It could be argued that for people of faith, nothing is more important than heaven. It’s the goal we’re aiming for, and a primary motivation for living a good life. Granting us access to heaven, through the forgiveness of sins, is the reason Christ died on the cross for us.
It constantly amazes me, then, that the images we have of heaven all seem so shallow and boring. From advertisements showing white-robed angels plucking harps amidst clouds, to caricatures of St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, the popular images of heaven seem completely inadequate. Every time I see TV commercials depicting heaven, I’m left thinking, “Christ died to get us this?”
The problem is that– like so much of theological discourse– our language about heaven is completely inadequate to capture the reality of heaven. Images of hell, on the other hand, are comprehensible, because we’ve all experienced pain and suffering. But the complete fulfillment that awaits us in heaven is harder to describe without using analogical language that always falls short.
Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church doesn’t present a particularly inspiring vision of heaven. It describes the “communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels, and all the blessed…the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness.” That’s heaven.
The truth is, such perfection is so far removed from our experience that it’s hard to imagine, let alone comprehend. We need some new ways of talking about heaven that will inspire us. Perhaps the first step is moving away from images of halos, harps, and clouds, and toward the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached, where our earthly expectations are overturned, and God’s justice and mercy are complete, and we are restored to wholeness and peace.