Lydia McGrew has posted a great-hearted and generous essay on Heaven, The Glorious Liberty of the Children of God, which I heartily encourage you to read. The following started out as a short comment thereto, but became too long, and thus too presumptuous to post as such on someone else’s site. So, I inflict it on you! Thanks, then, to Lydia. I loved that post. Some reactions, beginning with a quote:
We don’t know what [a new Earth] will be like. Will there be germs, while we are simply resistant to them? If there are dogs, cats, and horses, will they have puppies, kittens, and foals, and how will the animal population problem work if they do? Where will our food come from, and how will we acquire it without the “sweat of our brow”? Bugs certainly have their place in the present ecosystem, but a new earth containing ticks, mosquitoes, and chiggers sounds a bit problematic, so how is that going to work? We have no idea of the answer to any of these questions.
The key here seems to me to be that Heaven – or, what is to say more or less the same thing, our own world as properly ordered – is not subject to entropy. This it seems to me is what must be signified by an end to death, sorrow, weeping, and so forth. In the Garden, the food will just be there, and no one will have to work for it. Panthers won’t need to hunt and kill, and chiggers won’t need to bite. In a limitlessly fecund world, there can’t be a problem of overpopulation.
Paul even hints that in some sense the redemption and recreation of the whole world is bound up with us.
Yes. And vice versa. You can’t redeem a part of the world, which is integral thereto, without redeeming the whole shooting match.
… it now seems to me that verse 32 [of Romans 8] is about the redemption of the body and of the creation. God will with Jesus Christ give us all things–new bodies that never grow old or ill, freedom from pain and death, the end of sorrow, and the beauty we have loved in this world, translated into a new key.
In fact, perhaps the distinction between spiritual riches and recreated earthly riches is a little artificial, and perhaps we would see it to be wholly artificial if we were sufficiently spiritually insightful. Paul can be read here as teaching a kind of mystical spiritual truth–that the redemption of our souls and the redemption of our bodies and the redemption of the world are all bound up together at the root.
Yes. What would you be without your body? What would you and your body be without your past – without the past of the whole world, of which you and your body are processes? To get Lydia, properly so-called, you need to get Lydia’s world in the bargain. And vice versa. Lydia is an indispensable aspect of this world in which we all find ourselves. So if Lydia is going to get into Heaven, her world is going to have to get in with her. And vice versa.
Perhaps it’s a kind of spiritual mathematical equation: If we understood everything, we would understand why the whole of Nature was skewed and damaged by the Fall of Satan and the Fall of Man. Then we would also understand why it simply follows that when the Church Triumphant is gathered together in the presence of our Lord, when this present human history of mingled sorrow, misery, beauty, and grandeur comes to an end, when the glorification of human nature is completed, creation itself will “come right” and be recreated, so that what comes after is the best of all, though we can glimpse it now only through a glass darkly.
Yes! Things either cohere in such a way as to form an integral world, or they are as nothing to each other – not a world at all, and therefore nothing at all (for, creatures cannot be at all except as related to some other). So, you can’t completely repair any part of the world without fixing every bit of it. That’s why love is so important. The less defective we are, the more we love, and the more we love, the less defective we are. And, the more we love and the less defective we are, the less defective and the more coherent is the world. Coherence is effected by coinherence.
These considerations all lend a certain weight to Origen’s heterodox – and yet, not quite heretical – notion of apokatastasis: that, if only due to Omnipotence, the salvation of the world must involve the eventual salvation of all beings, including even Satan. What contingent creaturely error, after all, could stand forever against eternal Truth, and never ever discover and embrace its own correction, as the opening to an everlasting career of sublime joy? The notion seems a bit crazy.
Say for example that, God forbid, one of your children or mine fell into permanent and unrepentant and mortal sin, so that she never made it into Heaven, but was doomed to everlasting Hellfire or to the second death, and thus forever lost to us. How could Heaven then be ever quite completely good for us, who had managed to avoid that abyss? How then could the tears be ever wholly wiped from our eyes? How in that case could God keep his covenant with us?
Ditto then also for that lake where we summered once, for the broken toe, for the Arctic, for Alpha Centauri, for chiggers. It’s a package deal. None of it can rightly be left altogether behind, or utterly omitted. Would Heaven be fully heavenly if Salisbury Cathedral were not there, warped piers and all? Would it be fully heavenly if there were there no sweet and solemn churchyards full of grave stones slumbering in the green grass under the shade of the oaks, no commemorations of the dead, no Requiems, no Evensongs, no night? It would not. Somehow Heaven must include, rehearse, correct, appropriate, dignify and sanctify, not just the great and good, the noble and sublime, and not just the lowly and poor, the humble and meek, but also all lacks and losses, all defeats, all wounds, all sacrifices, perhaps even all vanities (the vanities of kittens are charming to us; perhaps our vanities charm the angels). We get a foretaste of this in tragedy, the most sublime form of dramatic art. All sadness, properly construed, is transcendent – i.e., transcends our predicaments, and opens a doorway to some higher resolution that delivers us, by ways apparent to us, howsoever obscure, to a grave delight, to joy at the last, as at things all gathering and falling surely, irresistibly into their due and proper and glorious order.
Our serene confidence at Evensong is the fruit of our participation in the Mass. Without that sacrifice, all would be lost to hopeless everlasting night. With it, what good can ever be utterly extinguished? So I conclude that someday, somehow, the permanent residue of goodness, power, knowledge and nobility even of Satan’s immortal seraphic nature will survive the purgation of all his wickednesses and errors, and he shall return to his Father’s house: diminished, to be sure, but healed. He is the archetype of the Prodigal Son. His error is after all finite, while the Father’s Truth is not. How then could his error ever permanently prevail?
St. Thomas says that, as aeviternal, angels cannot change their minds. But, an everlasting career of disobedience being a reproach to Omnipotence, and thus impossible, this can only mean that Satan’s permanent, changeless decision is to rebel for a time, and half a time – and then, to turn from his wickedness forever. We do the same sort of thing when we decide to indulge our gluttony on Shrove Tuesday (just a bit!) and then observe a stringent Lent.
In Romans 8, Paul says:
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is true for every creature. How could any creature be – how could it exist – as wholly separate from Omnipresence? As there is then no way to be somewhere that God is not, so there is no power that may permanently separate any creature from the Love of God – not even the powers that inhere in such creatures. We cannot permanently decide that God will not in the end gain the victory in our lives. As if! How could we possibly prevail against the ubiquity of Omnipotent Providence, that utterly pervades each moment of our living careers, surrounds and environs them, and gives them rise? All we can do is put off the eventual day of reckoning, the morning when we wake from our impudent dream of self-sufficience.
And it is really no more than that, which separates us now from Heaven: a dream, that dies at the opening Day.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
Under the shadow of Thy throne
Still may we dwell secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defence is sure.
Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.
Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
Return, ye sons of men:
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.
A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.
The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years.
Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.
O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while life shall last,
And our eternal home.
– Isaac Watts, paraphrasing Psalm 90