Your Definitive Guide to Heaven in 2009 (and 2010, 2011…)
February 25, 2009
Most religious individuals will concede that they can’t say much about what heaven is like. Perhaps they’ll refer to some passage from the Bible or Koran that gives a snippet of information, but these passages provide a very incomplete picture, to say the least.
This reluctance about describing heaven appears to be based on the unchallenged premise that one has to experience something in order to describe it, and, of course, only the dead experience heaven. This supposed necessary connection between being dead and possessing the ability to describe heaven has resulted in a couple dozen books being published in recent decades about "near-death" experiences. Indeed, just a couple of years ago, there appeared The Big Book of Near-Death Experiences.
But these near-death encounters are not very helpful. Most of them result in some vague description of a feeling of peace and seeing an intense white light. Great, so heaven is like smoking a joint in a room with a few too many 250-watt light bulbs. Plus, I’m sorry, but being nearly dead is like being nearly employed or nearly pregnant. It just doesn’t count. So, I guess that means no one can describe heaven, right?
Some great thinkers never allowed niggling complaints about the lack of empirical evidence to stand in the way of their pronouncements on a given topic. One of these bold thinkers was that great double-dome Thomas Aquinas. Although some of his unkind contemporaries claimed Aquinas was dead, the reality is that this theologian, utilizing only the uncanny powers of his reason and logic, was able to provide us with an exhaustive description of heaven, without ever having to leave the monastery kitchen.
The key to Aquinas’s conclusions about heaven is that he was "Mr. Natural." Everything has a natural purpose, and once one understands something’s purpose, one can describe what it would be like under certain conditions.
Let’s consider sex. After the General Resurrection, we’ll be reunited with our bodies. We will keep our genders and our genitalia, according to Aquinas, because that’s only natural. However, there will not be any sexual activity because sex serves the purpose of procreation (you knew that already, right?), and there is no need for procreation once we’re in heaven. So don’t pack the Viagra.
The lack of sex may be a bit disappointing, especially when one realizes we’ll all be pretty buff. Everyone will look as though they were thirty. Why? Because that’s roughly the age Jesus was resurrected and he was the perfect guy; we’ll be perfect in heaven; therefore, we’ll all be thirty.
Wow. That Aquinas had a razor-sharp mind.
Just as there will be no sex because it would serve no purpose, there will be no consumption of gourmet meals because nutrition will serve no purpose. So don’t worry if you forgot your toothbrush.
Now the fact that we will not be eating or drinking posed a problem for Big Tom because when we are resurrected, we come with all of our body parts, including our intestines. The "natural" state of the intestines was to be full, according to Aquinas. (Does this imply something about a constipation problem among medieval monks?) But it wouldn’t do to have intestines full of waste matter in heaven, and we won’t be eating anything to generate waste anyway. How to solve this conundrum? Again, Aquinas’s incomparable analytical skills come to the rescue. Our intestines will be full, but with "goodly humors."
No, I am not making this up.
So far, I have described what we will look like in heaven, but what do we do in heaven? Essentially nothing except watch God. We will all enjoy the "Beatific Vision." Don’t bother hunting for the remote. This program will be on every channel, 24/7, for all eternity. Enjoy.
Apparently, even Aquinas sensed that the Beatific Vision, as wonderful as it might be, could become a little tiresome. So he hypothesized that we could occasionally take a break from the BV to watch something else, namely the torture of the damned - in which we will rejoice. This is what is known as Christian charity.
Aquinas had much more to say about the afterlife. For those who want more information, consult the supplement to part three of the Summa Theologica, questions 69-99. The Summa is widely available on the Internet, and a good translation may be found here .
In closing, let me note that it is reassuring to know that someone with Aquinas’s profound intellect remains the most honored theologian in the Catholic Church.