Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Human Being in Heaven: Body and Spirit Together, Not A Body Only

When we think of heaven (those who do not believe that the human being is obliterated at bodily death), how do we imagine the joy that is there?

We can't, of course, know with any degree of thoroughness what heaven is like (1 Cor 2:9). But we can come to understand at least a few things, dim though they may be.

What does this have to do with the reality expressed in the title of this post, that human persons are not only composed of a physical body, but of a spiritual soul integrally united with a body?

Here is how this relates: I suspect that oftentimes when people of faith ponder the idea of life in heaven, they  imagine the joy of heaven in an unbalanced and thus incomplete way. By this, I mean that I have a hunch that sometimes we imagine only, or mostly, physical sorts of pleasures and leave out spiritual pleasure. And when we do this, we are shortchanging ourselves, hoping for a heavenly hereafter that leaves out a very integral part of our human nature. (Perhaps men are more prone to this than women.)

If I am at all correct in this, I have a suggestion as to why. It is because our life here on this earth, at least for many Americans, is so occupied and concerned with physical, bodily pleasures and discomforts. We are hyper-sensitive to our physical state of sensation, a luxury made possible by our contemporary American way of life. We want the best foods, the most comfortable cars, the most comfortable chairs, nice smelling places, the most comfortable temperature, etc. So much of what we call the enjoyment of life has become excessively concerned with physical comforts. This, in turn, tends to make us forget, or diminish, the spiritual aspects of our lives as human beings. And so, when we imagine eternity, perhaps we tend to translate our physical comfort-oriented existence here below into our notion of heaven.

Why might this be a problem? (For indeed, I believe that it is.) It is a problem because it can lead, perhaps, to our leading an unbalanced life here on terra firma before we die. If we neglect the reality of our spiritual souls, giving excessive attention to our body, we will not be able to grow and flourish as human beings in the fullest way possible. We have minds that are made for truth and goodness, and hearts that yearn to delight in the realization of beauty. This is also a problem because it might cause us to think of heaven in a rather inadequate way. The joy of heaven is no mere endless physical pleasure, like a never-ending ice cream cone. It is not a heavenly massage or a perfect recliner chair. This would not fulfill our nature as human persons, creatures of spirit and body both.

Whatever will be the myriad enthralling mysteries of eternal bliss that we will only know when we arrive, by grace, at our final home, we can say this with confidence. The experience of eternal joy that awaits us will delight every aspect of our human nature as human beings to the fullest extent. We will have unimaginable joy and delight of heart, mind, spirit, soul, and body. Life in union with the blessed Trinity will fully actualize the highest capacity of our mind's desire for truth, our will's desire for goodness, our heart's desire for beauty and for union with another person who loves us, and our psyche's desire for complete wholeness and integral and full self-possession. The full, total, and integral reality of our being will be engaged as never before.

So, when you muse about what might await us after death, don't sell yourself short and think in a way that would only imagine us to be bodily creatures who sense and feel. Realize too, that we have the faculties of our human spirit. And that our whole person, as an integral unity of body and soul, will experience the utter delight, peace, and joy for which we yearn.

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