In the great creeds of the Catholic faith, we profess our belief in the “life of the world to come” and “life everlasting.” This is not something merely passively believed in; rather, it is a profound hope in the truest sense of the word: the blessed trust in God’s mercy and providence.
Why is this “world to come” something that we should look forward to? What do we learn from sacred Scripture?
St. Paul tells us — echoing the prophet Isaiah — that “what eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
This is a perfectly true observation: heaven, the life of the world to come, is infinitely beyond any human comprehension. This is probably the most fundamental thing about heaven we learn from Scripture.
But while we cannot fully comprehend it or imagine it, there are certain things we do know.
In the opening lines of his “Confessions,” St. Augustine profoundly wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This rest “in the Lord” finally comes at our entrance into heaven. It is here that we experience what has become called the beatific vision, seeing God “face to face.”
In his first letter, St. John writes that we “shall see God as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). This is one of the great mysteries of heaven: How can we truly see God? God told Moses that “you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” (Ex 33:20). But Jesus gives us a beautiful, moving insight into God’s ultimate revelation of himself to each of us.
In what has become known as the Farewell Discourse, Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be” (Jn 14:2-3).
God has prepared a place for us in his home. Nothing should keep us from our place in the house of our Lord.
We would do well to always remember the insight of St. Paul. Heaven is, fundamentally, perfect fulfillment of our deepest desire: to be in union with God.
It is nothing like anything we have seen or heard, or that we can fathom. It is not an eternity of sitting on a cloud playing a harp; it is not gold fences keeping out those not righteous enough to “earn their wings.” It goes infinitely beyond our own images of it.
And, as a result, picturing such mundane and pedestrian visions of heaven can make it seem, well, mundane and pedestrian! It could even cause someone’s desire for heaven to diminish — and we don’t want that. We should all be constantly striving for heaven.
Senz is a freelance writer living in Oregon with his family.