18 February 2011

Heaven is No Bleak Fantasy

Our notion of Heaven involves perpetual negations: no food, no drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art.
Against all these…we set one positive: the visions and enjoyment of God. And since this is an infinite good, we hold (rightly) that it outweighs them all. That is, the reality of the Beatific Vision would or will outweigh, would infinitely outweigh, the reality of the negations.
But can our present notion of it outweigh our present notion of them? That is quite a different question. And for most of us at most times the answer is No. How it may be for great saints and mystics I cannot tell. But for others the conception of that Vision is a difficult, precarious, and fugitive extrapolation from a very few and ambiguous moments in our earthly experience, while our idea of the negated natural goods is vivid and persistent, loaded with memories of a lifetime, built into our nerves and muscles and therefore into our imaginations.

Thus the negatives have, so to speak, an unfair advantage in every competition with the positive. What is worse, their presence – and most when we resolutely try to suppress or ignore them- vitiates even such a faint and ghostlike notion of the positive as we might have had.. The exclusion of the lower goods begins to seem the essential characteristic of the higher good. We feel, if we do not say, that the vision of God will come not to fulfill but to destroy our nature, this bleak fantasy often underlies our very use of such words as “holy” or “pure” or “spiritual.”
We must not allow this to happen if we can possibly prevent it. We must believe – and therefore in some degree imagine-that every negation will be only the reverse side of a fulfilling. And we must mean by that the fulfilling, precisely, of our humanity, not our transformation into angels or our absorption into Deity. For though we shall be [in certain ways] “like angels” and made “like unto” our Master, I think “like with the likeness proper to men:” as different instruments that play the same air [song] but each in its own fashion. How far the life of the risen man will be sensory, we do not know. But I surmise that it will differ from the sensory life we know here, not as emptiness differs from water or water from wine but as a flower differs from a [flower] bulb or a cathedral from an architect’s drawing.

C.S. Lewis in “Transposition”