"It was not only in Saint Hildegar's visions but in many others that hell's vivid chambers of horrors became so much more interesting than the bland delights of heaven" -Daniel J. Boorstin
This post, continuing along with the last, is part dogmatic and part autobiographical.
I suppose I've never been seriously bothered by the idea of "life everlasting". Occasionally, I've considered certain prospects that have horrified me (e.g. being in a Hillsong United concert forever) and have laughed at prospects that the ill-informed will sustain (e.g. Heaven is full of clouds, where men in white lazily pluck away at harps). My wife is occasionally disturbed by the idea. She can't begin to fathom what an "endless" life would actually be like. It scares her when it comes up in conversation.
I think she has her finger on the pulse of something. Now, perhaps because I've never been infected with certain views of Paradise, I take the Bible at face-value when it talks about the Feast of the Lamb. Maybe God had mercy on me and preserved me from a certain kind of exhaustion for good things and kept philosophically sterile ideas away from me. Even when I was a Pagan I hoped for some kind of Elysium Fields, a place for heroes to rest and play. Of course, this kind of view is fantastical and empty, but grant the staying power it provides as we delve deeper.
I must confess that I have reconsidered some of my earlier opinions of St. Augustine.
I am still what someone might consider a predestinarian, but not in the same way that St. Augustine would articulate it. For me, if the Lord has created all things, holds all things in His hands, then He is the one who called my name from the depths. He stirred my heart to seek Him. His Spirit came upon me and turned my eyes to Him, standing at the Right of the Father, directing me to the Fount of all Good and Blessing.
However, this does not erase my will or cause conflict, necessarily, between my Humanity and His divinity. He poured His love upon me so I might work with Him. It's not a contest. Merit has no place in this at all. I am in no place to merit anything, even if I thought I was. Rather, by God's good pleasure, He made mankind in His Image and set before him a wonderful destiny. Not even Adam's failure would prevent God from coming in the flesh and restoring what was lost.
With Augustine, there still lingers a Platonic sense that as long as I exist separately from the One, in any way, shape, or form, there is something amiss. The integrity of my person begins to dissolve in the interest of being preserved from sin. Is that all there is in Man's happiness? I may as well be a rock. Augustine speaks of everlasting peace, but is more interested in providing details for the pains of Hell. It seems at times that all St. Augustine can imagine is a freedom from all our vices, since our personhood only produces these problems. For us to seek is for God to seek, for us to reject is us rejecting alone. The distinctives and uniqueness of every Human life is swallowed up for tranquility.
Now, Augustine contradicts himself in places, but I praise God I never took him seriously. The only tangible description for the lives of the saints in paradise is that they will be able to observe the torment of those in Hell! One does not need to reject Augustine's emphasis on the active and personal nature of God's grace, against the Pelagians, to reject the ways he bolsters and defends his argument. Predestination and grace are not exclusively Christian concepts, and when left christologically untransformed, they become stumbling blocks.
Perhaps it is for such reasons that many have always found Hell more interesting. Of course, pouring one's imagination into creating such horrifying and excruciating details might be considered an aid to the faithful. This is the Devil's logic. Why? Because imagination is the life-blood of Human reason. Even when portrayed dreadfully, Hell becomes attractive. It takes a stern Puritan like John Milton to write a Satan who is attractive in his anti-heroic rebellion. Hell becomes the abode of the losers and discontent. It's the Pharasaic model turned on its head. I can see why Billy Joel would sing he'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints.
Yes, these are confused and poisoned thoughts. But it is because of poor theologizing and allowing monistic, Pagan philosophy to dictate ideas that Heaven becomes only a Paradise for the wearied philosopher who is so tired of differentiation. The fullness of the Human is rejected for a return to the Abyss. Achilles coming from Hades to say it is better to be a living slave than to be the king of the underworld is the honest Pagan stumbling in the dark. Death is a terror, and we so desperately want to live. Not only biologically, but in our souls, in our minds, in our emotions, and in our spirits. The Devil lures us with Plato, but we cry out for something so much more.
God has called us by beauty and for beauty. The Lord promises Paradise, a homeland for the Good. But this is not only an erasure of all pursuits. There is an eternal rest and eternal play, but one founded by the unbounded Creator, and not constrained by our own weak desires and pitiful imaginations. God will set all good things before us, we will be ordered to love God through all of them. There is an open aesthetic appeal, formed by God and God alone. It's for this reason the Biblical authors (yea, Author!) present such a sensual display of hope. There will be a golden city that outshines anything we've ever seen. There will be a banquet that will inflame our tastes. Our religion will be the Lamb of God alone, who's deep light casts out all shadows and causes us to see and to celebrate.
I believe in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Amen