The heavens are the sky, the celestial sphere, or outer space. Indeed, sky is the original meaning of the word Heaven.
Heaven is an afterlife concept found in many world religions or spiritual philosophies.
Those who believe in heaven generally hold that it (or Hell) is the final afterlife destination of many or all humans. In unusual instances, humans have had, according to the claims of many testimonies and traditions, personal knowledge of Heaven. They presume this is for the purpose of teaching the rest of humanity about life, Heaven, and God.
Conceptions of Heaven
While there are abundant and varied sources for conceptions of Heaven, of varying degrees of credibility, the typical believer's view appears to depend largely on his particular religious tradition. Various religions have described Heaven as being populated by angels, demons, gods and goddesses, and/or heroes. Heaven is generally construed as a place of eternal happiness. The relationship between this concept and the celestial sphere is generally believed to have been first proposed by the ancient astronomer-priests (see also: astrologer).
In Eastern religions (and some Western traditions), with their emphasis on reincarnation, the concept of Heaven is not as prominent. But it still is present: for example, in Buddhism there are several heavens, and those who accumulate good karma will be reborn in a heaven; however their stay in the heaven is not eternal — eventually they will use up their good karma and be reincarnated in another realm, for example as demi-god, human, animal, hungry ghost or even hell-being . In Hindu belief, likewise, heaven is called Swarga loka is seen as transitory place for souls who did good deeds but whose actions are not enough for moksha or absolute bliss with God.
Location of Heaven
The idea as to whether or not Heaven is a physical place has been in existence since the dawn of religion and human civilization. In the early religions (such as the Egyptian faith), Heaven was a physical place far above the Earth in a "dark area" of space where there were no stars. Departed souls would undergo a literal journey to reach Heaven, along the way to which there could exist hazards and other entities attempting to deny the reaching of Heaven.
The medieval Christian view of Heaven was that it existed as a physical place above the clouds and that God and the Angels were physically above, watching over Man. With the dawn of the Age of Reason, science began to challenge this notion, however Heaven as a physical place survived in the concept that it was located far out into space, and that the stars were "lights shining through from heaven". The work of Dante clearly identifies that Heaven was a physical place, existing in a sphere around the Earth, the Sun, and the Stars.
In science fiction, several films and literature sources have suggested that, through advanced technology, Heaven can be reached by the living through conventional means. Such was the case in the Disney film The Black Hole, in which a manned spacecraft found both Heaven and Hell located at the bottom of a Black Hole.
In today’s modern society of science and space flight, most people assume that Heaven is not a physical place in the universe nor can it be reached by conventional travel. Religious views, however, still hold Heaven as having a dual status as a concept of mind but also possibly still a physical place existing on another "plane of existence". To date, however, there is no scientific evidence for the existence of such a dimension, an area of the universe, or alternate reality where Heaven physically exists. Regardless, however, in the minds of the faithful the existence of Heaven is definite.
Getting into Heaven
Religions which have a heaven differ on how one gets into it. Some (i.e., followers of universalism) provide that everyone will go to Heaven, no matter what they have done on earth. In others, entrance to Heaven is conditional on having lived a "good life" (within the terms of the spiritual system): those who do not meet the criteria go to a place of punishment, hell.
Historically, Christianity has been divided over how people gain entry into Heaven. From the 16th to the late 19th century, Christendom was divided between the Catholic and Orthodox views on the one hand, and the Protestant views on the other.
In the Catholic and Orthodox faith, entry into Heaven depends upon the Christian receiving God's grace through the activities of the church. This would include Baptism, the Eucharist and Confession. Even though Heaven was promised to these Christians, some, especially Roman Catholics, believed that entering Purgatory after death would help cleanse their sins and make them acceptable to entering Heaven. Many within the Anglican Church also hold to this belief, despite their Protestant history.
In the Protestant faith, entry into Heaven depends upon the Christian placing their faith in Jesus. Protestant theology holds strongly that when Jesus died on the cross, he took upon himself the punishment for the world's sins. Therefore, any person who has faith in Christ and asks for his forgiveness will automatically be granted forgiveness for their sins and has the promise of going to Heaven.
