By George Elerick
We long for paradise.
It’s as if something deep down cries out within us and reminds of how it used to be, or at least how it’s meant to be.
We long for a state of existence where pain isn’t in our vocabulary. A place where strife, war, anger, lust, and hurt don’t have the last word. We are told from early on that Adam and Eve were banned from this, that they were expelled from the Garden because of taking what wasn’t theirs.
For some, all we need to do is simply turn our televisions on and skip through the channels to discover that the world is not as it’s meant to be. For others, they just need to look back over the last year to find that something isn’t right.
There is a balance that has been upset.
There is even more sadness in the person who has recently lost someone dear to them; all they need to do is peer inside their broken heart to accept the reality that all is not well. We can call this place or these series of experiences, hell.
It at least seems some Jews had a different concept of heaven-the place where the exact opposite of the above occurs, a state of perfected bliss.
From what we’ve been told, this place is already being made for us. From what we’ve been told, it’s paved with streets of gold-and some of us might even get our wings. Now, I don’t want to counter the traditional orthodox idea of heaven as a place “out there.” That is possible; however, I do want to shed some light on the Jewish mindset towards heaven.
“Judgment day” been used to describe the event where gun-slingin’ God comes in and not only saves the day, but also sits down in his gown and wig and judges the living and the dead, the saved and the unsaved. The ancient Jews understood this to be prophetic rhetoric that didn’t pertain to a one-day scenario, but spoke of a state of being where all of God’s dreams for the world come true. Where poverty is no longer present. Where war isn’t necessary for peace. Where love wins over hate and indifference. Judgment Day was a moment-by-moment event that they as a people worked towards.
In the Genesis narrative when the author opens the story with “In the beginning God created the heavens,” the word used there in the Hebrew is ‘shamayim,’ meaning sky. It speaks of the firmament and is translated “the heights.” It alludes to the space between us and what is above us.
One Jewish writer describes shamayim in its folkloric context and applies it to our daily lives, “The paradigm that we are bidden to follow is the ‘shamayim,’ the place where different forces manage to live together in peace. It is nearly impossible for us to agree with one another all the time. But it is possible to argue ‘le-sheim shamayim,’ in a way that allows us to maintain peace and harmony in our homes, communities, and the nation at large, despite the many disagreements that threaten to divide us.”
Some Jews didn’t hold to the traditional end time theories; they believed in something entirely different. They called it the Messianic Age. Others believe it to be under another name-the Kingdom of God. This belief in the Messianic Age has been stepped in the Jewish psyche; we see this in the later writing of the prophets.
How each Israelite follower interpreted that is still to be discussed and discovered. Some believed the Messianic Age was a moment in time when humanity would intentionally choose to put aside our warring differences, embrace our diversity as a God-given thing, and learn to live together in harmony. As I said above, this is also another term for the Kingdom of God, one in the same.
Maybe heaven is less about an “up there,” and more about what we’re doing here. Maybe its about how we treat those in need, much like in the short stories of the Rich Man and Lazarus and The Good Samaritan. Maybe heaven is walking into a war-torn situation and bringing peace.
Maybe heaven is bringing food in the midst of hunger or not allowing for poverty to have the last word.
Heaven is something we bring here. Now.
Paradise is the belief that what is now isn’t what was meant to be, and that what is meant to be can be realized by how we live our lives in connection to one another. Heaven is the defiant hope inspired by the potential of what could be. Heaven is humanity learning to live how Christ demonstrated. Heaven is humanity learning to live in their diversity and ushering in a new age of heaven on earth.
George loves the outdoors, singing in the shower and doing underwater, synchronized pilates. He is currently working on a book entitled Jesus Bootlegged: Recapturing the Stolen Message of Jesus for The World. You can read more about him at his blog: The Love Revolution.