is described as the consummation of the marital union of Jesus and his Bride, the Church. “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready . . . And the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ . . . And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Revelation 19:7, 9; 21:2

Heaven is described as a beautiful city, perfect in all its attributes, on a high mountain. “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed. . . . And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day--and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.” Revelation 21: 9-12, 22-26

Heaven also describes the eternal dwelling of the righteous—both body and soul—with God. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea
was no more.”
Revelation 21:1 “I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” 1 Corinthians 15:50-53

Heaven on earth is the ultimate realization of the Kingdom of God.
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever
and ever.”
Revelation 11:15

Notes on Hell

How does the Church define damnation? "By hell, we mean eternal death in our rejection of God." Book of Common Prayer, p 862

Hell was created for the fallen angels, but ends up being used for lost souls as well. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’.” Matthew 25:41

Hell, along with heaven, is one of the consequences of the choices we make in life. The affirmations of Sacred Scripture and the teachings of the Church on the subject of hell are a call to the responsibility incumbent upon man to make use of his freedom in view of his eternal destiny. They are at the same time an urgent call to conversion: “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:13-14 God predestines no one to go to hell; for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.

Hell is described (or portions of hell?) with several terms:
1. The “Abyss” or “Bottomless Pit” (see Revelation 9:1-5; 20:1-3).
2. "Tartarus" or a bondage of chains is a place of confinement for fallen angels (see 2 Peter 2:4)
3. "Sheol" (in Hebrew) or "Hades" (in Greek) is the abode of the dead, where sinners await resurrection and judgment (see Luke 16:23; Revelation 1:18; 20:13-14)
4. "Gehenna," the burning trash heap outside Jerusalem was the word most often used in the New Testament for hell. It is the “lake of fire and brimstone” in Revelation, which is the final abode of the damned and consumes death and the abode of the dead after the general resurrection (see Revelation 20:14).

In the Revelation of John, the “second death” refers to the experience of the souls in hell who are forever separated from the principle of supernatural life. “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:14 “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:8

What do we know about hell?
1. Hell is a place of memory and awareness, as seen in the story of Lazarus and the rich man (see Luke 16:19-31).
2. Hell is a place of raging thirst. The rich man called out
“Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Luke 16:24
3. Hell is a place of torment. The rich man says,
“for I am in agony in this flame” and “this place of torment.” Luke 16:24, 28
4. Hell is a place of eternal fire.
“Hell, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Mark 9:48
5. Hell is a place of outer darkness and deep frustration. “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:41-42
6. Hell is a place of eternal separation from God.
“They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” 2 Thessalonians 1:9
7. Hell is a place from which there is no escape.
“Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” Luke 16:26

Who goes to hell? “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:15

1 comment:

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

The joke is that the Bible only describes the geography of heaven (like mountains and streets of gold) and only describes the meteorology of hell (i.e., how hot it is).