Within the Protestant faith there are two further strands of thought. The first is called Calvinism (after the Protestant Reformer John Calvin) which argues that entry into Heaven has already been predetermined by God - that all those who are Christians have in fact been chosen from the beginning of time to be saved. Faith in Christ is still essential, but the reason why a Christian has faith is because God has chosen them beforehand. The second is called Arminianism (after Jacob Arminius, a theologian who disputed with Calvin's beliefs) whereby predeterminism is denied. In this case, a person can choose to have faith in Christ out of their free will and not be compelled to by divine power. A detailed examination of the differences between these two protestant strands of thought are examined in their respective articles.
While this division still exists within the Protestant church, since the early 20th century many Protestant churches have adopted a Universalist approach which claims that all people will one day enjoy Heaven, regardless of their religious beliefs.
Even within religious, such as Catholism and Protestantism, which dictate faith in Christ and receipt of the sacriments as a prerequiste for Heaven, there still exists in some opinions a "human factor" which prevents the blatantly evil from entering Heaven even if they are a practicing member of a faith. A prime example of this would be in the culture of the American Mafia, in which known mobsters and killers may be seen attending church on a daily basis and professing a belief in Christ. However, since such people choose to ignore the majority of the Church's teachings and engage in evil acts, there are those who believe that such persons will be denied entry into Heaven based on evil acts committed in this world. It is not enough to simply belong to a faith and verbally express a belief in Christ, but one must also live by His teachings and live a good and decent life.
Heaven in Christianity
Heaven is an especially interesting doctrine in Christian thought, which has the resurrection of the body dominating the concept of afterlife. While the intermediate state (between death and the resurrection) is unclear, the final state of believers is in an incorruptible, resurrected body, living in the "New Jerusalem" in the "New Earth." The person was never meant to be disembodied. Death is an enemy, not a friend who frees the soul. The Greek "hê basileia tous ouranous", usually translated as "the Kingdom of Heaven", is indeed more literally "the rule of the skies", with "the skies" a codeword for God. Thus it describes a state, not a place.
The present Roman Catholic teaching regarding Heaven is found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "Those who die in God's grace and friendship and are perfectly purified live forever... This perfect life with [God]....is called heaven. [It] is the ultimate end and fulfilment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness." Pope John Paul II has said (see link below), "[Heaven] is neither an abstraction nor a physical place in the clouds, but a living, personal relationship with [God]."
The Eastern Orthodox teaching is that Heaven and Hell are the same "place"—the "New Jerusalem" and "New Earth", but the individual's perception of the place will determine whether or not one experiences it as Paradise or agony. This perception will be determined by one's relationship to God.
Jehovah's Witnesses reject the idea of heaven as the final hope and home for humanity; in their view only a few people including the Apostles (John 14:1-3; Rev. 5:9,10; 14:1-5) will go to Heaven to rule the remainder of good people (including David and John the Baptist), who will inherit the Earth to live forever (Matt. 5:5; Acts 2:34; Rev. 21:3-5).
Heaven in Judaism
While the concept of heaven (malkuth shamaim - Kingdom of Heaven) is well-defined within the Christian and Islamic religions, the Jewish concept of the afterlife, sometimes known as "olam haba", the world to come, was never set forth in a systematic or official fashion as was done in Christianity and Islam.
Heaven in Direct Worship
The religion of Direct Worship states that mankind were originally created to reside in heaven, but that this blissful state was lost and as a result mankind has come to reside on earth.
- July 21, 1999 statement of Pope John Paul II concerning the topic of Heaven. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/audiences/1999/documents/hf_jp-ii
- The Near-Death Experience and Heaven http://www.near-death.com/experiences/research18.html
- Famous Quotes on Heaven http://www.yourquotations.net/Heaven.html
- Sky - versus Heaven http://www.religiousbook.net/Books/Online_books/Jt/Jesus_Teaching_5.html
Heaven is also 2002 motion picture.
Last updated: 02-07-2005 07:19:22
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01